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In my last post, I looked at how professional development and edtech can work together to improve the high quality of teaching in the classroom. In this post I am going to look at how, by embracing a mixed pedagogy that makes full use of online learning and classroom instruction, we can ensure pupil achievement is as high as it can be. By continuing to make use of the platforms we used in lockdown, we can make learning available to students outside the classroom and structure it in a way that still delivers high quality teaching.

The foundation stone to all of this is high quality teaching. There is nothing that will replace this to ensure pupil learning. See every point I am making in the context that the pupils are receiving high quality instruction as the main pathway to achieving their goals. What comes next is meant to enhance learning, not replace it.

Maintain a Virtual Classroom Space

woman teaching online

I’d like to hope this is something that everyone is doing to some degree, but I know that it’s not the case across the board.

Many teachers who are using platforms like Google Classroom or Seesaw as homework only platforms. Which is fine…I guess. But you could be doing so much more with it to make it so much more interesting, captivating and inspiring for your students! Regardless of whether they are 4 or 18, there is still scope to make a virtual classroom as engaging a space as your physical one.

Keeping a virtual class presence is crucially important in my opinion at present. In a school environment where many things can change – pupil attendance; teacher attendance or location – this is the one way you can ensure pupils know where to go when they miss something or miss time in school. Whether you like it or not, online learning is now part of the pupil experience. We now need to build on this and develop it with purpose and intentioned learning experiences.

Aspects of online learning from lockdown have continued – submitting books for a homework submission is still not done, so having a location to submit these is vitally important, but these platforms were not built to only be homework submission areas. Having a platform which allows you to build on learning in the classroom, but outside of the classroom is something we should all be clamouring for. We can link documents that enhance learning; YouTube content that has professional level design and high quality explanations to aid pupil understanding.

Our creativity is only limited by our imagination.

Develop an Instructional Video Library

image of library books

This is one item that is on my to do list and I am a firm believer in the usefulness of this for students.

Video instruction is a proven method of online learning. The ability to rewind content is a massive positive in allowing learners to be in control of their own learning. If they don’t understand it, or something isn’t quite clear to them, the video can be rewound until they are happy with their understanding.

We can also show learners how a concept works in real time (of the video). This could be a mathematical concept/equation or how a historical battle unfolded. The possibilities are endless and simple. Video content does not need to be Pixar level – unless you are a creative media teaacher, in which case, your videos maybe should be better than the rest of ours!

So where we are not focusing on the visual look of the video (unless you want to) that frees us to focus on the content of the video – what we want the viewer to learn. And when we focus on one learning point per video, a video should not be any more than 5 minutes long. If we are dealing with a presentation (say from a lesson), then it should be no longer than 20 minutes.

Pupils will benefit massively from having this type of access. In my school, I may see a class once in the week, so when it comes to homework, having a quick video reminder of how the code works with an explanation will help improve learning for the pupil and help them to reinforce the learning completed in the class.

Videos can then be organised into playlists that are centred around a topic of work and allow pupils to progress through each one, which will be hugely important at exam time. The video content does not always need to be made by you. There is a digital mega-tonne of content on YouTube that may already answer this for you.

Personally I think it’s good for pupils to hear your voice in this video content – you will have taught the topic a certain way and that is specific to your school environment. So hearing a British/Irish voice that understands the specification of the course being completed and is explaining the topic in the same way as it has been delivered in class will refresh those memories and allow pupils to build upon what they have previously learned.

Even within the classroom, pupils can refer to the video content which will help their learning, but also train them in how to teach themselves and develop skills around metacognition (which is another topic entirely, which I’ll return to in a later post or 2!).

Our creativity is only limited by our imagination.

Leverage Collaboration

people working together as a team

When we are teaching in a physical classroom with students, we can bring about opportunities and contexts that are not available virtually. Virtual tools and resources can make learning more dynamic and supported, which helps to free up the teacher to diagnose and support different learner needs where appropriate.

It’s important that classroom instruction continues to include quality practices that were learned from online learning when it comes to creating blended learning experiences for our students. If we decide to go ‘back to the way it used to be done’ then we are using traditional experiences and limiting the use of virtual strategies, which is like choosing to complete tasks with half a toolkit. As our physical classroom re-develops and grows in strength, this can allow you to reflect upon the positive lessons learned from the online learning and how we can use both these environments to engage learners in greater academic success.

Our creativity is only limited by our imagination.

Recognise that Students have Moved Forward - You should too

The image says it all really. We need to be constantly innovating and evaluating new ways for pupils to learn. That’s not to say we take everything on and bury ourselves in a mountain of innovation. It has to make sense for you and your class but it does have to happen.

So with lockdown, we found a new way to teach. Not all of it was enjoyable, but we learned from it. What I don’t understand is why teachers were so ready to return to exactly what they did before lockdown. Why? Was it familiarity? Comfort? Tradition? Laziness?

Whatever the reason, know this – your pupils have moved on. Face to face lessons may still have the edge over online learning but online learning still has a large role to play in the learning process. As a teaching body, we need to continue to accept this and make purposeful steps in developing online learning to help and aid our pupils in the learning process.

You can dispute the term ‘digital natives’ (and whether it’s a myth), but our pupils have spoken and they do not want to go backwards in their learning. It’s our job to keep moving forward to push them forward also.

Their creativity is limited by our imagination.

Concluding Thoughts

Thre are a few thoughts I think are important to revisit at this point.

  1. High quality teaching is still important
  2. Online learning, but more specifically blended learning is here to stay.
  3. Any online learning needs to be thought out and planned specifically
  4. There are many online methods we can use to enhance student learning.

It is not an accident that point 1 is point 1. I would be the first to burn the technology if they were being used as shiny baubles to support teaching. High quality teaching must be at the centre of everything we do. Anything else that might replace this is a waste of time.

Online learning, or at least blended learning is here to stay. We need to use  the tools we have available to aid pupil learning. But it is a process. Some of what I have spoken about here today, is not a 5 minute task and shouldn’t be treated as such. Anything worth doing, will take time to do it well. But once it’s done, the benefit to our students will be immense! When we have n online library built, for example, this can be reviewed periodically, but will not need the same amount of time when it comes to editing the library.

Pre-prepared lists of video content on YouTube (to make the time spent on that platform finally useful); podcasts on areas of relevant study, or to enhance what has been taught in the classroom from industry experts, or news aggregators to bring together relevant web content on specific topics?

There are so many opportunities for learning, it is almost impossible for our students to not learn through these new (or not so new) methods.

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