Research School Network: Dispatches from the home office: ideas for remote learning best bets Adam Pritchard, Local Research Lead at Norwich Research School


Dispatches from the home office: ideas for remote learning best bets

Adam Pritchard, Local Research Lead at Norwich Research School

With the post-Christmas return’ to school a distant memory, remote learning and synchronous live teaching once again form the mainstay of teaching and learning for most teachers and students; but how can we ensure that this work is effective?

Online teaching can sometimes feel like you are teaching into the virtual abyss and it has undoubtedly created new challenges for delivering meaningful, motivational and manageable lessons. While it is fair to say that we are more prepared for remote learning this time around, I still found myself reflecting on strategies which will ensure my remote teaching really helps my students learn effectively.

The EEF’s Rapid Evidence Assessment Summary of Remote Learning was a crucial read and gave a reassuring reminder of what works in this situation. It identifies the following conclusions and key findings:

  • Teaching quality is more important than how lessons are delivered
  • Ensuring access to technology is key, particularly 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 tasks and types of content.

In this blog, I reflect on how I have sought to utilise, embed, and promote these ideas in both my own teaching and the teaching within my department. I’m currently teaching from our office/​playroom alongside juggling things like homeschooling my own children. This means that my remote teaching has not always been as I would hope in a perfect world, However, I’ve found that it really helps if I keep in mind these key principles as I do it.

Teaching quality is more important than how lessons are delivered

Tried and trusted classroom approaches are still crucial in a remote setting. The quality of instruction and explanation is still a trump card, just as they are in the classroom. Where appropriate, the use of modelling and feedback to support explanations and demonstrations helps our students to learn. Revisiting key ideas before moving on is also crucial.

For example: with Year 10 this week when looking at the formation of depositional landforms such as spits, I spent significant time revisiting the processes of longshore drift and deposition before getting started. This helped ensure all students had understood the key processes involved before moving onto how they’re applied in this new context. This idea is something that Jack Tavassoly-Marsh articulates brilliantly in his recent blog on responsive remote teaching.

Ensuring access to technology is key, particularly for disadvantaged pupils

When planning lessons, I look to keep all set work as accessible as possible. Creating work that can be accessed and engaged with via any device has been important. Often students take part in Zoom lessons using their mobile phone, and I know that they really appreciate it when I keep this in mind. For example, sometimes they can’t access the microphone or the chat function easily and quickly when needed.

The work of our pastoral team and colleagues who are working in school with children of key workers must be mentioned here too. This support has also been crucial to the successful engagement of a high proportion of our students during this current lockdown and they truly are a phenomenal team.

Peer interactions can provide motivation and improve learning outcomes

In my early encounters with remote teaching, peer interaction was limited. Concerns over Zoom management’ won out over letting students off the leash! However with time came greater confidence, and I was able to take the odd calculated risk. Now, my live lessons include much more peer interaction, particularly with GCSE and A level classes.

Breakout rooms have given students the security and confidence to discuss work in small groups, and the chat function has also helped student engagement by facilitating questioning and formative assessment. It was through this type of approach that I could tell my Year 10 GCSE group needed more input on longshore drift before moving on to new material.

Supporting pupils to work independently can improve learning outcomes

We have been doing significant work on metacognition in school and exploring ways to promote and support students to become self-reflective in their learning. This approach has proved equally valuable through remote learning, where we’ve been using live lessons to encourage students to reflect on their work and share ideas around how they might improve.

Explicit instruction and clear guidance helps to reinforce this and supports students to become more confident in working independently.

Another important thing has been to use modelling and worked examples, just as we would have done in the classroom. An example of an answer to a GCSE question is shown below; giving the students time to reflect on these kinds of ideas helped them feel confident, despite not being in the classroom.

Screenshot 2021 02 12 080508

Different approaches to remote learning suit different tasks and types of content

Much like being in an actual classroom, I have found that variety has been key to any success here. Furthermore, Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction help to inform my approach. Beginning lessons with a recap, before introducing new content and providing opportunities for guided and independent practice sounds so simple but is in reality much more complex. This is particularly true when teaching remotely, as it’s much more difficult to know when students have understood everything.

Overall, there is no doubt that teaching remotely is challenging, but in my view keeping it simple and sticking to research-informed principles will help to give students the best remote learning experience.

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