Lockdown Learning

The past eight weeks has taught me that you can work smart whilst delivering quality education and still achieve a work-life balance.  Read on to find out how.

The structure

I have found the most useful format is to give two lessons-worth of content each time so, for example, A level students get two of these each week. Setting single lessons over four days was a lot of work and some students were finishing them quickly whilst others were feeling overwhelmed and falling behind.  I use no more than four to six  power-point slides per lesson and narrate them so that I can help students to develop ideas and think more deeply about the content.  I want the lessons to keep students engaged and have them working harder than me so there is always some new knowledge, a summary note-taking exercise, a self-assessed task and a piece of extended writing or a summary quiz.

The routine

Routines are important for all of us but they are especially important for students and especially when they are working at home without you breathing down their necks.  Set the work at the same time on the same day each week and give them feedback the day after. This will let them know that you still care about them and their education. Give them a time each week when they can contact you if they need additional help. I set this up as a meeting on MS teams (audio only) so that I can get it done in 30 minutes. It also gives the class a chance to speak to each other and listen to answers to questions they may not have thought of.

The lessons

My school has usefully provided us with a template for delivering lessons which work really well at home.  This consists of a ‘big question’ to begin the lesson along with six different categories for content: ‘New Knowledge’, ‘Develop Together’, ‘Let Me Show You’, ‘Assess and Address’, ‘Retrieve, Embed, Refine’ and ‘Independent Application’.

Here are some examples of how you can use these at home.

This independent application task was set during a year 10 lesson on depression. The focus was on treatments for depression. I narrated the presentations so that I could talk through the slides, just as I would in class.

The Big question was: What is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy? new knowledge was presented succinctly (I hate power point slides with loads of writing) with a summary of the stages of therapy plus web links that students could follow to view mock CBT sessions. I gave them an example of the kind of thought log a patient could be given as homework and talked them through the purpose and application of it.  I  scaffolded the independent application task (see slide below) which was to ‘Write a patient information leaflet for a person who is about to undergo CBT’. This extended writing task requires them to understand the knowledge through application and to think about adapting their knowledge for the target audience.

Slide8

In the narration for the task, I asked them to consider the average reading age of a typical CBT client and the sort of information they would wish to have if they were about to undergo the treatment themselves.

Here is an example of what students produced (reproduced with kind permission) covering all four of the bullet points in the task plus additional interesting points.

Capturecapture 2

Assessment took about 15 minutes for the whole class; check that all the points are covered and make one recommendation to improve.

Here is a ‘let me show you’ example from an A level lesson on treatments for OCD.  I copied a page from the text book and talked through genetic and neural explanations for OCD. I then provided a table so that students could summarise their notes on one page and demonstrated how to complete the first row. students had to upload their tables so that I could see their note-taking skills and give prompts to help them fill in any blanks.

W35OCD lessons 1 and 2

For ‘assess and address’ I snipped a question from an electronic A level text book and asked students to complete the task, self assess and close the gaps.  I talked through the assessment (also snipped from the book) annotating to show where the marks were awarded.

I then asked students to show me their marked work complete with gaps in knowledge closed.

For each class, I also set one teacher-marked assignment per week which is usually an exam question. This does not have to be arduous, a 6 mark or 8 mark question does nicely. This gives students the chance to retrieve and embed knowledge from the week’s learning and refine it using my feedback on www and ebi.

Expectations

It is tricky working from home and some students find this more of a challenge than others. However, do not be tempted to lower your expectations. I always finish with a summary slide (below) showing what I expect to see when students upload work.  If it is incomplete I return it with a message to complete and resubmit. I also note down which students are not meeting expectations.

Slide13

Talk to parents

Parents have a difficult job, probably working from home themselves and coping with the supervision of their own children’s home learning.  For parents of small children, this is challenging but at least small children ‘treat life as a happy comedy whereas teenages treat life as a cold-war spy movie in which their parents star as the emeny!’ (Starling, B., n.d. Haynes Explaines Teenagers.) Even more reason then, that we talk to parents to let them know how their teenage cherubs are doing. Once again, this need not be arduous. I keep a record of students who are doing nothing, as well as those who are doing well and make it my mission to phone four parents every Thursday. This is deeply satisfying as, 1. they are guranteed to be home and 2. they are (by and large) very grateful for the time you have taken to speak with them.

I hope I have given you some useful things to think about with regard to home learning during these unprecedented times. keep up the good work and remember to work smart not hard, so that you have time to exercise, practise your yoga, tend your garden or whatever else brings you joy!

Dust off Your Text Books

In every staffroom up and down the country there is the group of ‘superteachers’ huddled in a corner drinking quadruple espressos and making snide comments about ‘teacher X’ whose ‘kids just work out of the textbook every lesson’. Fast forward to the weekend; Mr X is spending time with his family, flying a microlight, trout fishing or doing whatever else normal people do at the weekend while the ‘superteachers’ are spending hours and hours  re-writing huge chunks of textbooks to make booklets, handouts and worksheets, occasionally misinterpreting theories and concepts in the hope of dumbing them down, or because they are just too tired to think about what they are writing.

If you are the ‘superteacher’ type PLEASE STOP this nonsense NOW! Not only are you affecting your own mental wellbeing but you are also not helping your students to learn. During hours and hours of martyrdom spent making a variety of differentiated tasks and activities for each topic, it is the teacher who is preparing for the exam in 30 different ways rather than the individual preparing themselves. Worse still, it makes very little difference to student performance and can actually make it worse.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with textbooks.  They are written by experts in your subject who know the specification and are more often than not approved by the relevant exam board.  Decades of recearch into memory shows us that long term memories are laid down when students actively engage with the material to be learned, be it presented in a textbook or any other form, and that effective learning depends on regular recall of that information.  This means that it is the students who have to interpret, apply and analyse the information they need, not you.

Instead plan lessons and prepare activities for students based on their textbook.  For example, ask students to summarise a theory in 6 key sentences or sketch-note a key study as you read it to them. Ask them to respond to a picture as a lesson starter or write one multichoice question as a plenary.

You can find more details including activity, resources, format, differentiation and teacher/student input using the link below. I hope you can adapt, use and develop them so that the students are the ones doing the work.  A good rule of thumb for any planned activity is: If the teacher input is more than or equal to student input; scrap it now!

Textbook Activities

Oh and, by the way, I have a family, 4 granchildren, horse ride every week and practise cello every day. I do not and will not work evenings and weekends on a regular basis as that is my time.  Happy textbooking!