We are now in the second lockdown period of remote learning, whereby teachers are mostly providing online learning for students learning from home. What has become clear in my mind, is that the nuances that ‘make’ face to face teaching are what I am longing to return to. Apart from missing the hundreds of small interactions that you have each day at school, the joy at seeing a student have the ‘lightbulb’ moment and the enjoyment of a truly engaged classroom, the real challenge with online learning is the inability to have a 1:1 check-in with students to check for understanding or to be able to truly gauge understanding through eye contact/body language tells or questioning techniques that offer a true ‘no opt out’ approach.
Having seen numerous debates surrounding the most effective form of remote learning, from live lessons, to pre-recorded lessons, to time away from screens, what is clear, is that there is a need for teachers to step back and gain clarity as to how they check for understanding. It is important to note that in the EEF’s Guide to Remote Learning that:
- Teaching quality is more important than how lessons are delivered. Pupils can learn through remote teaching. Ensuring the elements of effective teaching are present – for example clear explanations, scaffolding and feedback – is more important than how or when they are provided. There was no clear difference between teaching in real time (“synchronous teaching”) and alternatives (“asynchronous teaching”).
Understanding content being taught is far more important for learners than merely covering a curriculum. Understanding breeds confidence and therefore in my opinion, it is highly likely to increase depth of thinking and participation with online learning. Teachers know their students best, but there needs to be a clear message. Don’t move on until the understanding is there.
My concern is that teachers are being overwhelmed with all the noise surrounding online learning and there is currently a clamour to utilise what everyone else is using is seen to be using, and at times EduTwitter can make you feel as so you aren’t doing enough. It might also be that you’re not using the latest chrome extension, or what has been shared around via the all staff email at school. This is where leadership is required to ensure that teachers maintain focus on the core purpose; quality teaching. At Farnham Heath End School we have focused on the approach from Mark Enser’s book, ‘Teach Like Nobody’s Watching’. The approach to learning over time that Mark sets out in the book works brilliantly for classroom based teaching and thus remote learning, and is supported by guidance on remote learning from the EEF.
Mark says that teaching is simple and that teaching over time should follow the RIAT structure.
Recap – Input – Apply – Test
Whilst a simple approach to teaching over time, doing this well is incredibly complex. This is where we need to pause and reflect as teachers and think about how well we are doing the above, and are we responding to all the information and knowledge we are getting back from the students and altering our teaching accordingly? Through mastering this approach, which I believe is the goal for every teacher, teachers are constantly checking for understanding, and if teachers respond to the feedback they are receiving through all forms of communication from their students, they will be teaching in a responsive way and not moving on to new content too soon, and therefore not simply covering the curriculum, but ensuring their students are learning the curriculum.
Harry Fletcher-Wood describes responsive teaching as:
- Setting clear goals and planning learning carefully
- Identifying what students have understood and where they are struggling
- Responding, adapting our teaching to support students to do better.
You can read more from Harry on this here.
The RIAT approach to teaching over time allows for teachers to be responsive to the students they are teaching and follows Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction. Recapping understanding and remembering content to students at the start of a lesson is an all too obvious starting point, but nether the less, it needs to happen. Misconceptions can be teased out and challenged at the time, and areas that demand further teacher input and re-explanation can happen there and then, or that information can be taken away and planned into the next lesson. The input stage is the active teaching element of the lesson, where new content is introduced, explained and linked to previous learning. A guided instruction approach followed by independent practice allows for the new content to be applied by students. Lastly, there is a form of testing that takes place to check whether the students have been able to apply their knowledge in a way that shows a depth of understanding, before being able to move on with new learning. Keeping the approach to remote learning simple, through the RIAT structure is key to ensuring understanding over coverage.
Lastly, some feedback from my lessons.
Whilst I have undertaken the majority of my lessons ‘live’ during this second lockdown, I have always followed the RIAT structure both within lessons and over time if more applicable. One major issue I have found with live lessons is the difference in levels of confidence/understanding different students in the class have at varying points. Luckily our school ethos allows for students to feel confident enough to say when they don’t understand, either through the chat function, or coming off ‘mute’. However, this poses an issue. You have say 90% of the class that are ready to go on, yet 10% don’t understand. What do you do? In a normal classroom setting, the 90% are set off on the next task, and the 10% would get a small group explanation or a 1:1 approach to ensure understanding and gain confidence with the application task. So pre-recorded is the way forward perhaps? Students can pause, re-listen and re-watch the explanation again and again if needed. However, what if they still don’t get it? The lesson isn’t ‘live’ for them to flag their misunderstandings. Perhaps a live ‘drop-in’ session would solve this? Aside from the safeguarding concerns of a potential 1:1 session, would students turn up? I would argue this is largely dependent on classroom ethos and culture, but you’d hope so. Therefore, this issue is the largest one we face and for that matter, there is such a necessity to ensure that the stages in the RIAT approach are followed. Whilst the approach to teaching checks for understanding it is these subtle nuances around individual understanding that I have found to be the most challenging with remote learning.
This way, although we aren’t going to know exactly what every student is understanding/not understanding at every point in time (we simply cannot do this), at least we are responding to the information that we are getting back from the students, and teaching for in-depth understanding rather than coverage of content. Right now, that is surely the best bet and the focus needs to be on doing RIAT brilliantly.
Vice Principal – Farnham Heath End School