This week I took part in one of the excellent #CPDConnectUp webinars with David Weston for Teacher Development Trust. The theme was ‘re-establishing teaching routines’ as schools begin the path back to being fully open. The format included about 15 minutes input from me, then lots of questions in break-out groups and the full session.
Members of TDT Network will get full access to the recording and slides but here’s the gist of what we discussed.
As students return to school, my sense of what the priorities for teachers will be to focus on:
- Classroom Interaction
- Learning Goals
- Checking for Understanding
- Guided Practice
Classroom interaction will be a key thing that students have missed so it’s going to be important to press a giant re-set button and re-establish all the routines again, balancing a big warm welcome with some sensible rehearsal and reinforcement. It’s going to be important to make it feel really good to be back; not too weird; not heavy-handed – just nicely reassuringly welcoming and orderly. Calm. Normal. Friendly. (Personally, I feel that the less you can make your classroom look like a disaster movie or crime scene the better!)
A key thing that everyone will want to do is talk so it’s going to be important to re-establish that routine early on: Switching from Everyone Listening (Signal. Pause. Insist) to Everyone talking (Turn to your partner/Think, pair, share). The combination of routines is really worth rehearsing explicitly so that you can do plenty of teacher talk and student talk in a nicely alternating fashion, fluidly moving between the two.
Of course social distancing measures will make the student talk more difficult but I’d suggest trying not to let that be a barrier or too strange. It’s just how it is and, yes, we have things to discuss!
Aligned to this will be the need to re-ignite your repertoire of questioning strategies. Using cold call with the teacher choosing who answers so that everyone can contribute, ensuring everyone gets a say, is heard and participates.
Of course, the most natural thing, right at the start, will be to spend a bit of time just reflecting on the shared experience of lockdown. A bit of a debrief is going to be necessary. But I think a lot of students will be keen to get on with things. Given the inherent weirdness of the whole scenario, the most normal thing you can do as a teacher, is to teach; to get on with the learning in the most no-nonsense fashion possible.
The main teaching focus will be to set explicit learning goals, firstly by looking back at the work that has been set during lockdown and then by looking ahead – to the end of term and, for exam classes, to the end of the course. Whatever your anxieties are about course completion and students’ learning gaps, make it all seem fine; possible; salvageable. We’re going to be Ok!
Depending on our context, there will be range of experiences with students engaging in the work that’s been set. It’ll be important to a spend a few lessons exploring the curriculum covered during remote learning. Validate and celebrate the efforts students made – really important for all the most diligent engaged students to feel that it was all worthwhile and that you noticed. At the same time – and this will need some subtlety in your messaging – you need to declare some kind of amnesty for the work you set, if you have students you know found the remote access difficult all along. They don’t need a double-whammy of struggling for weeks and now being made to feel terrible for it, in relation to everyone else. Look at set piece bits of work to get everyone to finish; use some super low-stakes knowledge checks to see what people have learned and re-teach accordingly, just to get people up to speed.
I think it’s going to be really useful to have Big Picture references for the topics you’ve covered remotely, so that you can review how far everyone got. Whether it is textbooks, booklets, knowledge organisers – any kind of resource – look at the totality of the knowledge students ought to have so that you and they can evaluate how far they have to go in order to be fully caught up.
Then, looking ahead, do the same. It’s good practice for any new learning to set out the scope of what is to come: the key knowledge, the experiences, the key assignments. This is so that everyone can make sense of the ideas, organise their thinking and track their progress. If there’s a clear sense of ‘this is where we’re trying to get to by summer’, it helps to frame the remaining weeks of school with the appropriate level of intensity/urgency in the work students need to do and the learning experiences they have to look forward to. Ideally, if you trust and amplify the inherent joy in the subjects you teach, this will seem exciting!
Checking for Understanding and Guided Practice
I think that two of the main deficits in remote learning are the inherent dynamics of good instructional teaching where students have their understanding checked and their first steps in learning carefully guided to build confidence and ensure success. It’s going to be so important to make students feel good about learning by engineering success right from the start.
A key element of this is that you use good check for understanding routines in questioning, making it normal and expected that students will have uncertainties and gaps that you are only too willing to explore with them. (Ask ‘what have you understood?’ rather than ‘Have you understood?’ )
Another element will be to use plenty of confidence-building low-stakes retrieval practice, building on the routines you had in place before the lockdown but re-establishing them as necessary. In my TDT session I suggested that it might pay off to combine the need to get people talking with their need for plenty of retrieval practice work by using the more interactive, discursive elements in your repertoire of techniques:
Finally, when introducing new material, place a lot of emphasis on guiding the first steps. This close support will be something students will have missed during the lockdown. As far as the distancing rules allow, get close to student work, making the steps small enough to practise repeatedly with tight feedback loops so you can see students getting things right, doing things well, intervening to re-explain or re-model as often as needed – individually or whole-class.
The main to emphasise, in my view, is to create a positive feeling in the classroom that leaves students feeling that’s it’s really good to be back. That’s about the positive, inclusive climate you create from the start and getting into a normal-feeling learning-focused groove as soon as you can. Give them that sense that things are under control and that, whatever anxieties they have or problems they’ve experienced, there’s a path ahead that is clear, tangible in the form of the information you provide.
Thanks again to David for inviting me to participate in the #CPDConnectUp events.