Distance learning – building independence

We are all having to cut our cloth to fit these new circumstances.  Speaking personally, it has been disconcerting and at times uncomfortable, and so much of the research evidence that informs our teaching practice feels hard or impractical to implement from across the digital divide.

For example, I made a Loom video (all the rage at the moment) aimed at modelling to my Year 10 history students how to answer a tricky historical interpretations question.  Now, the video is 30 minutes long.  It think its generally quite good in terms of the content, I switch from the PowerPoint to my visualiser for some live modelling and explain using metacognitive principles of unpacking my thinking.

However, without the punctuation I would normally give it in class through questioning and allowing students to practise sections, the intrinsic cognitive load of the entire piece is off the charts!  Thinking back to it now I should have said: “pause video now” and then given some instructions every so often.  However, would students have done that?  Will any of them actually get to the end of it?  Even the head of history (who I line manage) said he hadn’t found the strength to watch it yet.

I think the answer here is not to beat ourselves up too much.  We are doing our best and having to adapt really quickly to what’s going on.  Much of what we do will be at odds with evidence informed principles of how learning and teaching work best and that’s probably okay for now.

However, research evidence can also lend a hand.  For example when we are pulling our hair out about how Year 8 have once again failed to follow what we perceive as simple instructions, cognitive load theory and the limitations of working memory may help soften our frustrations.  Furthermore, this might be an opportunity to build some traits in our students that we previously not found the time to focus on.  One obvious example is independent learning.

This idea can be approached from many angles, but as metacognition has become a bit of a specialism of mine, I’m going to look at it from that one.

Strand 6 from the EEF’s Metacognition and Self-Regulated Learning guidance report is “Explicitly teach pupils how to organise, and effectively manage, their learning independently”.  Now don’t we all wish we’d paid more attention this this a month ago!  Within the guidance a fictional student, Nathan, makes an appearance in the following case study story:

Nathan knew that to revise properly he would need a technology ‘black out’. With a little help from his father, Nathan made his bedroom more like an office than a games room during his GCSE revision.

Each evening at seven o’clock, just after dinner, Nathan would switch off his phone and go upstairs to revise. First, he’d check his revision plan and get out what he needed before steeling himself to do some hard work. Strategy number one was always a quick flashcard challenge, mixing up his cards from his different subjects, before testing himself. Then Nathan would test himself on different topics, with past questions or simply seeing what he could recall with a blank piece of paper, before ticking them off his revision plan.

Expecting his usual lull after forty-five minutes, Nathan would grab a drink and a biscuit (or three) before getting back to his revision. At the end of his revision session, he would end with the nightly ritual of returning to his revision plan to chalk up his victories and losses.

I actually read this to Year 11 parents when I did an evening in the Autumn focused on helping parents support their children in the lead up to exams.  I joked that Nathan’s parents must be pretty smug.  However, these attributes of planning, monitoring and evaluating learning are exactly what we want our students to exhibit at the moment.

Furthermore in the guidance report, the attributes Nathan exhibits are related to some of the key strategies for independently learning suggested by one of the fathers of metacognition, Barry Zimmerman.  These are:

  • setting specific short-term goals (for example, Nathan executing his revision plan);
  • adopting powerful strategies for attaining the goals (Nathan’s self-testing using flashcards);
  • monitoring performance for signs of progress (Nathan monitoring his progress by answering past questions);
  • restructuring one’s physical and social context to make it compatible with one’s goals (Nathan changing his bedroom so it was fit for revision and learning);
  • managing time-use efficiently (Nathan giving himself an appropriate break);
  • self-evaluating one’s methods (Nathan checking his revision plan at the end of his session); and
  • attributing causation to results and adapting future methods (Nathan checking his revision plan, ticking, or not, appropriately before adapting his revision plan).

Now, the tricky part at the moment is while this is all sage advice for effective independent learning, what we also know is this must be explicitly taught through careful explanation, modelling and practice with substantial scaffolding at each point.  This is fine when we are seeing our students regularly but more difficult at a distance.

Therefore, here are some suggestions for how we could encourage these behaviours during distance learning:

  • Setting specific short-term goals
    • Communicate with students where the learning is heading over a series of up-coming lessons.  Give them some way-points in advance of what you would like them to know/be able to do at various points.  This way they can judge how it is going, rather simply ploughing through activities.
  • Adopting powerful strategies for attaining the goals
    • Explain why you are starting this distance lesson with a quiz and why is important they check the answers immediately.  Normal routines are not there so they may not see the need for that retrieval practice.
  • Monitoring performance for signs of progress
    • Lots of teachers are using online-quizzes at the moment.  Suggest students keep a tally of their scores and repeat quizzes after a few days to see if they are getting more correct.
  • Restructuring one’s physical and social context to make it compatible with one’s goals
    • A key one here for distance learning.  This may have been attempted with students (probably in a bit of a rush) before we “shut the gates”.  A bit of modelling might be good here.  Our staff have been tweeting their own home office spaces with a consistent hashtag.
  • Managing time-use efficiently
    • Give students some guidance on how long they should spend on different sections of the lesson.  Otherwise you may find (as I have been) that they spend too long on a less challenging section and therefore miss the more challenging and useful parts that come later.  There also are planning implications for us here.  Remember we cannot dictate the pace as we normally do so perhaps we need to reorder that lesson and cut bits out.
  • Self-evaluating one’s methods
    • Some simple questions would be good here to generate a class discussion, things like:
      • What did you find difficult today?
      • What strategy did you use to complete the second task?
      • Why do you think we are learning about this at the moment?
  • Attributing causation to results and adapting future methods
    • Checklists can be really useful here.  Asking our students to monitor where they are with their learning and connect that to the lessons they have been completing.

The idea here is not to give anyone more things to feel guilty about not doing.  As I said, we are all doing our best in trying times.  However, hopefully we can use these evidence-informed practices to help navigate the choppy waters of distance learning.  Good luck all!

By Chris Runeckles

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Creating simple teaching videos with Loom

By Andy Tharby

Loom is a really useful tool that allows teachers to create pre-recorded video content for online and remote learning. It is free, easy to set up and works for Mac, Windows, and Chromebooks. Essentially it works by doing three things simultaneously: it records the screen in real time; it records audio narration; and it films the speaker.

A small, round video recording of the speaker is played in the corner of the screen. The great thing about Loom is that it is remarkably user-friendly and intuitive. I discovered it just over twenty-four hours ago and have already recorded lesson content that my students have accessed through Google Classroom. I was off and running almost immediately: it took me twenty minutes or so to get the hang of it.

Here is a simple tutorial video you may find useful:

Things I’ve learnt about Loom already:

1. It is really easy to use. Trust me on this. I’ve used recorders and podcasting software before and have really struggled. Not this time.

2. It is very time efficient. Set up time is minimal and the video is ready in minutes. You receive a link you can share with others and also an option to download.

3. It feels authentic. There is no need to create seamless, glitch-free videos. Just load up a resource or presentation, switch it on and get going. There are a number of gaffes and clumsy segues in my recordings (scroll to the bottom) but that makes it feel very human – just like real teaching.

4. Go with what you have got. The current predicament means that there is no need to created wonderfully professional ‘dual-coded’ PowerPoints or slideshows. We need to get things out quickly and accept that they will not be flawless.

5. Use it to provide instructions and advice. I have used it twice already to give colleagues advice on how to use Google Forms – I was able to WhatsApp the video to them in a matter of minutes. I can see how it could be also used to give a class live whole-class feedback during a lesson: notice a common misconception, record the video and send the link. All this can be done within five minutes.

6. It can support metacognition. We aim to use it to provide live modelling opportunities to students online. By placing a visualiser next to a laptop, you can live-model by hand and also record your thoughts out loud.

7. Think of the future. The videos that are put together now can be re-used to provide revision and out-of-school opportunities in the future. I am hoping that ours can be used to support students who have missed lessons and to support the families of students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Finally, and most crucially, our students are isolated from friends, family and school. A friendly, familiar face is what they need most of all at the moment. Click below for the video on ‘Hawk Roosting’ that I recorded earlier today, glitches, rambling and all.

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Getting started with Google Classroom

The Coronavirus pandemic has made teachers all over the world plan how they will approach distance teaching in the event of school closures.  Whilst many teachers have been using Google Classroom for a number of years as a tool for this, for others this is proving to be a very steep and fast learning curve.  This is where the community of educators on Twitter has shined over the last few days.

Lots of really useful videos, blogs and articles on using Google Classroom for teachers have been shared via twitter.  I thought it would be useful to collate them here:

Other blogs and resources related to distance teaching:

Many thanks to all the generous people who have produced/shared these resources.  They will be invaluable.  If you find any others, please do let me know and I’ll add them.  I’ll add more as and when I find them

Shaun Allison


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Developing Metacognitive Talk In Students

Metacognition and self-regulation are amongst the most highly spoken about concepts in the world of education at the moment. A really good summary of the concept was the article that Alex Quigley and Eleanor Stringer wrote for the Charter College’s Impact journal last year, this can be found here – https://impact.chartered.college/article/quigley-stringer-making-sense-metacognition/

In the article they suggest that one of the important ways for teachers to better understand metacognition and to teach pupils such strategies is to first dispel some common misconceptions about metacognition. Two of the key misconceptions they identify are:

  • Metacognition is a general skill that should be taught separately from subject knowledge
  • Metacognition represents ‘higher order’ thinking and is therefore more important than mere cognition or subject knowledge

Furthermore, the article suggests metacognitive talk as a key aspect of exploiting the lessons of metacognition. It is generally accepted that having a classroom where students are actively engaging in purposeful reasoning, discussion, debating and explaining it will not only elicit students thought but also develop metacognitive, reflective practitioners.

At Durrington High School in our teaching inquiry groups, explained here by Shaun Allison https://researchschool.org.uk/durrington/news/developing-practice-through-teacher-inquiry-groups/ we discussed how we can develop the ‘metacognitive talk’ in our classrooms, in order to elicit thinking and promote metacognition, beyond the teacher-students dialogue, two examples of which are explained below.

-Shane Borrett our Curriculum leader of maths when tackling a complex GCSE exam question, will get all students to share their responses. He will then get students to explain how they came to their respective answers (ensuring they explicitly share all of the implicit processes) whilst explaining the strategy/procedure they used. Students who disagree will then explain how they came to their answer. At this point Shane will facilitate a discussion where students can debate what the correct strategy/strategies may have been and why, he then shares the correct response with the students and ensures any students who were not correct can explain where they went wrong and, perhaps, more importantly how they would tackle a similar problem next time in light of the previously had discussion.

-When teaching his GCSE class the impacts of technology Ryan De Gruchy, who is one of our PE teachers, also develops the metacognitive talk in his classroom. Ryan gives the students several minutes to make notes on either the positive impact of technology on sport or the negative impacts of technology on sport. The students will then explain their arguments, whilst taking questions and discussing all of the major points through reasoned arguments. The class then create and share closing statements on the impacts. The students not only strengthen their understanding of the GCSE PE technology unit, they also develop their metacognitive talk.

The two scenarios do come with a slight caveat, as both of the teachers have spent a considerable amount of time prior to the tasks, to guarantee the dialogue is purposeful, with the teachers guiding and supporting the conversation to ensure it is challenging and builds on prior subject knowledge.

The EEF guidance report also highlights the importance of metacognitive talk and outlines some practical implications for teachers in recommendation 5 which can be found here – https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/tools/guidance-reports/metacognition-and-self-regulated-learning

James Crane is a Deputy Leader of PE and Dance at Durrington High School.  He is also a Research School Associate for Durrington Research School and will be delivering our training on Memory and Metacognition. Details of our 2019-20 Training Programmes here


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Teacher Inquiry Groups: Memory

Today was an INSET day at Durrington and as a part of this, we had the second of our ‘Teacher Inquiry Group’ (TIG)  meetings.  In September 2018 we began the implementation of ‘Inquiry Questions’ at Durrington. The idea was for teachers to identify an aspect of their classroom practice that they wanted to develop, through the appraisal process, frame this into an inquiry question and then engage in purposeful practice throughout the year to address this question.

These inquiry questions are framed around our teacher threshold concepts:

  • Metacognition
  • Memory
  • Formative Asssessment
  • Vocabulary
  • Cognitive Load Theory

Here are some examples of some inquiry questions:

What impact does interrogative questioning delivered during the course of the year have on deeper understanding of key concepts to improve attainment for my KS4 classes?

What impact does deliberate teaching of and retrieval practice of Tier 2 and 3 vocabulary delivered over a year have on quality of exam responses (4-6 mark questions) for middle ability girls in my KS4 classes?

What impact does breaking down questions using meta-cognitive techniques delivered over 1 year have on GCSE results for my Year 11 M ability students?

Our objectives for this were:

  • for teachers to take ownership of their CPD through identifying an aspect of their practice to develop;
  • for teachers to engage with the research evidence around their chosen theme;
  • to improve the outcomes of our students through embedding a more evidence informed approach to teaching;

At the TIG meetings, teachers who have an inquiry question based on the same teacher threshold concept meet up and discuss how their work is going.  They also discuss some of the research evidence linked to this aspect of learning.  I was leading the group who are thinking about memory.

As a recap, we started with this really useful graphic that summarises a model of learning from Oliver Caviglioli.  This graphic does a brilliant job of capturing some of the key elements of learning – cognitive load theory; the transfer from working memory to long term memory and back again; schema building; the importance of retrievalTom Sherrington has done a superb job of exploring this model here – well worth a read.

We then went on to discuss the next challenge for evidence-informed practice – mobilisation.  We know what the research evidence from very controlled trials says about many aspects of teaching and learning, but how do these apply to busy classrooms and how can teachers mobilise these approaches with the highest impact?  To support this discussion we read Rob Coe’s recent EEF blog ‘Does research on retrieval practice translate into classroom practice?

In this blog, Rob raises three possible reasons why the mobilisation of the research evidence around retrieval practice might go wrong:

  1. Teachers might generate retrieval questions that focus solely on factual recall (these questions are easier to generate) rather than requiring any higher-order thinking.
  2. Questions might be too easy and boost confidence without providing real challenge, which is likely to be a key ingredient for generating the kind of learning hoped for.
  3. Teachers might allocate too much time to the quizzes, effectively losing the time they need to cover new material.

What was really impressive was that many of the teachers in my group, who have been really focusing on retrieval practice within their own teaching, had been coming to similar conclusions and were adjusting their practice accordingly.

  • Chris Davis (geography) – Chris had been using factual recall for his retrieval quizzes e.g. ‘name….‘  Students were doing very well on these quizzes, but Chris has realised that because they were too easy, it wasn’t really supporting memory.  So students were feeling really good about themselves, but the quizzing wasn’t supporting learning in the way that it should, as it required very little thinking.  To change this, Chris now uses more challenging questions for his retrieval quizzes e.g. ‘Compare….’, ‘Explain why….‘  This aligns really well with the first two points that Rob makes.
  • Claire Taylor (computing) – Claire talked about how she has been using the online platform ‘Quizizz‘ for retrieval quizzing.   Claire preferred this to other similar platforms, because it randomised the questions for all students within a topic (so minimising the opportunity for discussing the answers and using someone else’s long term memory instead of your own!)  It also doesn’t use any annoying background music – so reducing cognitive load!
  • Annie Hewett & Kathy Hughes (maths) – Annie & Kathy were addressing a similar problem.  Often when coming up with questions for their retrieval quizzes at the start of lessons, they would either pick topics that they did recently or topics they enjoyed teaching.  This wasn’t really supporting the idea of spaced practice.  To address this, they now use ‘MathsBox‘.  This generates a completely random selection of questions from a variety of topics, that Annie and Kathy use for retrieval at the start of their lessons.  As the questions are random, they can be on anything, so this is really useful for supporting spaced practice.  They then use how the students perform in these questions formatively, to plan future lessons.
  • Tom Pickford (PE) – Tom and the rest of the PE team have been using a variety of strategies at the start of lessons to encourage retrieval e.g. quizzing, blank knowledge organisers, exam questions.  After reviewing this, Tom realised that whilst this may be serving a purpose in terms of retrieval practice, it wasn’t really being used formatively i.e. teachers just continued teaching whatever they had planned to teach.  In response to this, PE teachers have paused teaching any new content and are now using the time to reteach the topics where students had gaps in their knowledge.
  • Sam Atkins (Geography) – Sam has been using Cornell note taking with his Y9 class to support retrieval.   Whilst Sam remains committed to the idea of this approach, he has found that the process can eat into too much time in the lesson for some students, reducing the time available for delivering the content.  For example, students wanting to write too many questions in the margins or too many key words and then spending too much time writing the summary at the end – which is often not always that useful, in terms of retrieval.  As a result, Sam has slimmed this right down.  He doesn’t do the summary box every lesson now, but instead does it every few lessons.  Most importantly though, he now prioritises the questions – making sure that there are fewer questions, but they are based on the key learning points and with more challenging command words e.g. ‘compare…’, ‘explain…’ and ‘evaluate….’ rather than recall questions such as ‘name…’, ‘state…’

This was a great session.  It was fantastic to hear teachers thinking really deeply about the research and their own teaching – and how they can make small but significant adjustments to their teaching, to make it even more effective.

It convinced me even more  that this model of CPD – evidence-informed, targeted, collaborative and sustained – is definitely the right way to go.

Shaun Allison is Head of School Improvement at Durrington Multi-Academy Trust. He is also Director of Research School for Durrington Research School and will be delivering training on ‘Evidence informed approach to curriculum, teaching and assessment’, ‘Making Every Lesson Count’ and ‘An evidence informed approach to improving science teaching’.





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Some Reflections on Questioning

Questioning is the bread and butter of teaching. But it’s really hard to get right, and is something I think about every lesson – I have a constant barrage of thoughts going on in the back of my head whilst I am standing at the front of the classroom:

“remember to give wait time”

“ask the question, then say the name, not the other way round”

“don’t allow them to say that they don’t know, remember to come back to them”

“don’t always pick the ones with hands up”

“am I asking for formative assessment purposes, or behaviour management purposes?”

“insist on good explanations”

“ask higher order questions”

And so on. Over the years that I have been teaching I have been praised for my questioning during lessons, which was flattering at the time but thinking back now I am sure I still have a long way to go. I even remember one lesson observation with an A Level class where the feedback was “you didn’t tell them anything, it was great!” which I am concerned about now – would it have been more efficient if I had taught them the new material rather than relying on them discovering the advanced trigonometric identities for themselves? Did discovering by themselves lead to more misconceptions along the way? Did I really support the slower graspers or was my lesson just a success with the high flyers? I think I must have spent the entire lesson just asking “why?” which might have looked great to the non-specialist who was observing me at the time but I am not sure I would teach the topic the same way again now. There are a wealth of great resources on questioning out there including the strategies in Doug Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion 2.0. These have all made me change my practise in various ways in recent years, but here I will concentrate on three aspects which have made me think and that I am currently trying to keep uppermost in my mind.

  1. Asking the right questions: concentrating on the Key Concept

I think it is relatively easy to ask questions in Maths. Even when going through a long example there are bits on the way that the students can answer, mostly connected with the arithmetic involved. It can look good from the outside, like the students are doing all the work and they are not being told any of the answers. However, after reading many books, blogs and articles and also through my work on teaching for mastery and cognitive load theory, I now feel this is not generally a good questioning strategy, particularly in the early stages of learning new material. In teaching for mastery we concentrate a lot on sticking to one key concept during a lesson, and we try to think hard about what that key concept is, and find small steps to help all students get there. For example when teaching how to solve simultaneous equations, which is quite a complicated, multi-step process, I might be concentrating on the key concept of “should we add or subtract the equations to eliminate a variable?”. In this case, my questions should help students to specifically understand this key concept and not distract them by suddenly asking them to do the additions or subtractions. At least initially, my questions should be along the lines of “Add or subtract? Why add? Why subtract?”. I think this topic particularly lends itself to poor questioning as the mechanics of solving the equations only requires quite straightforward arithmetic, so it can look like students know what is going on, when the understanding of the process is much more difficult. I am trying increasingly to direct my questioning away from arithmetic not directly linked to the key concept, and towards understanding.

  1. Using true and false and looking at boundary conditions

Another aspect of my questioning that has changed is that I now spend much more time at the start of a topic discussing examples and also non-examples: what it is and what it isn’t. True or False questioning lends itself particularly well to this as it is easy to elicit a whole-class response by using thumbs up and down or fingers in a tick or a cross. Using boundary conditions when introducing a new key concept is really useful in helping students to develop their schema around a topic. When looking at parallelograms yesterday in my year 7 class I included a picture of a rectangle. When I asked whether it was a parallelogram one student answered “false, because it is a rectangle” and we were then able to refer back to the definition of a parallelogram that we had already discussed, and apply this to the rectangle and therefore ascertain that it was in fact also a parallelogram. Which brings me to my final point:

  1. Eliciting answers that generalise

After reading Dani Quinn’s recent blog post about the importance of good answers I have been thinking about this in my classroom in the context of teaching for mastery. In the rectangle example above, my aim was for my class to know that a parallelogram has opposite pairs of parallel lines and opposite sides the same length. A rectangle satisfies these conditions, so it is a parallelogram, and it also has four angles of 90 degrees, which is what makes it also a rectangle. Because we were discussing general properties this was quite easy in the case above, but when we move on to area I want to continue getting them to answer in this way: “I know the area is ??? because to get the area of a parallelogram I multiply the base by the perpendicular height”. This generalisation is important, much more so in fact than just knowing how to do the arithmetic. This reinforces the method to all students as well as getting the correct answer to the question.

Rather than getting snowed under with trying to remember all of the questioning guidelines at once, I’m concentrating on these three aspects at the moment and trying to get them really embedded in my practice.

By Deb Friis


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CTeach in West Sussex, East Sussex, Brighton and Hove and Kent

This is a guest post by Zoe James. Assistant Headteacher at The Beacon Academy, Crowborough, East Sussex.  Zoe can be contacted on Z.James@beacon-academy.org

Have you been teaching for more than 3 years?  Would you like to become an expert classroom teacher?  Read on to find out about the prestigious Chartered Teacher Programme, which is now available to teachers in Sussex, Kent, Brighton and Hove.

Based on similar programmes around the world, C-Teach is designed to further the expertise of experienced practitioners. At the Beacon Partnership, we are delighted to have been selected by the Chartered College of Teaching to deliver the C-Teach Programme in our region.  Previous participants on the programme have highlighted the phenomenal impact it has had on their practice and the young people they teach. We also know that it is a qualification headteachers value.  C-Teach is open to school teachers from all phases: early years, primary, secondary, post-16, special schools and pupil referral units.

Earlier this year, we established The Beacon Partnership, made up of Sussex University, Sussex Teaching Schools and East Sussex County Council, precisely because we recognised the immense of value the C-Teach programme.  We wanted to ensure that the schools, teachers and young people in our region benefit from the fantastic opportunities C-Teach offers.

C-Teach is undoubtedly a challenging programme, but that is an important part of its value. Completion demonstrates excellent knowledge and practices as a teacher as well as a commitment to professional growth. There are rigorous set of development and assessment processes and tasks, underpinned by professional principles which were established through extensive engagement with our profession.  You are, however, well supported throughout by on-going meetings with an expert mentor and our 3 face to face sessions over the 15-month programme.

Successful completion means that you are awarded the status of Chartered Teacher and can use the post-nominal C-Teach.  You will also be awarded master’s level credits.  What’s more, if you are a teacher in an East Sussex state school there is the opportunity to part fund the programme through the East Sussex Scholarship.

We do hope you choose to be part of our programme.  Further details and the programme brochure can be found at http://batsa.beacon-academy.org/beacon-partnership-cteach.php

Closing date for applications is 23rd March 2020

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