1. New Format, Same Rules: Teaching Not Presenting
Switching to a new format can cause the loss of all that makes a teacher’s classroom-based maths teaching so successful. But what if the new format isn’t so different?
The EEF Rapid Evidence Assessment on remote learning found that:
‘Teaching quality is more important than how lessons are delivered.’
Removing the pupils from a lesson can morph the teacher into a presenter. A presenter simply drops new knowledge on their audience and walks away. Teaching is far more dynamic and involves considerations such as what the audience already knows, how the audience learns best and, crucially, ensures the audience understands the new knowledge rather than just being made aware of it.
Therefore, much of what makes classroom teaching successful works virtually too. This was a key finding of the EEF Rapid Evidence Assessment:
‘Ensuring the elements of effective teaching are present – for example clear explanations, scaffolding and feedback – is more important than how or when they are provided.’
Modelling is key: the lesson content still needs to be explicitly taught, as closely to how it would in class as possible. When tackling the new learning, it needs to be explained, not commentated on. You are not just showing pupils how to complete the task – you are teaching them how to understand, use and apply the new material.
It is vital to not simply jump from the modelling (the ‘me’) to the independent task (the ‘you’). The ‘us’ is crucial too. It is the scaffolding, the bridge between the two. Traditionally, scaffolding takes place after new content has been modelled and involves gradually supporting the pupils to become more and more independent. Without the pupils’ presence, this essential aspect of teaching can fall away, but it doesn’t need to.
Once new content has been modelled, show another similar question. Demonstrate a partial solution linked to the modelling and encourage the pupils to pause the video and complete the rest of the problem independently. Repeat, with a reduced scaffold. Ask questions! Videos don’t have to be completely non-interactive. Encourage pupils to pause the video to think and answer questions such as “How do we know this?” and “What is the next step?“
2. Assessing Without Assessment
As stated in Recommendation 1 of the EEF Report on Improving Mathematics in Key Stages Two and Three:
‘Assessment should be used… to provide teachers with information about what pupils do and do not know.’
This is also a key finding of the EEF Rapid Evidence Assessment:
‘What matters most is whether the explanation builds clearly on pupils’ prior learning or how pupils’ understanding is subsequently assessed.’
Assessing effectively and regularly at a distance presents many systemic and technological barriers. Transitioning abruptly to distance learning without these systems already in place means formative assessment can pose a real challenge.
Whilst it may not be possible to gather assessment information for every lesson, the use of mid-unit and end-of-unit reviews as online worksheets can provide the teacher with actionable data with which to plan gap-closing lessons, or adapt future lessons to recap prior content.
Gathering this information in every lesson is standard practice in classroom teaching, but if it is not always possible to gather it immediately, how does that impact virtual lessons? The challenge here is the pitch of the lesson; one video to deliver the new learning to a year group of 60 pupils, all with different needs and differing levels of prior knowledge. It quickly became clear that each lesson should make no assumptions about prior knowledge. For example, in a Year 4 lesson on rounding decimals, it will be necessary to recap elements of place value without which the new learning simply won’t stick for some of your learners. In a classroom environment, you would likely pick up on this during the lesson and intervene, but you can neither assess for understanding nor pick up on any misconceptions during virtual lessons.
As such, to maximise the chances of all pupils succeeding, lessons should be pitched so they are accessible to all learners. Prior knowledge must be recapped, and misconceptions must be predicted, as detailed in the EEF KS2‑3 Maths Report:
‘Knowledge of the common errors and misconceptions in mathematics can be invaluable… for predicting the difficulties learners are likely to encounter in advance. Teachers with knowledge of the common misconceptions can plan lessons to address potential misconceptions before they arise.’
There is, of course, a balancing act here. The chain of prior mathematical knowledge extends endlessly into the past and teachers must make a judgement call on the most suitable cut-off point, drawing on their existing knowledge of pupils’ understanding.