Research School Network: Teacher Quality and Subject Focus through Remote Learning

Teacher Quality and Subject Focus through Remote Learning

by Research Schools Network
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In this blog, James Siddle, Director of Kyra Research School and Karen Robinson, Assistant Headteacher of St Margaret’s CE Primary School, discuss how they have applied the evidence to ensuring high-quality teaching and learning during school closures.

The EEF is developing a response to this crisis based around the following framework:

  • Mitigation to limit the negative impact on disadvantaged pupils while schools are closed
  • Compensation to support disadvantaged pupils to bounce back when schools re-open

When implementing strategies to support pupils’ remote learning, or supporting parents to do this, evidence suggests that key things to consider include:

  • Teaching quality is more important than how lessons are delivered
  • Ensuring access to technology is key, especially for disadvantaged pupils
  • Peer interactions can provide motivation and improve learning outcomes
  • Supporting pupils to work independently can improve learning outcomes
  • Different approaches to remote learning suit different types of content and pupils

Focusing on the first three recommendations we have looked closely at research around ensuring teacher quality is a priority in both our live sessions as well as self-directed work set.

Which subjects might be most impacted?

We decided to look at the research on the impact of the summer break on pupil attainment as this seemed a potentially comparable start point.

According to Kuhfeld and Tarasawa (2020): Typically, average academic growth varies across the academic year and declines from the last day of school through the summer, with steeper declines in mathematics than in reading.

RECOMMENDATION: Policymakers, educators, families, and communities should further their work to provide support, especially in mathematics, to students while school is disrupted.

We consulted further research which seemed to support the notion than mathematics was a subject we particularly wanted to focus on. According to McCOMBS et al.(2011):

In general, students are more likely to forget what they have learned in mathematics over the summer than they are to lose literacy skills. Cooper, Nye, et al. (1996) found that summer learning loss was greater, on average, for mathematics than for reading. This loss in mathematics ability was consistent across other factors, such as a student’s family income and race.

There are many online resources that can support learning mathematics, but we were concerned that the crucial transactional nature of the feedback process and developing mathematical oracy and vocabulary were going to be lost. Assessment through quizzes and other tasks is invaluable but we also wanted to provide immediate feedback and clarification. In addition, videos – which do have the benefit of being able to be repeated – require focused engagement and often clarification.

Our Approach

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.

We established daily maths lessons by using a combination of Google Classroom, Google Meet and MyMaths. We considered this combination useful in the circumstances because of the interactivity (aided by online explanation and scaffolding) and the ability to set follow on homework tasks for independent work. The teachers could then use the assessment data to help with feedback, tracking progress and lesson planning. However, other platforms and resources could be adapted for similar use.

It is vital that instruction builds clearly on pupils’ prior learning or how pupils’ understanding is subsequently assessed. Our delivery for all subjects is based on assessment data. Pupils are set tasks and quizzes through Google Classroom and this then is followed up in the live sessions. For example, in Year 4 the Class Teacher posted daily multiple choice questions and then planned lessons and targeted questioning to enable engagement as well as a gauge of pupil progress:

I was concerned with the progress of an especially reluctant writer, who does not often actively engage in discussions without being heavily prompted, even in the best of times. Knowing one of this child’s interests, I decided to include a visual prompt linked to something the pupil is particularly enthusiastic about, hoping this might improve engagement.

When we got to the writing sentences part of our session, I revealed the image. Immediately, with no prompting, my reluctant writer responded. Straight away, I was given an absolutely fantastic sentence, using a relative clause.

After praise for such a fantastic sentence, I revealed the next image and asked children to raise their hand if they wanted to tell me a sentence about the image using a relative clause. Spurred on by the success of their peer, many of the children raised their hands and promptly gave me some beautiful sentences, all of which used relative clauses fantastically. I was able to walk away from the session, not only proud of the engagement of the children in their ability to write sentences, but also of how well they had responded to new learning over an electronic session and their application of this learning.

Targeted questioning combined with randomised questioning to ensure engagement as well as feedback to the teacher, while creating opportunities for peer interaction to provide motivation and improve learning outcomes are key elements of our remote instruction. Using teaching assistants to support online assessment through questioning has also enhanced the quality of the input (as well as ensuring safeguarding procedures with more than one member of staff attending sessions). What seems significant from the research is that the quality of teacher input is important in terms of the use of assessment and how this determines instruction.

Ensuring access to technology is key, particularly for disadvantaged pupils

Inevitably this has proven problematic. Although most of our pupils did have access to technology, some certainly did not. Some children were also competing with siblings or parents working from home to gain access. Furthermore, setting up families to use a platform such as Google Classroom and other evidence-based platforms to support reading such as Accelerated Reader (see the EEF’s evaluation of this programme) has proven to be problematic.

We adopted the following approach:

  • One senior member of staff was designated to try and directly liaise with parents to set them up to access the online platforms. This has proven to be no small task but has been important in raising the percentage of pupils accessing remote learning
  • Direct contact has enabled a clearer view of the problems being encountered and made solutions easier to find
  • For about 11% of families the lack of access to technology was proving too prohibitive so we have found ways to supply iPads to support home learning
  • When access to certain platforms has dwindled, we have been careful to adapt, and we are starting to use live storytelling sessions with follow up quizzes to improve engagement with Accelerated Reader

By the end of the second week of lockdown we had around 70% of our Key Stage 2 pupils engaged in regular live maths lessons with more accessing a range of work set via Google Classroom. By the end of last week this figure had risen to almost 82% having daily lessons.

Having supplied the necessary hardware and established Google Classroom and a regular timetable for online support we have been able to now focus more on the quality of delivery to support as many of our pupils as possible. This has meant we can now move on to the next phase – targeted online intervention for small groups.

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