Ofsted has created a series of guidelines for schools on remote learning during the third national lockdown.
The advice has been written by the inspectorate’s research head, Daniel Muijs, and draws on findings from Ofsted’s interim visits and “wider sources”.
He says common “unhelpful myths” about remote education include the idea that “remote education is fundamentally different to other forms of teaching”, that the best forms are digital, and that the best way to deliver remote education is through live lessons.
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He then sets out seven key guidelines for teachers:
1. Remote education is a way of delivering the curriculum
Professor Muijs says that a “remote education curriculum needs to be aligned to the classroom curriculum as much as possible”.
“And, just like the classroom curriculum, it needs to be carefully sequenced and ensure that pupils obtain the building blocks they need to move on to the next step,” he writes.
“Curricular goals should be made as explicit remotely as they would be in the classroom.”
He adds that when using textbooks or worksheets, it is still important for teachers to provide feedback and assess learning.
2. Keep it simple
He encourages teachers not to “overcomplicate” online learning with too many graphics.
“More important is attention to the key elements of effective teaching,” Professor Muijs says. “For example, it’s useful to provide pupils with an overview of the bigger picture and where a specific lesson or activity sits within a sequence of lessons or activities.
“It’s also vital to have clear and high expectations, and to communicate these to pupils. Just as in the classroom, most pupils will be novices in what we are teaching them, we can’t expect them to be able to discover new content for themselves through tasks, projects and internet searching.”
Curriculum content should be “chunked” into manageable steps, he adds.
3. Focus on the basics
“Beware of offering too much new subject matter at once,” Professor Muijs says. “Make sure key building blocks have been understood fully first. We need to assess pupils’ knowledge to determine this.
“Consider the most important knowledge or concepts pupils need to know. Focus on those.”
4. Feedback, retrieval practice and assessment are more important than ever
“Learning isn’t fundamentally different when done remotely,” he says.
“Feedback and assessment are still as important as in the classroom. It can be harder to deliver immediate feedback to pupils remotely than in the classroom, but teachers have found some clever ways to do this.”
Immediate feedback can be given through chatroom discussions, one-to-one interaction tools, interactive touch-screen questioning in live recorded lessons and adaptive learning software, he says.
5. Consider the medium
Professor Muijs points out that students tend to spend longer on online lessons if they are on laptops than on phones – with tablets somewhere in between – and that teachers need to consider this.
If pupils do not have another device, non-digital approaches should be considered.
“It is also worth considering where to host content,” he adds. “In the battle for attention against the internet, we need to consider whether we avoid hosting video lessons on certain platforms like YouTube, for example, because of their advertising algorithms distracting pupils.”
6. Live lessons are not always best
“Some think that a live lesson is the ‘gold standard’ of remote education. This isn’t necessarily the case,” Professor Muijs says. “Live lessons have a lot of advantages. They can make curriculum alignment easier, and can keep pupils’ attention, not least as the teacher has more control over the learning environment.”
But he says live lessons can lack flexibility and interaction, and it may be better to use a “flipped learning“ approach, where new content is taught through a recorded lesson before pupils put this into practice and receive tutoring and feedback.
7. Engagement matters but it’s only the start
Professor Muijs says focusing on whether pupils are “engaged” can be distracting.
“While it is important to engage pupils, this is only a precondition for learning, not the thing itself,” he says.
“There is only so much a teacher can do to engage pupils remotely. We therefore need to make sure that efforts to engage don’t distract us from teaching the curriculum. We also need to check whether pupils have actually learned the content we want them to through assessment.”
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “We’re pleased to see Ofsted dispelling common myths about remote education, particularly the notion that live lessons are a gold standard.
“This idea seems to have caught hold in some circles and has created an expectation that schools should be providing an endless stream of live lessons.”