The past 14 weeks have been an adjustment for us all. Trying to cope in this very unprecedented global pandemic has been a great challenge. I have had to develop a new routine for my work day. My daily commute to work (only a short walk to begin with) has become even shorter, as I get up, and walk from my bedroom to the front room to log on to my computer. I miss seeing my colleagues and working with them in the science office. I miss greeting my students at the door to my class and having interactive face to face lessons with all of them. I miss quick catch ups in the staff room at break time while I am trying to get a cuppa before my next class. Many things have changed in these past 14 weeks, some adjustments more difficult than others; however, one thing that hasn’t changed is ensuring my students are given the tools and guidance to receive the best possible learning experience in my subject.
I have taken this remote learning experience to learn new ways of delivering my lessons. I want to ensure that the work I am setting the students is an effective way for them to learn and engage with the material. I have taken it upon myself to explore what is out there for online learning, and tried and tested various resources.
One resource in particular that I have enjoyed using is Loom. This is a software that allows teachers to voice over their powerpoints. I have used this to guide my students through powerpoints that I have put together for the lessons. This allows me to elaborate on more difficult topics and address common misconceptions. You can also use voice notes on individual slides to guide students through the task. Sometimes just hearing their teacher’s voice is enough to motivate students to do a task.
I have also tried to make the most out of the science department’s digital subscription to Kerboodle. I had the time to explore the podcasts they have for the different chapters. I have set these for students to listen to as a different form of delivering new material. I have measured engagement and attainment through the use of their interactive activities, practice questions and quizzes. The interactive activities also provide great visual learning as they have many diagrams and videos linked to the topic.
I have spaced out the learning by setting different types of tasks in a week, some even off screen to try and promote and encourage creativity. I had one of my classes try and recreate at home one of the required practicals for physics. Some topics in Science can be very abstract; therefore, having concrete examples is always important. I use a lot of modelling activities in the classroom and have adapted them for online learning. Models make abstract concepts easier to visualise and understand.
For my year 10 and 12 students we are revising and recapping content from previous chapters. I use retrieval and recall in all my lessons through questioning in the form of a starter, and throughout the lesson. In GCSE Biology, we start off by teaching the fundamentals in chapter one and all the chapters build on this foundation. I constantly find myself referring back to earlier chapters and interleaving when I am making links between topics.
When planning lessons, sometimes we may not actively think about incorporating the learning strategies, but as teachers we do so as if it were second nature. I asked staff to take a survey about their incorporation of the six learning strategies into their remote planning and teaching. Sometimes it isn’t until we take time to reflect on our own practice that we realise the great work we are doing. Staff responses showed that using visuals, concrete examples and retrieval were the most common learning strategies they incorporated into their remote lessons. Staff are delivering or supporting their lessons through various platforms including but not limited to Kerboodle, Haggerty Maths, Bedrock, Google Classroom, Youtube, podcasts etc. It was really great to hear that staff had the chance in lockdown to further explore and find new features of resources they had access to previously. Many staff, like myself, have come across new resources and platforms which we will continue to use even when we are back in the classroom.
Many faculties are sharing good practice and discussing what is working well with online learning, and thinking about how they can embed the learning strategies for their subject. In addition to getting staff feedback, I was curious to see what learning strategies students could identify in the work being set. I asked students in years 7-10 and 12 to complete a short survey on the learning strategies. Student responses showed that retrieval practice and visuals played a big part in the work they were being set. Students enjoyed the online work and the independence it gives them. They liked working through tasks at their own pace. Many said they would like to see more online learning continue to take place in some fashion after lockdown.
With only 3 weeks to go for this academic term and the uncertainty which lies with a September start for the next year, we as teachers must continue to support one another and our students to ensure they are getting the most out of their online learning experience. We must continue to foster and encourage the use of the six learning strategies we have worked so hard to embed in our curriculum. We must continue to use the powerful tools of retrieval, concrete examples, interleaving, visual, spacing, and elaborating to ensure they are not lost or forgotten as this pandemic begins to ease, and our academic lives venture towards the new ‘normal’.