One positive experience to come from this difficult and unprecedented time is reconnecting with ex colleagues. Last week for me this was a former Erasmus + project team, 2014-2016 “21st Century Digital Classrooms” with partner schools from Italy, Spain, Portugal, Poland, Bulgaria and the UK.
Once we confirmed we were all OK those of us just starting this strange and unknown journey were keen to hear from our colleagues about their initial experiences from their first 2 weeks of lock down. None of us could ever imagined we would find ourselves rapidly implementing the technologies and pedagogies we trialled in the project so rapidly and at such scale. My colleagues’ insights were fascinating and informative, particularly the advice they offered on how they would do things differently if they could go back two/ three weeks. Unlike our EU project we previously worked on we did not have 6 months to write a project plan and build a prototype followed by 6 months to trial with a few interested teachers with lots of reflection built in before moving to a few more classrooms. We were all suddenly in this project at scale at great speed without even signing up for it.
In true Erasmus + style time to think, discuss and reflect what are the big questions before starting would have been nice. However, that luxury is only possible on hindsight. Some of these questions may have steered our subsequent actions.
What do we want to replicate from the classroom? (REPLICATE)
E.g. pupils working together, teacher modelling, doing maths, correcting work.
What is the balance for our focus on covering new material or revising existing knowledge?
What will be the same and what will be different in the scheme of learning? (REPURPOSE)
E.g. setting work through a familiar online platform used for homework may be the same but the distinction between classwork and homework may not.
What will we not do, because we can’t and/or it’s not effective online? (REPLACE)
E.g. Teach full timetable in real time.
What will we now do, because we can and/or it’s effective online? (TRANSFORM)
E.g. Flipped learning (watch a video or run through a PowerPoint before coming together to go through problems, examples together)
And now to that important advice section with more thoughts and questions for consideration.
1. Establish a communication channel to reassure students (one to one or in small groups). In the rush to get lessons online and start teaching remotely and maintaining routines the well-being of the students which teachers automatically provide in the classroom environment was side-lined. Students soon started to be anxious, eg tech not working at home, illness in family, missing school, not understanding materials online, worried about their assessments. Some teachers wished they had spent the first week have initial calls, chats online with small groups to offer reassurance rather than go headlong into the online classroom while fielding calls and emails from anxious parents and students.
2. Technology Inequalities. There is a real risk that we’re creating a larger gap and additional inequities for students, especially when you’re trying for greater use of digital tools that some students just simply don’t have access to. Need to think about the technological needs of the home, the needs of the student and the needs of our teachers. Using existing tried and tested apps that can be accessed through a smart phone when there is no laptop/tablet/ PC is key?
3. Collaborative classrooms How can we use experiences of students to connect, create and collaborate in an online world? Let’s revisit E+ projects and other action research projects, where students use digital tools to create content, where teachers meet online to learn together, where visions of blended learning are being realised. E.g.
4. Distinguish between online learning, teaching and assessment and setting objectives for each. What do we want to achieve and how best to do this and what platforms/tools are available to best support us in meeting our objectives. Build time for teachers for ongoing discussion, research and exploration on what pedagogies will work best for each in their context.
Use materials/ websites/ programmes /videos that already exist supplemented by;
Key questions posed in a discussion form
Exercises and learning tasks set to be completed offline and on paper
Decide amount of time that is realistic to learn at home, potentially without support, it will be much less than in school
Make learning active, do lots of maths, interact with it, not just watch it
Supplement the content with teacher input for example;
Short pre - recordings from the teacher
Screen casting/ voice-overs with PowerPoints
Break out rooms for smaller discussions
Modelling tools such as magic paper on a wall, stylus, slates, virtual whiteboards
Keep it short
Behaviour issues are just as likely in an online world as in the classroom, yet teachers will not be as skilled to deal with them. Recommended to have videos off for students with teacher controlling the screen and who is talking.
Assessment of learning will be very different. We may have to rethink the purpose and fidelity of summative assessment. Assessment for learning, may be less different, with online programmes already supporting teachers and students in finding out and addressing gaps in understanding? But there are some big technical and pedagogical questions here as we decide, “How will we assess online?” What balance of Teacher marking, Peer marking, Self - marking, Automated marking will we adopt for our setting?
5. Start to plan for the return to school. Considering what are the implications of this time out of school and what steps can we take to mitigate issues that may arise, E.g. Wider gaps in learning than before with students not prepared for next year’s programme of study. ITE students not ready or confident to start teaching in September. GCSE resits will not really be resits.
6. Decide where you will host your content. Some schools have encouraged class websites, they may use Google Classroom (a free option) or other school learning management system. The key seems to be whatever it is, try to pick just one place to house the content, as consistency is critical during this time.
7. It’s OK to be a novice. We are not going to produce online content that can match the quality of companies who have been in this space for a while. Simple things to show teacher is there such as sharing a picture or quick recording using their phone or a phone call. Students love seeing and hearing from their teachers and appreciate their efforts.
8. Be prepared to adapt. This is all new and very sudden. After a few days, weeks, ask students and teachers how it’s going for them, and incorporate their feedback.
Whilst Covid- 19 presents us with a frightening new landscape, such adversity could be the catalyst to really innovate in education. We have the opportunity to rethink and trial at scale blended learning and what we want and don’t want future learning, teaching and assessment to look like. Over a billion students are learning from home, digital technology have come of age and teachers are willing to collaborate and experiment to support their students through this challenging period of isolation. Ken Robinson may finally see the system leave behind the 19th Century education model. What will be key is the professional development we put in place to support teachers. Initially technologically training to equip them to use the tools and carry out the tasks that are being asked of them but we mustn’t forget the pedagogical training. Usual pedagogies may no longer work in this new online world. It is important to remind ourselves what we are trying to achieve and what is realistic in our own contexts. There is support out there and many teachers with capacity will be able to be involved in online professional development in the summer term.
If you would like to be more involved in sharing and designing online learning pedagogies for the mathematics classroom, please get in touch. We are keen to explore an innovation Work Group with this focus.
Next time Gill will reflect on how some of our London maths subject leaders have moved their classrooms online.