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Remote Learning and Teaching Blog

Remote Learning and Teaching - Blog Post 1

Remote ‘Learning and Teaching’ is challenging. It's very tricky when neither the student nor the teacher is in the School to support training or provide 1-1 guidance. Teachers are learning how to teach remotely and students are learning how learn remotely. It is not as simple as some would like it to be, as hidden within the umbrella term of ‘Learning and Teaching’, we have to somehow address questioning, assessment, feedback, marking, independence, IT skills, bandwidth reliability, collaboration and many more features of our new classroom environment. However, with the full commitment and dedication of the Freemen’s community we will make this work in order to continue to provide a full Freemen’s education. 

The sudden site closure has meant that, although Freemen’s was well prepared for our new approach, using our VLE FreeLearning, our development of this model into Home Learning 2.0 is one which has the teachers, parents and pupils at the core of all our decisions. If we go too quickly, mistakes are made, the approach is less than satisfactory, and therefore, the pupils struggle with the overwhelming changes, particularly for those students and families with more than one (Freemen’s) student in the house. It’s hard to get this right and no one wants to referee a match over who has first dibs over the iPad/laptop! And we should not underestimate that students – as well as teachers – are on a learning curve here, with some of them struggling to access platforms such as Teams at first and without technical support at home upon which to rely.

So what we must do is ensure that we consider all the challenges we face, balance these with a number of exciting opportunities and deliver this new way of working in timely manner that ensures all our students thrive under these new conditions. We know that seeing a teacher on a screen provides some normality, but it does not always provide the best conditions for learning to take place, particularly with classes of more than ten. There is no remote learning system that can replace an excellent classroom teacher and there is no evidence to suggest that trying to simply replicate the ‘normal classroom’ to a virtual one provides the same outcomes. We cannot see all the students; we cannot easily see all their work; we cannot provide 1-1 support and we cannot be certain that all students are paying attention. We therefore need to target our efforts towards approaches most likely to have a positive impact on student learning. Our decision to empower our teachers to decide (with some guidance and support) what the best way for them to deliver their lessons is one which will bring the best results. 

Ultimately, we need to balance synchronous and asynchronous approaches to ensure all our students are able to access the learning materials. Our approach also needs to be flexible so that it can be adapted to a broad range of home and family circumstances, so by providing work in a range of formats means it is accessible to all, particularly to younger students who require much shorter learning projects compared to older students where a greater focus on collaboration, independence and research beings greater reward. Therefore, there will be some interactive live lessons, some prerecorded lessons and some which will be a lot simpler, such as completing a set of questions or research. Rest assured our strategy has been planned and thought through and we believe that we have the balance right.

Assessment, marking and feedback all aim to answer the same questions: how do we tell students how well they have done? And what they need to do to improve without having their books, or have the student sat down in front of us in a class? The answers are actually quite simple. Most classroom assessment and feedback takes place in the classroom with the students as this has the most striking impact on learning, much more so than marking books. The ability to tell a student at that moment in time how they have done, so they can make those changes instantly is something we will of course miss, but with our gradual roll-out of increasing interactivity through live lessons, we can give this feedback to the students. We can also do this through quick quizzes, retrieval tasks, low stakes recall assessments, hook questions, exit tickets and many other innovative ways at gathering data from students. So, although you may not see the traditional method of providing feedback, such as teacher’s pen on students’ work, feedback is happening. Managing the delivery of new content when students are away from school needs careful consideration, and the best approach to take to ensure students are learning and improving is regular, low stakes assessment and with a focus on retrieval, so this is the method we will mainly be using in our Home Learning 2.0 roll-out.  There will of course be times when a summative assessment needs to take place where some written comments on student work or an end of topic assessment will be completed.

There is also an opportunity to really empower the students’ independence and responsibility over their learning. At Freemen’s we regularly use self-assessment, a technique used to promote student ownership where they mark their own work. The structure for this consists of teachers providing the answers, guidelines or an example for students to assess themselves. The amount students get from this is incredibly powerful; we regularly hear students say ‘Did I really write that?’ This method is not something which is restricted to when the teacher tasks the child to do this, as before all work Is submitted, students should proof read their work, check their spelling, punctuation and grammar and ensure they have used the vocabulary and key terms as best as they can. They can also question themselves by asking, “Have I answered the question? Have I used the guidelines given to me? Have I met the success criteria?” Often, writing and submitting half a page of work does not mean the above questions have been answered. 

At Freemen’s, we also understand the importance of providing challenge; in fact, it is one of our six principles of excellent learning and teaching and something that should feature in every lesson throughout the school day. We aim to be setting work that challenges all students, but we also know that each student may find different tasks more challenging than others. With every task we set out, we will aim to include extension tasks or other work students should be completing to ensure the student stays on task. However, delivering this, without the students ‘in the room’ means we may not be aware of the different challenges which are being faced. If the pupil is stuck and wants something else to do, they could read, learn a new skill, write and reflect, complete an online course, explore nature, exercise, learn to code, or even build something or take on a project. There is always something extra to do and the online resources found in the Student/Parent Handbook guides you and your children towards some examples you and they could use.

Finally, we know we may not have our processes perfect, or even know what perfect remote learning look like in the current climate. But each day as more information is provided, we are evolving our approach, taking the guidance and support offered and using our internal resources to continue to teach all our children the best way possible.