Review by Jon Hutchinson

Assistant head, Reach Academy Feltham, and visiting fellow at Ambition Institute

16 Jan 2021, 5:00


Jon Hutchinson’s blogs of the week, 11 January 2020

Principles and practices of remote teaching, overcoming polarised debates and the tyranny of content over curriculum are Jon Hutchinson’s top picks of this week’s education blog topics


Remote teaching during a pandemic


If you’re anything like me, the past few weeks have felt like treading water, barely keeping your head above the surface. This makes it all the more remarkable that so many teachers have written blogs to help others navigate remote learning. As teacher educator Lee Donaghy put it on Twitter: “Teachers are bloody ace, aren’t they? Can’t imagine how busy they’ve all been the last few days and yet Twitter is awash with people sharing what is and isn’t working for them in setting work online and live online teaching. I’m just in awe.”

One of my favourite examples is this blog from computer science teacher William Lau, who has scoured the evidence that exists around remote learning so you don’t have to. The blog distils a wide range of research into key principles and handy tips to keep “pupils cognitively active and involved” during your online lessons.


Means of Participation – quick wins for ratio in the remote classroom


Moving from learning principles to practical teaching tips for the remote classroom, many schools have opted to provide live lessons for pupils during this national lockdown. This brings with it a whole host of challenges, not least the fact that even adults struggle not to tune out from a video call.

So how on earth can we be expected to keep generation ‘instant gratification’ engaged? Well, assistant principal, Mark Jesnick has you covered with this blog detailing five top strategies to ensure pupils regularly participate in the call. The focus is on Microsoft Teams, but each of the strategies is easily transferable to Zoom, Google Meet or whichever software you use. Like telling everyone to type their answer in the chat box but not to press enter until you say “go”, all the ideas here are quick and simple to implement, and seem so obvious once you hear them. The blog even comes with a handy table to share with staff.


Falling apart at the how


In a way, it’s good to know Covid hasn’t disrupted every normal aspect of education. Our propensity to reach for polarised responses to new initiatives appears to go on unabated. It doesn’t seem to matter whether it’s doing remote lessons live, prioritising staff subject knowledge development or resolving conflicts through restorative conversations, for every evangelist you can find a dissenter. Assistant principal Kat Howard believes that it all falls apart at the ‘how’, or, to put it another way: “In short, most ideas in principle are good ideas, until they reach the point of execution.”

What follows is a measured and powerful argument for how school leaders in particular might secure change in a more meaningful, sustainable and shared manner. Sure, what is advocated within Howard’s blog may be a slower approach than the classic INSET announcement of “oh and by the way we’re doing knowledge organisers now, save them here”, but with stronger foundations in place those ‘good ideas’ might just stick.


The curse of content coverage


Meanwhile, albeit complicated by simultaneous delivery online and in the classroom, most schools are continuing to engage in a root-and-branch overhaul of their curriculum offer. In many cases – guided by a hefty steer from Ofsted and DfE pronouncements – leaders have tried to ensure that their subjects are more “knowledge-rich”. In reality, this has led to what Mary Myatt calls “the tyranny of content coverage”, where teachers pack too much stuff into units and lessons, leaving pupils with “a superficial impression of learning”.

Instead of focusing on amassing fragmented details and racing through thoughtless task completion, Myatt argues that we should be spending more time considering the conceptual “holding buckets” that pupils will use to organise and connect what they are learning.

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