Teaching and Learning in schools when lockdown is over

As someone who oversees Teaching and Learning at work, I have been thinking a lot about what to do once kids return back to school. I can’t wait to have them back and miss my pupils dearly, but also know that school closure during this time of year will pose a series of challenges. I know it’s difficult to predict when the lockdown will end but rumours of schools opening up again are popping up in the media and it’s something that requires thought.

Next week I will be holding a Microsoft Teams meeting with my wonderful Middle Leaders (again, who I miss very much!) about how we get ready for those challenges.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what I may suggest, I’ve read blogs, asked the wonderful folks on twitter and looked for inspiration. The realisation I have come to is although the situation is unique we don’t actually need to do anything new. I’m a big advocate for embedding things well rather than jumping from one strategy to the other so here’s the advice I’ll be providing my Middle Leaders next week

Challenges per year groups:

We need to accept to that the challenges per year group will vary. For example, depending on when we reopen, Year 6s orthe new Year 7s for Secondary schools will not have been prepped for their SATs. This final push often makes students more confident with reading comprehension and Maths. As a secondary Vice Principal I will be reaching out to the Primary schools in our area to see what we can do to make this transition smoother as it will impact subjects such as Maths and English but also History where we ask students to make inferences and arguments.

For year 10 the challenge will be covering the content in time for the GCSE. The kindest thing the exam boards could do is allow students to pick option questions in the final exam paper, so if they have not covered a topic at the end of year 10 because of the closure they can focus on the others, but I’ve not heard any whispers of this happening therefore we may just need to plough through the content as quick as possible.

Teachers need to ensure they are familiar with these nuances and the challenges to each year group so that where possible they can address these issues. On that note, we need to recognise that all students will be out of school routines, so this will be a big push for us when we get back.

Its’ not all bad

I’m also not a big one for doom and gloom. Yes we will face challenges and yes the chances are that those from the most deprived homes will have a very different experience from others. However, we have to recognise that it will be a mixed picture. Yes kids will have been out of a routine and engaged to different levels with home learning materials but they are also likely to be rested, have possibly watched a documentary on TV that can be explored, read beyond the syllabus, gone for walks and we have to make the most of that and explore it. Many of our children will be excited about learning with staff again and crave routine and structure (even if they don’t admit it) so a return to school will be exciting for them. Again we have to make the most of that.

Lots of low stakes testing

Kids will be nervous, we know they have an acute understanding of how they are performing compared to their peers and what I don’t want is for the kids to come back to a barrage of tests. We know a child who has had limited access to home learning will be nervous returning to the classroom. I have asked my teachers to be mindful of language when completing low stakes testing. For example, rather than saying ‘let’s see what you’ve learnt’, saying ‘seeing as we haven’t done as much online learning before let’s see what the resources taught you and then we can fill in the gaps’ or ‘lets see what you thought of the resources and what I need to add to them to make things stick by doing a quick question round.’ This takes the pressure off and opens the classroom up for exploring where the gaps in knowledge have occurred.

If you’re anything like me I can get into a rut where I like certain activities and do them repeatedly. In the Middle Leaders session next week me and the HODs will be exploring different ways of completing low stakes testing such as Do it now tasks, Connect 3 (where students have to get across a noughts and crosses style grid by answering three Qs with varying levels of difficulty), Quizzes and others to ensure students don’t come back to a diet of 10 Multiple Choice tests every lesson.

Keep using the tech

I’m not sure about you but we have not used the technology we are currently using during lock down so rigorously. I will be urging staff to continue doing so in order to fill gaps in knowledge. This may be by uploading materials to enhance knowledge based on needs identified in class or by setting the quizzes online as homework to then pitch lessons appropriately. On the plus side even the most tech nervous of my teachers are now embracing the systems we have set up so students can expect consistency in approach (like I said silver lining and all that!)

Teach to the top

We must continue to be aspirational for our young people. I really believe this. I honestly believe our children are resilient and will thrive at the other end of this with the right attitude and support. In this paper Hattie argues that school closures will have a relatively minimal impact, but the real impact will come from home resources.  As teachers we know this.

To me this requires teaching to the top and ensuring we have careful scaffolding for our children. What do I mean by teaching to the top? Ensuring students have the same stimulus but adapting the way they may approach it. Some of the strategies we already use in school but will become ever more important are:

Posing a big question at the start of the lesson that helps tie some disparate parts of the content together. A challenging question that you keep coming back to and which students feel they have chipped away at together throughout it.

Best of three (particularly for year 10 if we need to get through content swiftly but want to develop deep understanding). This is where three sample answers to a big question are given to students (grade 9/5/3 for example) and depending on their confidence with the topic they are asked to discuss the pros and cons of one of them and then as a group compare the answers.

Role reversal asking students to explain elements of the content being covered to quickly understand their level of comprehension through a series of follow up questions.

The two things that tie all of these strategies are cold calling and strong knowledge organisers. These help us gauge where students are at in their learning. I think these will be incredibly powerful tools when we return.

You will notice none of these techniques are new or revolutionary, none of them require me to retrain staff, but I think they need to be done incredibly well and need focus when our students return. I believe that the work teachers do day in day out with students is incredible and that we must continue to do these well rather than adopt a range of new strategies out of fear.

The search for James

I have told myself many lies as teacher and Vice Principal but none of them is as regular or benign as making a cup of tea during the school day, knowing full well it will never be consumed. I continue to boil the kettle regardless.

The dreaded crackling begins. ‘Hello on call’ I grab the walkie talkie like a surgeon being called into life-saving surgery. ‘Go ahead’ I say.’ James Burton* is missing from curriculum support. He has stormed out after kicking some bins and swearing at the LSA’s.’ The possibilities run through my head. Could he be kicking in a bin somewhere else in school? I mentally make a note of all bins around the school site. James has quite a knack for pranks. Could he be sitting in a bin? Ready to jump out and give one of us a heart attack as we approach him? Another possibility I make a mental note of. Could he be off site quite possibly causing a danger to others more than himself with his old ‘pull my finger joke’ and farts on demand? I visit Curriculum Support where he was last seen and the staff quickly point towards the direction in which he left. On passing his friend James Seager I enquire where he went and am told he headed towards the music rooms. Likely, I think to myself, he’s probably written a bloody musical about his escape and is going to perform it to the school as the bell goes at the end of the day. I pop my head into classrooms where I hear loud noises thinking he may be doing his usual monologue whilst standing on a chair but no luck there either. I look at my watch, nearly home time and over 14,000 steps covered. I think about entering the London Marathon again, there is no way I am not fitter now than when I last ran and was in sales, driving hundreds of miles in my car every day. The search for Wally continues.

Eventually I give up. Defeated, I decide to walk to reception and call his mum to say we can’t find him and ask her to come into school. Hopefully he will appear in time to be taken home. As I approach reception I thank James Seager for his help in finding his friend although I have been unable to locate him, at that point I hear his mum stomp in and scream at the top of her lungs ‘You’ve found my boy!’ I look at the ladies who notified me of a missing James Burton in the first place. It seems they got the wrong James. I make eye on contact with the other James, the one who I should have been searching for. We glare at each other. ‘Yes we did’ I say smiling at his mum. ‘Yes she did’ he repeats. I go to make another cup of tea. It seems we are all little liars in the end.  

2nd March 2020

Monday

All staff have been asked to complete a half hour online course on the use of the internet and email. Apparently, this is due to a virus that an ITT recently opened and was then sent to all staff in the Trust. I dutifully sit at my desk I am already a day over the deadline and this is no time for a philosophical debate about the madness of this all. Only, I can’t log in. I send the IT Director who has commissioned this unusual form of punishment upon us all, an email explaining I can’t log on to the course on the internal system. He asks if I am using my usual log in details. I reply I am and that I know they are correct as they are the same as the  ones used to log into my email, which he can see I am managing to use successfully. He explains to me that information such as this must be kept confidential to avoid hacking. I explain having not completed my training he can expect such mistakes from me in the future. I await a reply….

Tuesday

My husband snores into the early hours of the morning and after I weigh up the pros and cons of murdering him with my pillow I decide to just get out of bed and start the day by tackling my email. To be frank I feel like quite the superior being, having tackled my inbox before I even enter school at 7.15am. People are staring at me and I can only imagine that my organisation skills this morning are oozing such power that everyone can see the powerhouse I am. At 8am I enter the bathroom and am shocked by how much I have aged overnight! Grey hair appear at the top of my head and I rub at them to check if it really is my own reflection I am seeing. Some investigative minutes later I realise that I have not had a reverse Benajmin Button moment but in tiredness have sprayed my hair with deodorant rather than dry shampoo.

Wednesday

Question. What is the experience of someone who has tourrettes and a stutter? I too was stumped by this question when asked by a student at the end of lunch at the bottom of the humanities stairs.

Thursday

Aha! IT Director has got back to me suggesting I change my password for the system on which previously mentioned training is run. I am struggling to do this without being able to log in at which point he frustratingly exclaims that I should contact their help desk directly. He reminds me that the course must be completed by the end of the day or Armageddon will occur and all my emails could be deleted if I accidentally click on a virus. I reply to his email explaining that I can’t imagine anything more delightful followed by a screenshot showing that his own security systems have denied me access to the helpdesk he would like me to access.

It is World Book Day and I have no end of Wollies and Wanda’s roaming my corridors. Lady Macbeth walks towards me and her intentions are definitely sinister. She asks if she can miss a CPD session to attend a doctors appointment she could not book at any other time. I do the usual and remind her that dates for CPD are shared at the beginning of the year and she is expected to attend them but if she really can’t go at any other time then she should go and catch up with me later regarding the session. She smiles politely but I can feel her scowling at me through her eyes. I imagine she’ll offer me tea from a poisoned chalice in the near future.

Friday

Eyes down I look at a small hand with a choco crispie cake and then up at a spotty face smiling. Student X is offering me a chocolate rice crispie cake he made earlier in Food Tech. Usually I would wolf down such offerings but having spotted the state of Student Xs hands I’m certain that the coronavirus is not currently the biggest threat to our school. I find a tissue in my pocket, smile politely and wrap the cake putting it in my pocket reassuring the student that I will enjoy it with my cup of tea later. I cannot walk to a bin fast enough the ticking time bomb that is melting chocolate potentially seeping all over my coat.