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School Closures & Online Learning

Online learning isn’t ideal, especially when we are so used to having daily face to face interactions with our pupils. However, with so many of us affected by the school closures linked to Covid-19, we must now find ways of teaching that still has the progress of those we teach at its core.

I have been teaching remotely for several weeks now and thought I would share my experiences in the hope that it helps those of you in similar situations.

Here are some of my key pieces of advice:

  • Don’t panic! Even though this is probably your first reaction (I have to admit it was mine), try not to worry too much. You will eventually find your own way of working and this may take a few days or a week to perfect, but you’ll get there. The most important thing is to do what makes you feel confident in terms of what your pupils are getting from your lessons and interactions with them.

  • Adapt as you see fit. You may need to adapt along the way or even adapt your teaching depending on different classes. For example, I teach Y7 – Y12 and have had to find different ways of engaging with all of them.

  • Use as many (or as little) learning platforms as you need. I currently use around 4 different platforms and this depends on who the lessons are for and what tasks I want them to complete.

I currently use the following:

Padlet – this has proved to be absolutely invaluable with my Y11 class as it gives them the freedom to browse resources and take control of their own revision. It also gives me a way of sharing resources as and when I create them. I currently have a bank of lessons, revision guides, example questions, model answers and quizzes on my Y11 Padlet page. It also makes setting work very easy as I can direct them to complete tasks on a weekly basis which gives them structured tasks as well as the option to do extra work from the many other resources I have uploaded.

OneNote – I use this for my Y12 class as not only can I upload work and resources for them, but they also have their own section within OneNote where they make notes, complete homework or submit essays. I am able to see their notes as well as longer pieces of work that they submit. This means that I can keep track of smaller pieces of work or responses as well as the more formal assessments. I can also mark work within OneNote so they can receive instant feedback.

Microsoft Teams – this is a great platform for setting and marking work, meeting with pupils and offering face to face guidance sessions. I use this platform for the lower years as well as Y11 when it comes to setting and marking work as it is easy and efficient. I also use it across all years in order to have face to face group sessions.

Recording video lessons – out of all the different ways I have been teaching, this has proved to be the most popular with pupils who say it has made their independent study easy and clear. I plan the PPT lesson I want to teach and then record my voice as I work my way through the slides. I give instructions, offer explanations and tell them when to pause the video and how long to spend on each task. This actually replicates ‘real’ teaching as much as possible and the pupils find it useful to have the lesson to refer back to when they are completing tasks independently. It also means that I can upload a week’s worth of lessons on Monday and they can work through them at their own pace. I upload these to both Youtube and Teams so pupils have the option of how to access them.

  • Weekly work – I prefer to set work for the full week and think about what I would like them to have completed by Friday, then I work backwards and design appropriate tasks. I think that with all of the work that pupils are trying to manage whilst being at home, it is easier for them to be given the full week in advance so they can work through it at their own pace rather than wait for a lesson a day. However, I understand that you may not have this option if your school directs you to carry out your usual timetable on a daily basis.

  • Clear tasks - create tasks that can be completed without as much teacher input. Also, make sure your expectations are clear e.g I want you to read the poem and write a summary. Your summary must include…etc.

  • Think of your class goal for each week and set tasks that help you to assess the extent to which they have met it: much the same way you do in a normal teaching week. Don’t be put off setting an essay because you feel that they can’t write it without you standing next to them – they can. I have been pleasantly surprised by the independence and determination of my classes. And they remember more than I anticipated, proving that they have been listening to me!

  • Make use of peer assessment – just because pupils can’t see each other doesn’t mean they can’t help each other.

1. Pair pupils up and ask them to email each other their work and offer feedback.

2. Pupils can also comment within OneNote and Padlet once work is uploaded. I

give strict instructions for this just as I would in a classroom environment. I often

tell them how many pieces of work they must comment on and remind them how

to make helpful and appropriate comments. I also give them clear deadlines e.g.

Please upload your essay onto Padlet by Monday. By Friday you must have

commented on at least 3 other essays and given 2 positive comments and 1

comment for improvement.

  • Modelling – use this just as you would in lesson. I often record myself talking though a model answer so pupils can then use this as a way of understanding the success criteria. I will also use this if a task has been submitted but it seems as if there has been a lot of misunderstanding. This can also be used as a way of modelling marking so pupils then feel confident repeating the same activity either as a self or peer assessment activity.

  • Revision booklets – these are extremely useful, particularly for Y11. I have made my own for the literature texts but if you don’t have the time, perhaps you can collaborate with colleagues or find some ready-made ones on the internet. These not only promote independence but are also really easy for you as a teacher. You can set a certain number of pages each week and check these whenever you have time. If these are not electronic, ask pupils to email photos through so you can keep an eye on how much they are doing.

  • Collaboration – you can still promote collaboration and discussion even though the physical classroom experience has been suspended. If you are using a platform like Teams, pupils can talk to you or each other. Or they can find their own ways to communicate. Many of my pupils already had group chats for the class, so these can now be utilised to talk and share ideas.

  • Using ‘how to’ guides in order to promote independence. There are examples of these on my Student Zone and they work particularly well with exam classes. I often find that pupils forget what I say (even when we are in the same room) so I actually made a lot of these when we were at school. The pupils really like them because they can refer back to them whenever they need to, and it saves them having to ask /email me and wait for a response.

  • One Pagers – these are a fun and creative way of pupils displaying their learning on a literature text and acts as a great summative activity.

  • Keep it simple – I repeat the same lesson structure each week so pupils know what to expect and can plan their English time appropriately. I also draw upon previous activities and skills I have used and taught during normal school opening time. This makes it easier for pupils to approach new tasks with previous knowledge. So, if they are used to using PEEL, stick with it. You want them to feel successful and they won't if you introduce new skills and ways of working. They already have a wealth of knowledge and experience from your classroom - utilise this.

  • Quizzes – these are fun and can be created by you or the pupils. Quizzes help you to gauge how much pupils have retained so you can plan accordingly.

  • You may need to assess pupils if you are out of the classroom for a while so factor this in. It may have to look a lot different to what you are used to, but it’s ok to adapt. Think about which methods you usually use and see which ones work in this situation or can easily be adapted. Assessing and grading should be fair for you and the pupils and should always have their best interest at its core. What will help them to move on from a task? Which strategies will elicit the best feedback for pupils? Which tasks will help you to assess how much they have progressed? How will you grade? Will you use a modified or watered-down criteria? Whatever you choose, share this with pupils and model before you set any assessed work.

  • Timetable slots where you will be available to answer questions or give feedback– but ensure this is within your normal working hours. You need a break too! Even if pupils don’t have any questions about the work, they may still want to just check in with you and see your face or hear your voice. Schedule this in for the same time each day/week so they know when they can expect to see you. You may even find that they miss your lessons as much as you miss teaching them.

  • Don’t change who you are as a teacher and definitely don’t overcomplicate things. The situation may be new and slightly alien, but you are still the same teacher you were before. The pupils already know you and your style so stick with it. There is a lot of pressure to use multiple platforms and sign up to lots of different online resources etc. You must do what makes you feel effective and most of all, do what makes you and your pupils happy. My current style of teaching is exactly the same: the way I structure my lessons, the teacher talk I use; the activities I set up; and the way in which I lead pupils towards a goal are all the same. The only difference is that I deliver this in an alternative way.

  • Give pupils clear guidelines. I always prepare a ‘coversheet’ with the lessons and resources I upload, and this gives an overview of work for the week and any deadlines they must meet (which are highlighted so they stand out!).

  • It can be easy to work extra hours. Being on your computer all day can become addictive and you lose track of time. Give yourself a clear deadline of when you will switch off or else ‘just 10 more minutes responding to emails’ can easily become 2 hours later. Just as we advocate for the pupils - create a timetable for yourself. For example: Monday and Tuesday are my marking days as Monday is when I set homework deadlines for pupils. Wednesday and Thursday are my planning days and Friday is where I record myself going through the lessons, create extra resources and upload everything for pupils. I try and stick to this as much as possible so that I can be efficient - and also so that I remain sane!

  • This situation will not last forever so do your best and trust yourself!

Hopefully, we will all be back in the classroom soon.

If you have any questions about anything I have mentioned in this post, please feel free to contact me. I’m happy to share my experiences so far and help where I can.

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