Reflecting on Remote Teaching

 

Like all schools at the moment, we continue to review and develop our approach to remote teaching.  In doing so, like we do for everything else, we try to follow the evidence.  In this TES article Professor Becky Francis stresses the point that when it comes to remote teaching, it is the quality of teaching that matters most and that this is far more important than how lessons are delivered. This links to a rapid evidence assessment that the EEF published out in April:

Pupils 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 prerecorded video. But what matters most is whether the explanation builds clearly on pupils’ prior learning or how pupils’ understanding is subsequently assessed.”

This is further supported by an OFSTED review of remote teaching published this week:

Some think that a live lesson is the ​gold standard’ of remote education. This isn’t necessarily the case. Live lessons have a lot of advantages. They can make curriculum alignment easier, and can keep pupils’ attention, not least as the teacher has more control over the learning environment. But live lessons are not always more effective than asynchronous approaches.

There are some specific difficulties in doing live lessons. It can be hard to build in interaction and flexibility. This means that giving feedback can actually be less effective than when we use recorded lesson segments followed by interactive chats, or tasks and feedback. Using recorded lessons produced externally can allow you to easily draw on high-quality lessons taught by expert subject teachers. The challenge here can be to make sure they are integrated with the curriculum.

Because evidence suggests that concentration online is shorter than the length of a typical lesson, filming a classroom lesson may be ineffective.”

With this in mind, we have adopted a blended approach of recorded and live lessons at Durrington.  In this post, Zofia Reeves (a maths teacher in her in her second year of teaching) reflects on her experience as she trials live lessons.

When reflecting on the differences between in-school and remote teaching, the biggest challenge for me has been losing the ability to connect with students in real time. Usually, the start of a lesson is so important for welcoming students, checking in with them, and setting expectations. Not being able to ask them how they are, face-to-face, has felt like losing an integral part of the lesson. Commenting “hello” in a stream of comments on google classroom has felt impersonal and cannot always replace being able to give a friendly welcome as students enter a classroom. This was my primary reason for wanting to deliver live lessons, in the hope that students may feel more connected to their learning if they were given the opportunity to interact, both with their teacher and their fellow peers.

Assessing the students’ understanding and combatting misconceptions in real-time was another strong motive for trialling live lessons as I felt there was a lag between students asking for help, and me creating and sending them an explanation video. I believed that live-teaching would offer me the opportunity to help students more efficiently.

Ultimately, delivering a live lesson feels a lot more like my usual job! I feel a familiarity presenting slides and bouncing questions round the class. I also think it provides students with some much-needed variation. From experience, we all know it can be incredibly draining staring at a screen all day, but perhaps it may help motivate the students if the occasional lesson is a little more interactive.

What I learnt from my first live-lessons

I was pleasantly surprised to see that the students were really happy to write messages on the chat throughout the lesson. It was useful to regularly check in with them (partly to make sure they were still listening!) and ask them quick questions they could answer in the chat. A simple trick that proved to be really useful was asking them to hold back from pressing enter and then asking them all to press send at the same time. This reduced the likelihood that they were basing their responses on other students’ answers. Another useful strategy was to use true/false questions or multi-choice questions (I used diagnostic questions from Eedi’s White Rose collection). These are useful forms of assessment as students only have to type a letter, or true/false into the chat. They can be followed by probing the students about why they chose their answers and this in turn can promote interesting discussion into different misconceptions. By celebrating different responses, I found it easier to create a culture of error (Lemov, D. 2015).

What I would like to try moving forwards

I think a calm approach is really important, and I would like to try introducing more pause moments into my lessons. The temptation is to plough on through the tasks but when planning subsequent lessons I will reduce the content and really hone in one or two specific skills to avoid extraneous cognitive load. In addition, I want to avoid delivering live-lessons for the sake of it, without much thought into why that particular topic would lend itself to being live.

I would also like to dedicate time at the beginning of each lesson where I focus on activating prior knowledge that links to the lesson, and take time to go over new or complex vocabulary. It may be useful to pre-teach some elements of the lesson and perhaps set a task in the previous lesson that will give students a foundation on which to build and increase their confidence in the topic.

Although remote teaching poses its challenges, I think it also provides an exciting opportunity to discover new formats of teaching.  Live lessons will not always be the perfect solution, but they have the potential to be really valuable, both for the students’ wellbeing and their academic progress.

Zofia Reeves

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2 Responses to Reflecting on Remote Teaching

  1. mikeollerton says:

    This reads as a comprehensive guide to the pros and cons of different approaches to remote teaching. I find the thoughtful reflective nature of your writing quite inspirational and I really liked your thought about incorporating more “pause moments” rather than ploughing on with your teaching. This is something I have been critical of in the past of teachers “getting through” their lesson plan but but without pausing to ascertain where the students are at.

    Regards
    Mike

  2. Some very good observations and tips. Many thanks to Zofia for these thoughts. It is true that the ability to connect and build rapport with your students can be gradually diminished, even of you are in live online lessons throughout the week (as in the case at my school in HK). I have found that spending a couple of minutes at the start to do some general “chatting” helps to keep some of this going, and the students enjoy this downtime.

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