In our school we “Teach like Champions”. In theory, anyway. Some days I feel like that swimmer from Equatorial Guinea, Eric Moussambani Malonga, who was a wildcard in the 2000 Summer Olympics. He had never seen an Olympic sized swimming pool before and completed his 100m freestyle heat in a record slow time. But he was exceptionally happy to be there. I have the occasional lesson where I stare all around me, felling completely out of my depth, like a complete imposter but still having a great time.
Anyway, in January I came across “Teaching in the Online Classroom. Surviving and Thriving in the new normal” by Doug Lemov and his team and I thought “Yes! A bit of guidance for this live teaching online malarky.” (Obviously not so long later Boris and Gavlar announced we’d be back in classrooms in March so slightly late on my part…)
I actually took so much from this book. Some was good practice that I knew I was already doing, and some were things that I could immediately implement and saw impacting lessons straight away. That’s the great thing about Lemov’s tips. They’re little things that are easy to change. You don’t need to go away and change everything about the way you teach straight away.
The first chapter struck me immediately with its theories on synchronous vs asynchronous lessons. For those who don’t know, synchronous teaching is live teaching through, for example Microsoft teams or Google classroom, and asynchronous is previously recorded lessons that students can watch whenever they can. The reason this interested me so much was that, until this January, our school was purely asynchronous teaching. Throughout lockdown 1 from March to July 2020 and throughout any bubbles bursting in the winter term we recorded our powerpoints as lessons (just with sound for me. They say the camera adds 10lbs and I really don’t need that extra) and uploaded them to youtube, sent the pupils a link and they did the work (or didn’t depending on the student!).
I know some schools had been fully synchronous for quite some time, teaching full live timetables on teams or google classroom but our school was reluctant to do this for both staff workload and lack of technology on the parts of our students. We have 70% disadvantaged students across the school, going up to almost 75% disadvantaged in our Y11 and the wonderful Government provided minimal laptops for us, despite all Gavlar’s trustworthy promises.
Hannah Solomon and Beth Verrilli, in chapter one, discuss the pros and cons of both types of teaching. Synchronous teaching is better able to maintain pupil/teacher connections, being able to respond in real time and having better engagement whereas with asynchronous learning pupils have control and can watch whenever they can – especially useful for our demographic of learner, for example those who have to share one device between numerous children, or who may have family responsibilities during the day and therefore cannot always join live lessons. They touch on staff workload too, saying that with asynchronous learning, one member of staff can make a video that can be shared among the department, and often these videos can be of a higher quality due to no time constraints. This was certainly the case in our department. One person recorded year 7 lessons, another did year 8 lessons etc… Don’t be telling the Daily Mail that though, they’ll be after our heads. We’ve already had basically a year off, haven’t we.
That said there are a number of disadvantages and I think what really swung it for our school was the fact that there is no sense of connection through a pre-recorded video, often with a different teacher to normal and we know that pupils are completing tasks, but are they actually mastering anything or just going through the motions? So, we decided to go with a hybrid model which is what this book suggests. This means that students have maybe one live lesson per subject per week and the rest is asynchronous learning.
Now when I read this book mid-January, I’d already started live teaching, we had good attendance figures and was getting more work handed in than ever and thought I was a bloody rock star. But reading this chapter I found something that I implemented straight away. They float the idea of having the live lessons as a “flipped lesson”, a time to come together and address misconceptions, give feedback, practice common errors and this really got me thinking. With the lessons I was doing, I had no idea as to whether pupils were actively engaging or just sat listening and waiting for me to show them the answers. In some lessons, as I talked into the void getting no response to my questions, I assumed the latter. So, I immediately moved to a more engaging lesson type. I no longer used the powerpoints and just continued with the scheme of work, I did low stakes quizzes for retrieval, translation tasks that included common areas of error and more “assessment for learning” type tasks such as using whiteboard.fi where I could get immediate feedback, address misconceptions straight away and plan around these misconceptions for our next live lesson. At the end of my first live “flipped” lesson with Y11 I got loads of “thanks” as they were leaving. They enjoyed it and I could see what they knew. I counted it as a big win. Would have been a bigger win if they’d have said thanks in Spanish, but I’ll take the little victories any chance I can these days.
In chapter 6, Darryl Williams and Dan Cotton talk about “procedures and routines” and to be honest, I was going to skip that one. “Come on lads, I know to run a classroom.” HOWEVER, we are not in a classroom, I am in my home and students are in theirs so there are bound to be things that I hadn’t thought of. And that there was. In my live lessons I had been welcoming pupils one by one (one green tick by my name), letting them know what we’d de doing that lesson (another green tick), saying “make sure you’re ready to start” (red cross) and then saying “we’ll just wait a few minutes for everyone to join and then we’ll get started.” (Cue massive Klaxon and flashing red light all around me, Star Trek “red-alert” style. Yes, I’m a secret Trekkie. Don’t tell anyone)
I thought that what I was doing was a good way to get started but after reading I completely agreed with Williams and Cotton. If I were in school, I wouldn’t be saying “get ready to start” I’d be saying “get out your books and pens, write the date and title” – why is now any different. I also wouldn’t be waiting 10 minutes for stragglers before starting so why would I now? So again, I immediately re-implemented the do now task so the students who were early or on time understood that this is “school” and it’s a lesson. We’re not just here to have a chat, we’re here to work. This is something I’m generally quite strict on, as I had a teacher in school who was so lovely, but you knew that if you asked her about her nails or started a discussion on anything other than lesson content, we wouldn’t have to do any work for at least 20 minutes. Don’t want to be like that. Have been guilty of it on occasions in the past. Shh.
I also slowly started to implement things like cold calling again, something I’d been avoiding as our students didn’t want to turn on their microphones to speak, but cold-calling is still easily done through the chat functions. I was making sure I had pre-planned questions and I had an idea of who I was going to ask, depending on who was present in the lesson and all these things made a success of live lessons, with much more engagement than previously.
The one downfall that I found with the book was that it is quite Americanised in that they talk about seeing and hearing pupils, getting them to hold things up, and I know a lot of UK schools don’t allow cameras or microphones on due to safeguarding issues – I know ours doesn’t. So there were more things I would have liked to implement but couldn’t.
Long story short (ha!) there are some really great examples of good practice in this book and if we ever find ourselves in the midst of another global pandemic, zombie apocalypse, alien takeover give it a read.