Why they matter and how to write a good one
by Sandringham Research School
by Katie Wills – Research Lead
Although the list of challenges that I have faced whilst tackling remote learning is extensive, the three that I continue to battle with are questioning, feedback and peer interaction. I have by no means found perfect solutions to these issues and, like all teaching, we must continue to personalise our approach to different learners, however I have experimented with different strategies that you may wish to explore.
My initial assumption that my tech-savvy students would be more confident speaking on video call than I was, could not have been more wrong. The students were, and still are, very reluctant to speak when we are using google meet and therefore questioning and discussion have become awkward and difficult to coordinate – I have had students completely ignore my questions! The evidence is clear that effective questioning is a very difficult skill that involves trying to get to the heart of student understanding so misconceptions can be addressed. Constructing the question is the first challenge but delivering it in a way that is remote learning appropriate adds even more difficulty. I had definitely underestimated the power of group dynamics and body language in both reading when it is appropriate to ask certain students a question and making them feel comfortable when attempting to answer a question. Consequently I continue to experiment with different questioning strategies to boost student confidence.
Using technology to quiz and check basic understanding has long been part of my teaching but it has become essential as part of remote learning. Online platforms, like Kahoot and Quizizz, mean that all students can answer a series of questions at any point in the lesson to review the content that has been taught. These programmes can be run paced by the student or teacher and all data can be downloaded to see individual answers and identify common mistakes. However, the quick quiz nature of these platforms mean that it is occasionally challenging to assess depth of student understanding. So although I continue to use these programmes to quiz the class as a whole, I have also been using flipped questioning to prepare students for deeper individual questions. Before cold calling students during a google meet, I give them 10 minutes with a series of questions to prepare their answers. These questions are always challenging and promote thought about the topic, so students are ready to talk more widely if follow up questions are required. Although I am sure the students still hate it, they are more comfortable and confident to answer difficult questions having had this preparation time and consequently I have been able to create better discussions as a result. I have also been trying to find ways to use questioning to promote self reflection. In the classroom, we talk to students regularly about their learning and this is key to build their metacognitive skills and for us to know how they perceive their understanding. The flexible nature of google classroom questions mean that I can quickly pose any question to a group of students that encourages self-reflection. Unlike other platforms, there does not need to be a right answer and students can respond in as much detail as they deem appropriate. As a teacher you can see the responses of all students and reply back to them individually to have a dialogue about their learning.
Remote learning has changed the speed at which we can assess and give feedback to our students. A quick scan of student work whilst they are writing, or listening in on a conversation between two students, used to result in instant verbal feedback but this is a lot more complicated remotely. You could ask students to hand in every piece of work they complete but this might mean you end up giving feedback to each student individually multiple times during a lesson, something that I can say from experience is not manageable! You could priortise giving feedback on ‘bigger’ pieces of work but I personally find that it takes me considerably longer to mark online than it does on paper and I am conscious that the written feedback, that is taking my hours, may be having minimal impact on student learning. The evidence is clear that the detailed and personalised nature of written feedback can be very powerful, however, all feedback will only have a positive effect on student learning if they actually use it. When lock-down started, I definitely spent far too much time giving written feedback to students with very little concept of whether they were acting on my advice and consequently I tried to find manageable remote feedback methods that I knew students were using to inform their learning.
Whole class feedback sheets are not new in my teaching but the nature of remote learning means I now use them nearly every lesson. It is considerably more manageable to scan through student work, such as quizzes, notes and short answer exam questions, at the end of the lesson and write up a short overview of any common errors or misconceptions. Students can then use this overview at the start of the next lesson to improve their work and acknowledge changes that they need to make next time. However, one of my classes is working on an extending piece of coursework and thus it is very difficult to keep them motivated without more personalised, constant, written feedback. To try and solve this, I have started to use small group tutorials on google meet. Before each tutorial, I scan the work of all the students in the group. We then work through any common errors before presenting each student’s work to have a more specific dialogue about individual next steps. I take brief notes in each tutorial to ensure that I can follow up on the required changes in the next lesson. Obviously this would not be possible if you couldn’t use lesson time to give feedback but, if possible, is a very time efficient way of giving personalised feedback, making sure it is acted upon and confirming student understanding. The final manageable feedback strategy I have tried is live marking. This involves students completing an extended piece of writing on a google document that has been shared with me on google drive. If you have less time, a large group of students, or would like to make feedback even more manageable then you could ask students to complete a paragraph as part of an extended piece of writing and thus have groups collaborating on fewer documents. The class completes this task whilst live on google meet and I give verbal, individual feedback to students as they write. It is important that the students are comfortable with their feedback being shared with the whole class but, if this is the case, then it is a quick way to give feedback and you can see students reacting to your comments as you speak. I have found that students are motivated by the instant feedback and praise they receive as their work improves as well as being much more willing to ask questions during live marking and thus making more progress than they would struggling alone.
Collaborative work and peer interaction normally make up a big part of my teaching and the evidence shows they are key to student motivation, however, I have struggled to give students the same opportunities to talk to one another remotely. As I have already mentioned, even my most cohesive class have found talking in front of one another on google meet quite awkward. When I have given students tasks that involve working in pairs or small groups, it is difficult to know whether they have collaborated effectively unless you adapt the task to see who has contributed in what way and often that takes away peer interaction. Students can set up their own google meets to undertake group discussion, however, if you set this as a task, you don’t know whether your students are actually doing it and thus I have had to adapt my practice to try and find appropriate solutions.
One way to make student discussion more visible is by using google drive comments. If I want pupils to discuss a task they have completed, then they can share their work with a peer on google drive and attach comments to verbalise their thinking. Their partner can then reply to these comments with their own thoughts or questions to start a discussion about their work. My students have enjoyed collaborating this way, however, their conversations tend to be quite short and unnatural when typed, so I have been using a similar strategy live on google meet but where students have to feedback to me at the end of the discussion. This could be ‘in person’ back on a whole class google meet or in the form of a google classroom question. Similarly I have been using google drive and google classroom questions to get students to mark one another’s work. In its basic form, this is very straightforward and a great way to reduce teacher marking as both platforms allow you to share resources for peer marking and it works exactly as it would in the classroom. However, for longer answer questions, if you want students to discuss why they have given certain marks, then you may want to consider giving students a framework that promotes discussion during peer marking. See the picture of a framework, I plan to use with one group of students after half term. Finally I have been experimenting with fun, collaborative tasks for consolidation and one that has worked particularly well is noughts and crosses. This is a game I often use for consolidation, where students answer questions to ‘win’ squares where they can then place their nought or cross. To achieve this virtually, I shared a series of differentiated noughts and crosses grids with my class on a google document and labelled each grid with the pair that I wanted to play one another. Students then picked two colours to represent either their nought or cross, highlighted the question they wanted to answer and typed their answer in a comment. This went down particularly well with students as it brought some of the fun that they felt was missing from remote learning.
Why they matter and how to write a good one
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