In this, the fifth blog of the series, we will be examining the lessons learned from remote learning with regards to student practice. In comparison to some of the other six principles such as explanation, practice would appear potentially less negatively affected by remote learning. In essence this is often the phase of learning in which students are most independent. However, without teacher scaffolding and guidance practice can often go wrong, and as we know, practice does not make perfect, but it does make permanent. Therefore, the work we have done over recent weeks on practice is sure to have provided some useful insights.
What we have tried:
- Scaffolding student practice by providing worked examples. These completed or part completed versions of the processes students are attempting, help students to see how to work through the problem systematically.
- Scaffolding student practice by providing procedural checklists. These come in a variety of forms, one being rubrics on Google forms, and help students to check their practice contains all the necessary component parts.
- Scaffolding student practice through the format of lessons. Our remote lessons developed over time in terms of the clarity of instructions and the resources that accompanied them.
- Modelling first before practice. Ensuring we get the modelling right before we ask students to practice helped to ensure they would be successful when working independently.
- Building the lessons of metacognition into student practice. Explicitly teaching students how to plan, monitor and evaluate what they are practising helps them to self-regulate.
- Retrieval practice. Building regular retrieval practice into remote learning ensured students would not forget what we had previously taught them.
- Spaced practice. There was a greater degree of this in remote learning with an understanding that the pace of the curriculum needed to slow and substantial embedding needed to happen. Many topics were returned to re-caped during remote learning.
- Practise with smaller chunks. It was harder for students to practise large pieces of extended writing effectively, so chunking the practice and only completing sections of writing was employed by subjects with high extended writing demands.
- Repetition. Practising the same procedures over and over was often required during remote learning as students found it difficult to work with such independence.
- Using multiple choice questions to support student practice.
What we have learned:
- The practice continuum was thrown into spotlight during remote learning. It became clear as to the large amount of teacher guidance that is needed for independent and autonomous practice to be successful.
- In order for students to be successful in practising long complex procedures they first need to practise with the composite parts. In the classroom we perhaps compensate for students by scaffolding them through the complex procedures, which can be unhelpful as when they finally come to complete them without us they are not able to. By ensuring the practice is chunked effectively we actually support them better in getting to the finished product.
- Student self-efficacy is key to successful practice. Where students do not feel confident in a particular area they find it difficult to engage with deliberate practice where they push themselves to the edges of their capabilities.
- As teachers we need to model our thinking as well as the process to aid effective independent practice. This helps build metacognitive regulation.
- Without scaffolding practice can go very wrong. Some early remote lessons produced student outcomes that showed the students were not fully prepared for the practice they were engaging with.
- The conditions of retrieval practice need to be tightly controlled. We knew this already, but it was notable how unsuccessful it was where students were using resources rather than memory.
- Multiple choice questions (as long as they are carefully constructed) provide both excellent student practice in terms of retrieval, but also excellent formative insights for both student and teacher.
- For some students, in particular high attaining, time and space to engage in highly autonomous practice can yield excellent outcomes. Some work of an extremely high standard has been produced during lockdown.
What we will keep:
- Greater awareness of where students are on the practice continuum. Remote learning has given us a timely reminder of the importance of knowing when to intervene and when to allow freedom.
- Tightly controlled retrieval practice. As we know, much that looks like retrieval practice simply isn’t because students are not operating solely from long-term memory. Therefore we must insist on the parameters being met.
- A high focus on the importance of building self-regulating metacognitive learners. This is the biggest lever to developing effective independent practice.
- Helping guide student practice with procedural checklist is already something we are seeing appearing in lessons now. It will be great to see how this develops.
- An understanding that our students are often able to surprise us with their capacity to produce truly excellent independent work. Knowing when we should step back and allow that freedom is something to retain.
- The continued development of multiple choice questions. We were on this path already, but the capacity of well-constructed multiple-choice questions to perform multiple functions has shone a light on why we need to incorporate them further.
- The use of worked examples to support practice.