Coronavirus and education: Making the most of remote teaching (part two)

This is the second of two articles offering advice on making a success of remote teaching. You can read the first part here

3. Model it

To complement and extent our video explanations, we might also share models of excellence with pupils, perhaps in the form of worked examples.

These can be shared via video, say by us producing a model on a virtual whiteboard, or as additional written resources shared via Google Docs or Microsoft Teams.

Good models demonstrate what works as well as what doesn’t. We might, therefore, show pupils what excellence looks like by sharing models of the very best work, giving them something to aspire to, and an understanding of how to produce high-quality work of their own.

But we might also show pupils models of ineffective work, work that isn’t quite the best (or perhaps is so very far from being the best) so that pupils can learn what not to do and how to avoid making the same mistakes themselves. Perhaps they could be tasked with identifying mistakes or aspects of the work that could be improved.

What is important is that these models are dissected for pupils, with us demonstrating the dissection process either ‘live’ via video or as a worked example where we show our thought processes or ‘workings out’ on paper.

4. Revise it

Once we’ve delivered teacher explanations via video, encouraged pupils to write about their learning, and shared worked examples to model the process we want them to follow, we need pupils to practise the learning…

We can help pupils to practise prior learning by helping them to engage in self-quizzing, elaboration, generation and calibration…

Self-quizzing

Self-quizzing is about retrieving knowledge and skills from memory and is far more effective than simply re-reading study notes.

When pupils read a text or their notes, we need to encourage them to pause periodically to ask themselves questions – without looking in the text – such as:

o What are the key ideas?
o What terms or ideas are new to me? How would I define them?
o How do the ideas in this text relate to what I already know?

We should encourage pupils to set aside a little time each week to quiz themselves on the work they’ve done, as well as what they learned in school before closure.

Once they’ve self-quizzed, pupils need to check their answers and make sure they have an accurate understanding of what they know and what they don’t know.

Pupils need to know that making mistakes will not set them back, so long as they check their answers later and correct any errors.

We should help pupils pace out their retrieval practice. This means studying information more than once and leaving increasingly large gaps between practice sessions. Initially, new material should be revisited within a day or so then not again for several days or a week.

When pupils are feeling more certain of material, they should quiz themselves on it once a month.

They could also interleave the study of two or more aspects of a related topic so that alternating between them requires them to continually refresh their memories of each aspect.

Elaboration

Elaboration is the process of finding additional layers of meaning in new material. It involves relating new material to what pupils already know, explaining it to somebody else, or explaining how it relates to the wider world.

We could encourage pupils to explain their learning to their parents or to us and each other via Google Docs, Microsoft Teams, etc.

One way to elaborate is to use flashcards with a question on one side and the answer on the other. Websites like Quizlet allow pupils to create and share the flashcards and to test themselves repeatedly.

Generation

Generation is when pupils attempt to answer a question or solve a problem before being shown the answer or the solution.

The act of filling in a missing word (the cloze test) results in better learning and a stronger memory of the text than simply reading the text. Before pupils read new material (e.g. that provided by us on Google Docs or online), they should be encouraged to explain the key ideas they expect to find and how they expect these ideas will relate to their prior knowledge.

Reflection

Reflection involves taking a moment to review what has been learned. Pupils need to ask questions such as:

o What went well? What could have gone better?
o What other knowledge or experience does it remind me of?
o What might I need to learn in order to achieve better mastery?
o What strategies could I use next time to getter better results?

Calibration

Calibration is achieved when pupils adjust their judgment to reflect reality – in other words, they become certain that their sense of what they know and can do is accurate.

Often when pupils revise information, they look at a question and convince themselves that they know the answer, then move on to the next question without making an effort to actually answer the previous one.

If pupils do not write down an answer, they may create the illusion of knowing when in fact they’d find it difficult to give a response.

We need to encourage pupils to remove the illusion of knowing and actually answer all the questions even if they think they know the answer and that it is too easy.

Here are some other study skills we might want to encourage our pupils to use at home:

• Anticipate test questions during study.
• Read study guides, finds terms you can’t recall or don’t know and learn them.
• Copy key terms and their definitions into a notebook.
• Take practice tests.
• Reorganise class material into a study guide.
• Copy out key concepts and regularly test yourself on them.

5. Support it

Some pupils will need more help than others. As such, although whole class videoconferences are unlikely to be effective for most cohorts, it might be worthwhile scheduling days and times when you’ll be online and available for pupils (and possibly their parents) to log on and talk to you. You should stick to set times and not make yourself available 24/7 and you should set clear parameters –good digital hygiene, if you like – about what is acceptable behaviour that must be obeyed. You need to think carefully about safeguarding and about protecting yourself if making direct contact with pupils whilst working from home.

You could complement this ‘surgery’ style of support, with regular scheduled phone calls to the most disadvantaged pupils and their parents, as well as those with additional and different needs.

Finally, keep it simple…

We need to avoid placing barriers in the way of our pupils’ – and their parents’ – home learning.

One way to do this is to choose one platform and try to create a ‘one-stop-shop’ so that pupils are not required to navigate through the labyrinthine corridors of several different systems. In other words, try to stick with Google or Microsoft rather than a combination of systems.

If you do need to use different standalone platforms such as TTrockstars and Mathletics, then curate these on one page of your website so that different services are always just one click away. And consider quick and easy ways of parents accessing their usernames and passwords, and of requesting IT support from school.

And if all else fails…

One of the easiest – and most effective – things our pupils can do whilst being ‘home-schooled’ during the coronavirus, is reading.

We can help parents to develop their children’s reading skills by providing them with some easy-to-follow tips. And we can make sure pupils have easy access to lots of books, including via local library ebook services.

The best way to help children develop their reading skills is to start by modelling fluent reading – in other words, to show them how we read. Accordingly, we should encourage parents to read aloud to their children to demonstrate how they make good use of pace (including pauses) and intonation (emphasising certain words for effect).

Modelling fluent reading also means showing children that in order to read a book in a way that makes sense, we read ahead, we anticipate or guess what’s coming next, and we make educated guesses based on the context. (That’s how you knew, in the last sentence, to pronounce ‘read’ as ‘reed’ and not ‘red’.)

Modelling involves two things: showing children how we do it; and narrating our thoughts and decisions by ‘thinking aloud’.

So, we should also encourage parents to read a page of a book aloud for their children, then get their children to read the same page aloud to them.

Contrary to what many of us used to think, children’s reading capabilities are best improved by repeatedly reading the same short texts rather than by reading one long book after another. That’s not to say that children shouldn’t be challenged to read a whole novel and to do so for pleasure, but if the goal is to explicitly develop reading comprehension, then short texts are best.

Accordingly, we should encourage parents to use – and indeed we could provide – short extracts or passages and save novels for children’s private reading pleasure.

Once parents have modelled reading fluently and listened to their children reading aloud to them, we should encourage them to move on to comprehension skills.

For example, we could encourage parents to ask their children to read a short text then test their understanding of that text.

Here, the goal is to help children develop the following comprehension skills (you could copy and paste what follows into a handy ‘how to’ guide for parents):

o Predict: whilst they’re reading aloud, ask children to guess what might happen next – this will also make sure they pay more attention to the text
o Question: ask children to think of questions they’d like to ask about the text, ask why they’d ask those questions and at those points in the text; ask children to tell us anything they’re unsure about in the text and ask them how they might gather further information to help them become more certain
o Summarise: ask children to briefly describe what’s just happened in the text or, alternatively, ask them to create a timeline showing how the plot is developing, or to write pen portraits of key characters
o Infer: inference is about drawing conclusions from what is suggested in a text. For example, if someone said, ‘Please can you close the window?’, we might infer that it was cold in the room. They didn’t explicitly say it was cold, but we made an educated guess. Here, ask children to infer the meaning of sentences from their context, and the meaning of words from spelling patterns. Or ask them to infer what characters really mean by what they say.
o Connect: the more children know about the world, the easier it is for them to learn more. So, to help them, ask children to tell us what they already know about the topic of the text we are about to read, or are reading, and ask them to make links. Schema theory teaches us that there are 3 useful links to make here: between the text and other texts children have read before, between the text and children’s own life experiences, and between the text and what children know of the wider world.

Next, we might want children to read a longer passage or perhaps a chapter of a book by themselves and, depending on their age, in silence.

To ensure they continue to pay close attention to the text and understand what’s being said, parents can stop them at certain points and ask them questions.

Here, parents can help children to develop their reading comprehension skills by using the PEER framework which, again, you could copy and paste and provide as a guide to parents:

o Prompt your child to say something about the book;
o Evaluate their response;
o Expand their response by rephrasing or adding information to it; and
o Repeat the prompt to help them learn from the expansion.

The prompts that make up the P of PEER can be remembered using the acronym CROWD:

o Completion—leave a blank at the end of a sentence for children to complete
o Recall—ask children about something they have already read
o Open-ended—often with a focus on pictures in books
o Wh—prompts that begin with ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘where’, ‘why’, and ‘when’
o Distancing—connects the book to children’s own life experiences and provides an opportunity for high quality discussion.

Matt

@mj_bromley

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