Remote Learning: Five Things We Should Keep Post-Covid

Remote Learning

This article was first published in May 2021 in Sec Ed. You can find the link to the original article here.

Since lockdown ended and we all returned to our classrooms, I have noticed that things are different. I did not expect them to remain completely the same, but what I have been surprised by is just how much my teaching has changed since March 2020.

During lockdown, I could not wait to leave it all behind and I counted the days until I could return to my physical classroom. I was particularly tired of looking at rows of initials instead of faces. But now I am back, I realise something: the technology that I have struggled with and the new strategies I have had to adopt will be sorely missed if we abandon them now. As much as I can’t stand the phrase…

…we’re in a ‘new normal’

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to get all misty-eyed about tech-filled 21st-century schools being some utopian wonderland. Fundamentally, I don’t think teaching and learning will change that much, no matter how much tech we throw at it.

What I do believe, however, is that we have crossed the Rubicon. We are not experts in it yet, but enough of us are now good enough at using certain technology for us to embed features of it into our permanent everyday practice.

The tech and strategies that will stand the test of time will be those that help to improve access and attainment for students, and which reduce workload for teachers.

With that said, here are a few of the remote learning strategies (and the tech that underpins them) that I believe are here to stay:

  • Self-marking quizzes.
  • Marking using comment banks.
  • Setting and collecting all classwork/homework assignments online.
  • Collaborative working, using shared docs.
  • The importance of making routines explicit.

Self-marking quizzes

Marking work is a repetitive and laborious exercise. Thankfully, it is something that does not necessarily have to be done by a human, at least, not in the traditional sense.

By designing multiple-choice quizzes, using software such as Google Forms, you can reclaim your time. Google Forms allows you to assign the requisite number of marks for each answer. But you can go much further than that, by setting out what feedback the student will receive when they answer correctly or incorrectly.

One of the most useful feedback tactics I have used is directing students to online videos of worked examples, or websites containing explanations of complex concepts. This takes the pressure off teachers to provide those same details themselves, especially if it relates to a common error.

A set of quizzes that might once have taken me two hours to mark, or which might have taken 20 minutes of my lesson when peer-assessed, now takes less than a minute, including the time it takes to record the results, as you can instantly import them into your spreadsheet.

Comment banks

We have found a way to streamline the feedback mechanism for longer and more complex answers. Platforms such as Google Classroom allow for the creation of comment banks. Teachers can use these by dragging and dropping the appropriate comment onto the required section of the page. By doing this, you avoid having to rewrite the same sort of comments over and over again when they are common to many pieces of work.

The positive impact on your time can be amplified further if you use comments that are particular to a specific exam skill that you give feedback on.

The comment bank can work for a broad range of questions of a particular style, rather than for only one specific question. For example, in a GCSE “describe” question, you can use the exam board descriptors as your comments, making them usable for all future “describe” questions, thereby cutting future workload beyond this one task you are marking.

In reality, you might only need to spend 30 minutes to create four brief comment banks for an entire GCSE course, if there are only four types of question on the exam. That is a lot of time saved, both in the short and long term.

Setting and collecting online work

Setting work for your class is usually straightforward. But having learning materials ready and available for students who are ill, isolating, or elsewhere has always been a pain point for teachers.

Students might not pick up the worksheet, or you might forget to send that email. By setting the work online, everyone can access it in both our classroom and at home.

However, what makes this even more valuable as a strategy, is that it prevents students from falling behind when they inevitably lose bits of their work during the year, reducing the potential for gaps in their folders and (by extension) their knowledge. Just direct your students to the section on Google Classroom, for example, and they will have everything they need.

Collaborative working

I have always found it difficult in my own lessons and for homework to get students to collaborate effectively on tasks. Even with the best will in the world, it can become a less effective use of time compared to working independently, especially if those collaborating are in different locations.

With the use of online software, students can both work on the same document at the same time, allowing one another to see what their peers are producing in real time.

This has been invaluable during lockdown, as one of the major drawbacks for students has been the anxiety produced by not knowing whether or not they are keeping pace with their peers. Collaboration using a Google Doc, for example, alongside a live video or text chat function, where students can discuss the work, allows them to create something as if they were side-by-side in the same room. They can “see” each other typing, allowing for a better connection between students working together.

Explicit routines

Our routines have changed. We have had to adopt new phrases, employ new transitions between tasks and find new ways of moderating the behaviour of our students. Doing these new things during lockdown, after being comfortable with my own long-established in-person routines, was a bit of a shock to my system.

Since coming back to the physical classroom, I’ve become much more explicit in my instructions to students. Prior to lockdown, I relied much more on my “personality”, for want of a better word, to monitor and influence student behaviour.

I have rephrased my behaviour instructions in a very specific way. This is because during remote learning, I could not be a physical presence in the room and could not detect as easily when students were struggling, or were off-task, so I had to adapt my instructions to remove unnecessary barriers to their understanding of the task, such as the behavioural cues.

Previously I could intervene in an ad hoc way. But in the remote lesson I could not, so I had to set up students better in the first place.

My instructions in the physical class now begin with a behavioural cue, e.g. “While discussing…”, “On your own…”, “Using your sheet…”, etc. This means that students are less likely to begin doing something in the wrong way, so that less intervention is required from me to correct their course of action.

This might seem obvious, but the effectiveness of the instruction often stems from where the behavioural cue occurs in the instruction. If you place it at the beginning, students absorb it much more than if it is placed at the end, when they are too busy still thinking about what you said at the start.

Conclusion

It has been a memorable year in education (so far) and not always for the best reasons. But it is one that has truly revolutionised how we think about our teaching. Now we are all back in the physical classroom, it is time to capitalise on what we have learnt and build upon it for the future.

EdTech Tools: How To Choose The Right One

EdTech tool

EdTech tools are simple to use, the real challenge is knowing where to start.

I don’t know about you, but I get completely overwhelmed by the number of EdTech tools out there. I’m bombarded constantly by emails and tweets telling me I *have* to sign up to the latest app or website. I’m no technophobe and I know it can save me time, or help me create more engaging lessons, but where do I even begin?

Where To Start With EdTech tools…

Firstly, identify what it is that you need to develop in your own teaching. Is it developing the strength of your students’ arguments? Do you need to use a wider range of activities, to liven up your repertoire? Is text-analysis something that students need extra support with? Do students just need to practise low-stakes quizzes more frequently? There are EdTech tools out there to help with all of these areas (and more too).

Once you’ve identified your area for development, you can then narrow down the range of EdTech tools significantly.

Question: Are EdTech Tools Worth Investing In?

In my experience, yes. However, not all EdTech tools are worth your time and money. It depends on what your priorities are. Ultimately though, you need to consider the following, before choosing an EdTech tool:

  • Time cost (in relation to the amount of actual free time you have left at the end of the day)
  • Financial cost (in relation to the size of your budget)
  • Amount of positive difference it makes (this might not be accurately measurable)
  • Getting staff on board (not always necessary, but often the hardest task of all)

It’s impossible to say objectively which EdTech tools are worth investing in, as it depends on your own situation. However, by spending a little time figuring out your priorities first, it becomes easier to identify a worthwhile EdTech tool when you see it.

EdTech To Consider Trying This Year

Study Rocket

EdTech Tools

An excellent platform, where students can access distilled exam-specific scripts for GCSE and A-Level subjects, written by experienced teachers (such as myself). Each script is accompanied by a low-stakes quiz, which students can use to ensure they retained the most important points. The quiz has answers built-in, so students can see what they should have answered if they answered incorrectly. It’s a quick and easy way for students to use retrieval practice, an effective metacognition-based revision method underpinned by cognitive science. Students can also request that topics are added if they aren’t already included, or require further depth. Not many platforms are as student-centred as these guys. Highly recommended.

 

Google Classroom

EdTech Tools

Google Classroom lets you organise your digital resources into sections that students can access. This is a brilliant way to encourage students to access resources beyond the classroom. One way I use it is to give students access to Flipped Learning materials before they study topics in lessons. Students can even respond to the materials they read, watch or listen to, enabling a useful dialogue to occur before the lesson. Extremely useful.

 

Insert Learning

EdTech Tools

Insert Learning is a great little Chrome Extension that allows you to take an article and add activities to it. Students are first asked to highlight specific parts of the article using different colours. Insert Learning then provides a great set of sample questions. These range from basic comprehension to deep analysis and evaluation of the text and also of related issues that the students have previously studied. If you want, you can even set your own questions. It takes only a couple of minutes to set up and learn and provides an excellent way to structure wider reading, helping students become more independent learners. Quick, simple and highly effective.

 

Final Thoughts…

We’re frequently presented with new ways to do old things, using EdTech tools. The trick is to know whether it will make a positive difference or not. In reality, this means that at some point you’ll have to have a go. I’d recommend just getting to grips with one EdTech tool this year.

Go on, give it a go!

By the way, what’s YOUR favourite EdTech tool? Leave a comment and share your knowledge!

 

You can find me on Twitter @guruteaching. Say hello!

Andy

Why Podcasts Improve Learning

Why Podcasts Improve Learning

Why do podcasts improve learning?

A podcast is an audio recording which delivers content verbally, as opposed to the content being in text form. By adding podcasts to your resource bank for students, you will inevitably engage students who, perhaps, don’t engage fully with text-based resources. Podcasts improve learning by delivering content in a manner which suits some students better than textbook use.

This is certainly my experience. Recently I was invited to try out the podcasts offered by Audiopi. I was blown away by the high quality of the content delivery. But also by how much information I retained, even some days later. I’ve always struggled with retention of information when using texts to learn. I would have to put in hours and hours of intensive study, only for my performance in tests to be “inconsistent” as one kind teacher put it! I don’t want the same experience for my own students, so I’ve introduced podcasts.

When using the Audiopi podcasts to learn new content, I found that even just listening to them once, whilst making brief notes, I remained attentive and could recall the information easily days later. (I listened to the History ones, as I’m an enthusiast but not a subject specialist in this area. Listening to the excellent History podcasts enabled me to assess more accurately whether I was biased by my own subject specialism.) The ability to rewind and re-listen to the Audiopi podcasts, as many times as I liked, further allowed me to go over some ideas over and over until I understood them. This helped a lot!

Audiopi

To enhance the experience of the content delivery further, the Audiopi podcasts improve learning by using sounds and music to excellent effect. This can be a very tricky thing to achieve. Many podcasts I’ve listened to had music playing in the background, but it was irritating, distracting, or just didn’t ‘fit’ with the narrative. Audiopi succeeded in this regard. I would definitely recommend subscribing to them if increasing engagement or depth of study is a particular focus of your department.

Currently, Audiopi offers a range of podcasts aimed at GCSE and A Level students for the following topics:

  • English Literature
  • English Language
  • History
  • Biology
  • Physics

The first podcast in each Audiopi series is free and you can listen to examples of all their tutorials too. They also have some examples of podcasts on their YouTube channel here, so you can even try before you buy!

Is the success of podcasts supported by research evidence?

Yes! Researchers at George Washington University reported that podcasts improve learning. They do this by reaching students who do not necessarily engage well with textbooks.  Using podcasts also helps to supplement textbook use for students who are already engaged by those texts. For more information, you can read an article on their research here.

Do you recognise those students in your own class? If so, then you should seriously consider using podcasts, especially in the run-up to exam season.

 How could I use podcasts with my students?

I typically use podcasts as a Flipped Learning resource in preparation for a future lesson. Sometimes I use them as an independent learning resource to aid comprehension, add depth of content and to revise from. In both of these cases, students have told me that they prefer learning this way, as opposed to using textbooks. The reasons are many. But the most significant are that students enjoy listening and can do it anywhere, even on the school bus! Secondly, they have to be more cognitively active in order to make notes. This is because there aren’t textbooks to lazily copy from, which we know is an inefficient way of studying.

To help podcasts improve learning, you could also use transcripts as a text-alternative or to supplement the audio recording. You could even use the transcripts to develop comprehension-based activities. I’ve certainly found that with my own students, the depth of knowledge increased substantially after podcast use, compared with textbook-only study. My students made rapid progress and they improved their examination performance too.

To begin searching for podcasts, take a look in the iTunes store, websites such as the BBC, or even (for more advanced students) some university websites. Failing that, just Google the subject or topics you are looking for and add “podcast” to your search query.

Some free podcasts to get you started…

  • Geography: GCSE Bitesize Podcasts
  • Law: BBC Law In Action
  • Chemistry: A Level Chemistry Revision – Chris Harris
  • Economics/Business: BBC More Or Less
  • Politics: Politics Weekly – The Guardian, The Bugle
  • French: Coffee Break French
  • Religious Studies/Philosophy: Philosophy Bites, BBC In Our Time
  • Spanish: Spanish Obsessed With Rob And Liz
  • General: LSE Podcasts, TED Talks

Final thoughts…

I would love to hear about your podcasting experiences and would be happy to answer any questions you have about starting a podcast. I’ll blog about that another time. Just leave a comment at the end and I’ll get right back to you.

Follow me on Twitter @guruteaching

And don’t forget to LIKE and SHARE!

 

Disclaimer: This article is not an advertorial. For total transparency, I received access to one Audiopi podcast series, in return for a review by me for their website. This article was written entirely independently and not as any form of “payment” for the podcast. I wrote this article simply in response to my positive experience of listening to the podcast. 

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