Teachers' lessons from lockdown learning
Lucy is a classics teacher at a private Quaker school in the north of England. But she also teaches Latin to students from a range of state schools in the region as part of the York Independent and State Schools Partnership (ISSP). Over the past year she’s been able to teach more children than ever before because of the switch to remote learning, which has opened up the subject beyond those that are able to get to a different school on a Wednesday evening. It’s worked so well, Lucy may carry on teaching virtually as she can reach many more children who want to study a subject their own school cannot offer. Her work with blended learning and disadvantaged students has also won her a Shine award.
Lucy’s story is one of many we’ve heard through the BlendEd project, where teachers are sharing their experiences of, and insights from, remote and blended learning and, especially, the good changes they intend to carry on through from lockdown. We know, of course, that everyone’s had enough of screens, but it’s also clear that there are benefits to remote and blended learning that should not fall by the wayside in the rush to get back to ‘normal’.
We’ve seen it ourselves firsthand with all the exciting possibilities that the greater capacity online learning offers to collaborate across schools. Our media literacy project with First News this year saw a record 10 schools, sixteen classes and nearly 480 year 5 children collaborating together remotely on online challenges blended across the school day. It would simply not have been possible to bring together so many schools and children under ‘normal’ circumstances. This term we also ran a popular mix of flexible sessions at our centre, face to face sessions in school and virtual classes, team-taught with one of our teachers online working closely with the class teacher in the classroom.
So, what else are teachers telling us they are going to carry over from lockdown learning?
Making more use of platforms
Virtual learning environments, from Teams and Google Workspace for Education to SeeSaw and ClassDojo, have been used like never before. Even where these platforms were already part of school life, the intensive use demanded by remote teaching meant that teachers discovered new learning opportunities, time-saving features or other enhancements.
For example, Alexander Cooke, English teacher and remote learning lead at Shavington High School told us how using Teams has helped reduce teachers’ marking workload without lowering the quality of the feedback. Shavington has developed a technology-enabled marking policy to help make the process as efficient as possible. Marking requirements are limited to specific assignments and can take the form most suitable to the subject and assignment in question, often including the use of the rubric function in Teams. Features such as comment banks allow teachers to get the right messages to the right pupils, without requiring them to duplicate work.
Normalising the experience
For Mark Martin (@Urban_Teacher), it is critical that what comes out of the experience is a normalising of the experience of blended learning: that learning doesn’t just take place in one space but can be online or offline and uses digital technology effectively. Students should feel comfortable that they will engage in learning both in lessons and over the learning platform and it’s a smooth transition between the two. For this to happen effectively, schools will need a good structure in place. For example, during the most recent period of lockdown, one primary school we work with had a rota system in place for which teachers were responsible for teaching the key worker children in school, teaching remotely and lesson planning. Such systems may need to be developed and formalised.
More generally, teachers have told us that something they have found really useful from this period, and which they are going to take forward, is ‘divide and conquer’: not everyone need do all of the tasks, it’s easier to share the practice and take a more collaborative approach - why can’t everyone in year 5 use or repurpose the same lesson plan?
Sharing the knowledge
Teachers have been on an incredibly steep learning curve, individually and collectively since the beginning of the pandemic. CPD has been essential and teachers have really supported and helped each other. There’s a strong desire in many of the schools we’ve spoken with to continue the open culture of sharing and learning that’s been vital over the last year.
Laura Smith, assistant curriculum leader for English from Sandbach High School has found scheduling in time to talk to colleagues about what’s worked (and hasn’t!) each week to share ideas and resources has been invaluable.
Here’s Shavington High School’s Alexander Cooke again, explaining how one of the most useful lessons his school has learnt during the pandemic is that not only is it okay to make mistakes, it's often actively helpful as long as there is a culture of learning and openness among staff. Giving teachers the chance to share and discuss what has gone wrong, as well as what is working, can make staff feel more confident to try new things without fear of failure, and perhaps to steer clear of certain approaches that might not be as successful.
Developing learning design
Teachers have had to approach learning design differently with remote education, from breaking work down into smaller chunks to thinking through effective questioning strategies that avoid ‘fastest finger first’ in the chat box. There is now the flexibility to do that both online and face to face, which will change teachers’ use of technology in the classroom and for homework. One school told us that their students have loved the polls that started every lesson online – and which were also good for range finding and for ensuring every student contributes at the beginning of the class. They are exploring how to continue that in the classroom. Another school is looking at how to translate the breakout rooms of online platforms back in school as they found that those, along with collaborative tools such as google docs, fostered group work better and encouraged more children to speak. A useful resource to help with these kinds of decisions is UCL's ‘learning designer’ tool for blended learning, which gives helpful prompts about when and how technology is used, and what proportion of each lesson might be spent collaborating, reading and watching, and producing.
Bridging the digital divide
Finally, Lucy’s state school students had access to the technology they needed, thanks to the efforts of the ISSP, but many children missed out, particularly during the first period of the pandemic. Schools now have a much better understanding of the barriers individual children and families may be experiencing with regard to access to devices, data and connectivity. Where children have been provided with devices there is now an opportunity, if those families are allowed to keep them, to continue a process of closing that gap beyond the lockdown situation.
Hear more teacher insights and experience in BlendEd, a programme of free bite-size professional development with a website packed full of resources for teachers and school leaders to support blended learning pedagogy.
Sarah Horrocks is the director of Education Development Trust's Connected Learning Centre in London, which supports schools and educators in all aspects of digital technology for learning. Sarah was previously a primary teacher and deputy headteacher. She now oversees the centre's programme which includes research, digital strategy, developing teachers’ digital competencies, involving young people in the creative use of digital technologies and making partnerships between schools, businesses and cultural organisations. Sarah and her team have supported UK schools in the move to remote and blended learning with a particular focus on supporting children and families experiencing digital disadvantage. Sarah has also supported UNICEF's 'Education During Emergency Plan' through the creation of teacher training materials in blended learning. The Connected Learning Centre won the BETT Award for service and support to schools in 2019 and 2020 and is a finalist for the award in 2021.