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Research School Network: Back to School: priorities for the classroom As school returns are announced, John Rodgers of Cornwall Associate Research School, reflects on priorities for the classroom.


Back to School: priorities for the classroom

As school returns are announced, John Rodgers of Cornwall Associate Research School, reflects on priorities for the classroom.

by Kingsbridge Research School
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As we approach the end of lockdown and the return of all students to on-site lessons, I think it is important to reflect on what we have learnt during remote learning. There will have been many successes and we should be sure to continue with the very best strategies.

The EEF Rapid Evidence Assessment published in April 2020 states (as its first key finding):

1. Teaching quality is more important than how lessons are deliveredPupils can learn through remote teaching.Ensuring the elements of effective teaching are present – for example clear explanations, scaffolding and feedback – is more important than how or when they are provided. There was no clear difference between teaching in real time (“synchronous teaching”) and alternatives (“asynchronous teaching”).For example, teachers might explain a new idea live or in a pre-recorded video. But what matters most is whether the explanation builds clearly on pupils’ prior learning or how pupils’ understanding is subsequently assessed.

I think the key idea here is Teaching Quality” – ensuring the elements of effective teaching are present, e.g. clear explanations. It goes without saying that this must continue when students return to on site lessons. For a while yet I imagine that schools will be operating in bubbles, zones, perhaps even with a different timetable or timings of the school day. Clear and effective instruction must be the number one priority for lessons. In what follows, I would like to suggest a few things to consider.

Cognitive Overload

The great temptation for many teachers (and students and parents) will be the race to catch up” with lost learning. This could lead to instances of cognitive overload. The EEF Guidance Report for Metacognition and Self Regulated Learning states (in summary recommendation 4) Tasks should not overload pupils’ cognitive processes.”

Reflecting on my own delivery of synchronous lessons during lockdown, (our school had 15 – 20 minutes of synchronous live lessons’ followed by asynchronous learning tasks set and assessed via Seesaw) I realise that I hugely overloaded my allotted live lesson’ time with too much talking. This of course ran the risk of cognitive overload for the students. As a reflective practitioner I evaluated and amended my pedagogy as lockdown went on.

Principles of Instruction

In her blog from August last year (here), Kirsten Mould rightly signposts Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction. (For another blog post about the research of Rosenshine see here). This short paper makes explicit the elements of effective instruction.

Dual Coding

Durrington Research School have used Dual Coding to help their students. (See here for details). Dual coding can be used by the students as demonstrated but can (and should) be used by teachers to make their explanations more accessible. To achieve the clear explanations’ we desire, careful forethought and construction of dual coding’ diagrams can be incredibly useful. Thinking about how to organise the information we are imparting to our students and using the correct visual to add to our verbal instruction is important.


This is a well known, evidence-based strategy. The EEF Guidance Report On Metacognition and Self Regulated Learning sets out several key summary recommendations that I believe are well worth bearing in mind:

#2: Explicitly teach pupils metacognitive strategies, including how to plan, monitor and evaluate their learning.
This is important for students of all ages but perhaps particularly so for older students who (in the absence of exams) may be undertaking different forms of assessment to allow for teacher/​centre assessed grades.

#3: Model your own thinking to help pupils develop their metacognitive and cognitive skills.
Planning for opportunities to do this is important.

#5. Promote and develop metacognitive talk in the classroom.
This will become much more applicable as we return to on site teaching and lessons. It also links with peer interaction below.

#6: Explicitly teach pupils how to organise and effectively manage their learning independently.
Again, important for all students, regardless of age. Developing independence as a learner gives one autonomy and control, factors of not inconsiderable relevance after a year of disruption.

Peer Interaction

Peer interactions can provide motivation and improve learning outcomes.Multiple reviews highlight the importance of peer interaction during remote learning, as a way to motivate pupils and improve outcomes.Across the studies reviewed, a range of strategies to support peer interaction were explored, including peer marking and feedback, sharing models of good work, and opportunities for live discussions of content.The value of collaborative approaches was emphasised in many reviews, although notably many studies involved older learners. Different approaches to peer interaction are likely to be better suited to different age groups.

Opportunities for peer interaction and collaborative approaches will be more frequent and perhaps more easily managed on the return to school.


This is the number 1 strategy on the EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit for number of months’ progress. EEF resources and information about feedback can be fond here and a guidance report on feedback is due in the coming months. 

During lockdown I took the position that as much of my feedback as possible would be positive in nature. I wanted to encourage my students and thank them for their efforts during difficult and unusual circumstances. I think a positive emphasis to feedback should remain on our return. As far as I can, I endeavour to make my feedback timely, specific, helpful and kind.

The ideas above are meant as nothing more than suggestions for your consideration as we prepare to return to on site teaching and learning. The EEF website is full of resources, further reading, details, evidence and practical help on these, and countless other strategies.

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