December 2020 blog
Well, here we are again. Lockdown.
I was delaying the writing of the blog as not much happened in December except a lot of track and trace, for which I must extend my heartfelt thanks for the amazing support we received from parents during what I can only say has been the most challenging of times for the College.
When on the 15th of December, amid all the track and trace, we were informed by the Secretary of State for Education, that we needed to set up test centres with the capacity to test all students and staff, I think I was ready to wave the white flag. Instead, I sat down (socially distanced of course) with what remained of my leadership team and wrote the ‘impossible list’ for all the actions we believed we would need to take to set up a fully functioning test centre by January 4th with no prior experience of how to achieve this. Despite initial promises of support from the armed forces, which quickly reduced over the coming days to just a webinar that armed personnel would run to assist schools in the set-up, by 2.00pm on January 4th we carried out our first test in our fully functioning test centre with an extraordinary sense of achievement. As I wrote to the staff later that night, due to the creativity, ingenuity, and hard work of so many members of staff, what had seemed impossible became possible. By the end of that day, all staff had been tested and on the following day we tested all our keyworker and vulnerable students as well. The test centre is now operational on a daily basis.
Alongside the set-up of the test centre, we also had to ensure that our remote provision was in place for what has now transpired to be for all years for at least the next 6 weeks.
With all the new terminology flying around and with this completely different, but rapidly evolving, approach to learning now centre stage, I thought it might be a good idea to explore the research and the planning we have put into our remote learning and how this works best for the students at Crookhorn, through the now familiar formats on ‘itslearning’. I am very pleased that the number of students logging on for their learning in the first two days of this term has been over 95% each day. I think this is a clear indicator of the confidence the students now have in the system and how to access their learning remotely.
It is important to stress here that there is a difference between remote learning and remote teaching. At Crookhorn we are interested in students’ learning, which is facilitated through a teacher. A teacher can teach a topic but the key question is, will the student have learnt it, or mastered the knowledge and skills and can the teacher check the understanding of the individual students? A teacher can sit in front of a class on screen and talk at the students who have logged in for half an hour, but what will the students have understood of the key learning? Can they go back and revisit the resources and activities at another time to re-enforce what they know and understand? The whole principle behind our ‘blended learning’ is that students take responsibility for their own learning and know how to access the resources and teacher input whether in College or out of College. This is undoubtedly the way forward for education, and most especially within Further and Higher education establishments and also future learning within career paths. Preparing our students for this is imperative.
Remote learning generally comes in two different forms: synchronous (live remote) and asynchronous (non-live remote) learning. There are many benefits to both systems which I will highlight below along with the reasons why we have decided to take a blended approach at Crookhorn.
- Synchronous learning basically means that everyone is learning at the same time, but not in the same place. This is largely achieved through a live webinar or video call.
- Asynchronous learning means that the learning is completed using the same resources but not at the same time or place.
The benefits to synchronous learning is that it helps maintain the teacher/student connections. This can be achieved through the individual messaging system on ‘itslearning’ if the students are accessing the lesson at the correct timetabled slot when the teacher is live for support for that class. The drawback to all synchronous learning is that there can be technical limitations (such as a lack of devices in a household which enable multiple children to access live lessons all at once), screen fatigue and decreasing attention if the mode of delivery is focussed around teacher talk.
The benefits to asynchronous learning are that it enables a more polished product by way of learning resources and explanations as it is pre-recorded and therefore not subject to interruption or distraction. Both the teacher and the students can control their own pace of learning and there is the possibility of more sustained and complex assignments, and hence learning, that can be undertaken by students. The drawback is not getting the immediate interaction with the teacher or having the quality of discussions that students love to engage in when they are in a classroom. These discussions are very stilted under synchronous learning and the lack of discussion is a real drawback with all forms of remote learning. Students often just love that face-to-face interaction with each other, which is why being a class community in a school is so important and something hopefully we can return to as quickly as possible!
Our blended approach involves a mixture of online resources, narrated PowerPoints and explanatory videos, live online lessons taught through Microsoft TEAMS and third-party websites (such as MathsWatch and GCSEPod). The ‘Planner’ within ‘itslearning’ allows all these elements to be combined into one place for every class, for easy access by the students.
Some of the areas of good practice we are promoting to our teachers are the following:
Quality of the structure and accessibility to individual lesson plans and resources available on the ‘itslearning planner’:
Over the last 6 months, we have worked extensively to combine the content planning for each topic within the different subjects, with a clear task-by-task structure so the students can access the learning whether in College or at home. This is called a blended approach to learning and requires significant input from teachers to ensure that the key learning for each topic is clearly outlined with step-by-step learning tasks. These are laid out for students to complete to ensure they master the required knowledge and skills. During lockdown and a full remote learning situation, teachers are required to make sure that the key learning for every lesson, with the step-by-step tasks are clearly laid out in a consistent format across all subjects. Each task or section of learning is supported by different learning resources such as an explanatory teacher video, a link to a resource/worksheet or an embedded video from a third-party platform.
Teachers can also provide links to specific worksheets or resources depending on an individual student’s needs. This enables active differentiation. For example, 5 students in a class might well benefit from a structured writing frame that will enable them to write a detailed explanation to a question posed from a piece of learning. 10 other students in the class might only need a couple of sentence starters to enable them to write their answer in-depth, whilst another 10 might require an extension activity that takes their thinking on further and links to a more challenging learning concept. Each student only sees the learning resource that has been allocated to them by their teacher. This level of differentiation enables a very bespoke and individualised remote education experience and enables us to support all levels of learners in the most comprehensive way possible.
Students are set assignments or tasks to complete from the resources they have been given which they must submit to the teacher, so the teacher can do a check for understanding and feedback individually to students where they feel there is a misconception, or where they feel the learning is particularly strong. This constant opportunity for interaction between the teacher and individual students enables us to have a good understanding of what has been learnt and what is still a concern. This is vital for ongoing teacher planning so that the learning is as targeted as possible to student needs. During the last lockdown, parents were very impressed with the feedback students were getting to work and how this then encouraged their child to work harder and enjoy their learning. There are examples of the formats for learning on course pages in the parent remote learning guide that has been sent out via parent mail and is being uploaded to the website.
Pre-recorded narrated PowerPoints and videos:
Some teachers at Crookhorn have started to use a video recording of themselves talking through the instructions to the lesson. This is a good way for teachers to explain any new material and tasks that students might find difficult. Teachers can also recap clearly on prior learning and students can be greatly reassured by hearing their teacher or seeing their teacher’s face. These are also great for students who might wish to pause the video, rewind it, and listen to the explanation again and take their time to make sure they have understood the task. If they struggle to understand the task, then they can then message their teacher directly who will respond individually to that student to help unpick the misconceptions. This is why we have made it clear in our guides to remote learning that it is important, where possible, that the student follows their timetable for each day, as the teachers are there for live individual support when the lesson is underway.
For some of our families, we are aware that there is one laptop within a family and with siblings and parents working from home that can create a pressure on that resource. If a child cannot access the family laptop when their lesson is actually going on, then they can still access the learning and all the resources at a later time in the day. They can also still message the teacher, but the response might not be quite as immediate as it would be during the lesson itself.
Through the asynchronous model, teachers are able to model some examples of how a completed task might look, so as to guide student expectations of standards that the teacher is expecting the student to submit.
These narrated PowerPoints or explanatory videos can be stored in the subject plans for the rest of the student's time at Crookhorn, which will support their ongoing independent study as they head towards future assessments.
Live teaching via TEAMS
Undoubtedly at times, a face-to-face input from the teacher to a class or a group of students within a class is important. This is specifically the case at GCSE and in particular for those practical subjects where teachers need to be able to discuss with students how to enhance or progress a piece of work. As of Monday the 11th of January, we will adding this style of delivery to some year 10 and 11 exam classes backed up with asynchronous resources. The majority of live input will be in the form of instructions delivered at the start of a lesson, time for student questions and then time allocated to students to work on the resources and contact the teacher through the messaging system if they need additional help with any of the understanding. The work will be submitted in the usual way. With some classes the teacher will be working with small groups of students on a particular part of a topic or concept to help develop the students’ confidence with that piece of knowledge, whilst the rest of the class continue to work through the lesson resources asynchronously.
With some of our students who have been receiving additional support for their literacy and numeracy catch up following the summer term lockdown, we are able to deliver live sessions with their literacy and numeracy tutors staring on a rota from the 11th of January. This level of bespoke intervention is vital and will help provide ongoing support and progress to some of our most vulnerable learners.
Hopefully, we have been able to explain our current journey with remote learning at Crookhorn. I believe it is a very exciting time and we wish parents to fully understand what we are seeking to achieve through our ‘itslearning’ system. We are running some webinars for parents who have requested some further support and explanation of how ‘itslearning’ works to support their child’s learning. The first of these is on Friday 8th of January. If you would like further support, please do be in contact with the College via the firstname.lastname@example.org email and we can set up a live webinar with you over the coming days and weeks.
I have been so impressed with the confidence with which our learners have transitioned to the full remote learning this time round and the way they are in constant contact with their teachers. We are in a totally different place with regards to learner confidence through ‘itslearning’ and the whole concept of independent study than we were back in March. Our monitoring of student engagement is also in a completely different place with every teacher being able to monitor individual student activity on course pages enabling a far more robust check for understanding.
So as frustrating as lockdown 3 might be on so many levels, what a learning journey we are on and I am certain we will all be better learners for it!