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What will remote teaching look like at Bryanston?

Head of Teaching and Learning Will Ings reflects on Bryanston’s unique approach to online teaching and explores how the School’s teachers plan to maintain pupil engagement and enthusiasm over a sustained period…

If I asked you to envisage online learning, you would probably imagine a lesson where the teacher is behind a computer and the pupils join virtually. This is the most obvious response. However, research has shown that online learning of this nature, on its own, is not the most effective way for people to learn. In fact, with screen fatigue and other factors in mind, researchers have established that the most effective virtual teaching programme includes a variety of delivery methods and this is how Bryanston intends to proceed for the coming months (and for however long is required.)

While this sounds simple in principle, inevitably this requires a lot of training and upskilling, not to mention effort on the pupils’ part, not just the teachers. Our teachers have spent the better part of their Easter break getting to grips with this dynamic shift and preparing for the summer term curriculum to be taught virtually.

Remote learning, though challenging of course, offers new opportunities. Bryanston’s academic system was founded on the progressive educational thinking of the Dalton Plan (where pupils are encouraged to learn independently and think of themselves as the experimenters) and we like to think that this system is better suited than most to remote learning.

You might have heard of the terms synchronous and asynchronous learning. Synchronous learning refers to learning all at one time together (this could be online in a virtual lesson). Asynchronous, on the other hand, means learning apart at separate times, for instance with work being set and pupils completing it independently.

SYNCHRONOUS

 

ASYNCHRONOUS

Learning all together at the same time

Learning at separate times

For instance: online lesson

For instance: completing independent work

A typical weekly cycle of teaching at Bryanston next term, will likely include a virtual lesson to begin (synchronous), a follow-up lesson where work is set to inhabit the knowledge in new contexts (the way that many people define learning), a third lesson in which a check for understanding is undertaken in the form of a simple assessment, and then to conclude the mini-cycle, a virtual lesson delivered online again in the presence of the class all together (synchronous). Steps two and three can work in either order depending on the rhythm of the learning for that particular group and teacher.

 

We believe there will be various benefits to such a methodology, the first of which will be improved and longer-lasting learning, the second of which will be reduced screen fatigue. We do not want our pupils or staff to spend too long in front of their computers. Instead, variety will be built in. We have listened carefully to lessons learned by practitioners in China and Italy and will be using this advice when fashioning our new teaching and learning pathway. Variety in forms of online instruction will help to prevent boredom, something the Chinese found was prevalent early on in their experiences. Furthermore, pupils cannot retain new information if they do not use it promptly upon learning it. So, assignment tasks and independent research followed by the composition of information-processing tasks will be important and will move us away from a palette of online classes being the only medium being used to deliver ‘teaching’. Moreover, it is essential that the opportunity for group work and peer-to-peer consultation is included in the strategies we devise.

Handwriting will also be important at this time. It is well-known that there are cognitive benefits to the handwriting of information (instead of typing it, for instance) which is why Bryanston always has a handwritten work policy. This will still be the case despite the fact that computers will be more central to the transference of teaching information in the ‘new normal’ (be that in the form of videos, emails, referrals to online texts etc). Pupils will regularly need to write work by hand and then submit as a picture file for teachers to mark and this workflow, although on the surface seemingly counterintuitive, should be celebrated for its unseen benefits.

We should remember that the Dalton Plan actually puts Bryanston on the front foot in this unprecedented situation we have all found ourselves in. Independence is the central tenet, and our pupils are better prepared than most to work under their own steam, to manage their time effectively and reflectively and to respond to feedback to move their learning on. Pupils will still have regular tutorials during which such reflection and refinement of working habits will take place and so Bryanston pupils can walk confidently into the next stage of their education, be that remote or not, because they are equipped to thrive.