HoDSciSci January Roundtable: The Quality Assurance of Remote Learning.

We kick off the first HoDSciSci post with a remote learning roundtable. Here a few willing HoDs have answered questions focussed on the quality assurance of remote learning.  

In today’s post we have Darren Walkerdine, Ryan Badham, Nik Rorke and Chris Smith. All four have their students learning via live lessons, which appears to be the most common way this lockdown. The only major difference appears to be that Niks school appears to have moved to 1 to 1 devices in september.

We asked all them to jot down their thoughts on remote learning QA. We’ve edited them into a few common themes. Let’s get cracking!

What do you think the most important aspects of quality assurance are?

DW: In terms of what to look for, for me the priority is clarity of explanations. These should be logically ordered. Ideally, they would be scripted and practiced with other departmental staff. 

RB: For me one of the most important aspects of remote learning quality assurance is the manner in which we go about it. Staff are somewhere along a continuum in terms of their digital literacy and may have other concerns as well. Approaching the QA from the viewpoint of compassionate accountability. Additionally, I think it is important the QA is also forward focused and provides solutions to any issues. 

NR: To me the most important thing is ensuring that there is consistency across the department. Making sure there are clear explanations, good use of models and worked examples, regular assessment and good feedback.

CS: Quality assurance is critical at all levels to ensure we are giving the best possible opportunities to students. Teaching is a professional career and as such we should be accountable for what happens in our classrooms, being online is not different. I agree with Ryan, quality assurance in education has often been seen as a negative tool in some schools, however if it is approached with the right degree of professionalism then it can be an incredible tool. Quality assurance should not only ensure students are having the best possible education delivered but also to ensure staff feel supported. We are in a very new era and it is difficult for any teacher to adapt in the short space of time. Instructional coaching should be a part of quality assurance, it should not stop at a checklist of school’s demands, it must provide an opportunity for feedback and coaching.

How do you think you will quality assure your team when working remotely?

DW: QA can focus on this through a review of pupils written responses, pupil and parent voice. We also QA through drop-ins to remote lessons – currently, we are three weeks into remote teaching and would like to develop teachers in their skills. This requires trust on all sides, and expectations of feedback needs to be clear, about the quality of teaching, as indicated in EEF Rapid Evidence Assessment for Remote Learning (April 2020). We can also review the work set on our homework platform and use insights on MSTeams to survey submitted work.

RB: At our school we are using a blended approach to remote learning consisting of a mix of pre-recorded and live lessons. Live lessons are a new string to our bow only recently added and therefore we are starting the QA process with pre-recorded lessons. We are beginning by looking at basic core teaching aspects and will then move onto looking at the application of core T+L practices such as retrieval practice, modelling are being used in the pre-recorded lessons. This will be through Sampling different pre-recorded videos. Regarding live-lessons we are currently doing lesson drop ins, however, they are and have been fully supportive and completely non-judgmental. Although I’m sure all of us can think of a non-judgmental judgment we have received in the past, we are trying very hard to make it a reality. Like Darren we use a student voice survey, but with caveats. Namely that students can have a skewed perspective on their learning and ensuring that the questions do not level any criticism at the teacher

NR: We have a Staff Notebook which is used for lesson templates. These are much the same as workbooks with a section for a topic and pages for lessons. I monitor (and use) the templates. All staff edit and adapt these pages. This ensures that we are all using the same resources and are teaching to the same order with the same key definitions. All HoDs have been given a Teams Admin login so that we can visit any Team and drop into video calls. I haven’t used this yet as I have been given my department time to settle into the new way of teaching. I plan to ask them to invite me at first to observe any strategies they might want to try so I can give the students’ perspective. I will then aim to do regular drop-ins at given times.

CS: We have recently gone through a rigorous process of designing, resourcing, and implementing our curriculum. This is fully resourced; however, teachers need to personalise their resources for their classes and now adapted to online education. We went through a rigorous process over the first lockdown with initial professional development on how to resource our curriculum (in line with our teaching model) and then team leaders oversaw the process for each discipline. We are currently doing virtual learning walks. These work in a very similar way to our normal learning walks in that they are there for developmental reasons. We are very aware of teachers’ needs at this time and the adaptation process has been a fast one, however we were preparing for this since the last lockdown and have trialed live lessons before this second lockdown. We drop into the Google Meet lesson and support the member of staff if they need or want this. Staff are then emailed feedback and we often have coaching drop ins to allow staff to develop their remote education teaching. We are basing our priorities on our teaching and learning model and this is truly about direct and explicit explanations and plenty of questioning with students. Weekly CPD sessions are focused on learning walk feedback, Q&A based on this and training on how we can adapt our model to remote education.

What are the limitations to remote QA?

DW: One limitation would be that we require a shared vision of what a good piece of work looks like and it is agreed throughout your science team. The reasons why it is good, must be shared with teaching staff and with pupils.When talking to pupils, due to safeguarding reasons, we cannot see their non-verbal communication, when asked questions about their views. 

RB: For me it’s simple: Time, time and more time! Workload is a real issue at the moment for both teachers and middle leaders. Finding time to do anything is quite difficult and job lists seem quite unending at the moment. A second barrier for me is the lack of evidence or prior knowledge on what works best or what constitutes the most effective practice. However I also think that effective remote teaching isn’t wildly different from effective in class teaching and will focus QA as mentioned on these core teaching principles. This blog by Shaun Allison elaborates on this further https://researchschool.org.uk/durrington/news/pedagogy-trumps-format

The final barrier for effective remote learning QA is a hard one to put into words. It is the emotional attachment to live lessons that permeates the media, perceived parent opinion and therefore may impact the QA process.

NR: I agree with Ryan, it is more time consuming. I can’t just wander in and out of lessons. I will have to go through the TeamsAdmin log in and find the correct class Team from every single one in the school. These are also stressful times and I don’t want to add extra anxieties on to my department. It is very difficult to monitor students learning/performance in the same way. I would be able to have access to their Class Notebooks so could look into what they are doing that way but again this would be much more time consuming and slower than just taking a look over their shoulders. I am also finding remote learning quite tiring and so my time and energy to be able to do this are limited compared to normal.

CS: On of the big things I miss is the corridor interactions after a learning walk, often many small developmental and coaching points are achieved within the corridor.Remote QA can come across as too formalised at times as there is generally a need for written communication before a ‘meeting’ can take place – the informality of those ‘developmental chats’ are lost. Remote QA reduces the ability to read the person’s body language meaning sometimes issues might be missed and can turn from minor to major more quickly. 

 Do you think there will be any positives from this change to your normal QA process?

DW: I love that lessons can be recorded on MS Teams for pupils to use later and it allows QA of a particular lesson, to be discussed with the teacher at a later date. I think it’s also really useful for developing pedagogy in specific areas of the curriculum, e.g. working with a non-specialist, PGCE, ITT, Teach First.

RB: I hope that teachers may be happier to be recorded in lessons in the future. This would allow a joint conversation over certain parts of the lesson. Additionally, depending upon what you are looking for it may be easier to ‘drop in’  to a large amount of in school lessons however I remain ambivalent on this.

NR: I think the whole situation is so different to normal that it is difficult to compare to the normal process. The process and the type of feedback will be exclusive to the methods we are using right now. The only thing I can think that may be better is that I can focus on the use of One Note and the quality of explanations without being distracted by watching the students.

CS: The reliance on Google Meet and Classrooms has meant our collaboration across schools has dramatically improved. This has improved efficiency and overall product. With the QA process we have been able to keep a ‘live’ eye on resources being made and offer feedback there and then, whereas prior to this many face-to-face meetings were set up to gain this collaboration. With so many emails and other forms of communication I think it has really made me think about how I express myself to my colleagues and team members in different situations. Prior to this emails were used as a ‘quicker’ form of communication whereas now they are generally our main form of communication, therefore the meaning must be portrayed first time to avoid further issues.

How do you think you will give feedback in a meaningful way?

DW: Key for me is sharing a criteria for good teaching (Coe et al, 2014), develop this into a rubric which can be used to provide a basis for a conversation about remote teaching. 1-2-1 feedback is needed in some form to clarify what was good and using a facilitative coaching style which asks questions about why particular decisions were made. I also encourage the teacher to invite me to see them undertaking a particular explanation,or technique to get follow up feedback on if the advice has been acted on correctly.

RB: By ensuring that any feedback given is forward focused and take into account the different levels of digital literacy of the individual. I think it is always important to provide solutions where possible and to have it as a dialogue.

NR: All of my department are in school at some point in the week (I am in school full time) and so I will do this face to face. I can also send private chat messages through Teams to share the positives more quickly.

CS: As discussed above feedback for us is an instructional coaching methodology whereby there is a two way communication but just like with our teaching clear, direct and explicit developmental actions must come from this. We use email, Google Meet and for more informal communication WhatsApp can be used. The critical point for me is that no meaning is lost and therefore all communication must be thought about with this in mind and just like with ‘direct instruction’ faultless communication is critical.

Final thoughts

We found it really interesting to see the commonality and the emphasis on overcoming the communication barriers that exist within email and messaging. 

On  the theme of remote QA, Adam has recently written about the role demand characteristics play in observations and the difficulty they pose. Remote learning might provide a way around this issue. Find out more here.

So there we have it! Cherry popped, expertise shared and hopefully you have gleaned some ideas to support you. We’d like to thank our 4 HoDs for taking the time to share their thoughts. At the top of the post each HoDs twitter is linked so feel free to ask them specific questions or you could direct questions to @HoDSciSci and #HoDSciSci.

This is a new venture so any feedback gratefully received. @HodSciSci DMs are open so please let us know.

We are looking to promote a diverse range of voices in HoDSciSci so if you want to get involved or suggest a topic for our next post click here

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