Building back better: Teaching, pedagogy and learning

Written by: Dr Fiona Aubrey-Smith | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Some schools have already begun changing and adapting their in-school teaching practices in light of their experiences during remote education. Dr Fiona Aubrey-Smith asks how your school is already 'building back better'


It is exciting that a coalition of school leaders with real insight have joined up with a number of system leaders, academics, MPs and entrepreneurs to call for a Royal Commission on Education.

The group published a letter earlier this month in the Sunday Times setting out this ambitious review (see further information), and are holding a roundtable on February 4 which is free to attend. Key figures include Robert Halfon MP, chairman of the Education Select Committee, Professor Rose Luckin, a leading expert in learner-centred design) and Priya Lakhani, among many familiar names. So here is the question for you. What would you change about education?

We are all familiar with the debates about testing, accountability, funding, staff retention and so forth. These are important, vital conversations that shape so much of what we do in our everyday operational activities at school. But our immersion in these can prevent us from thinking about other factors.

What if we think afresh about what education could and should look like in 2021 and beyond? What have we learned during remote schooling about the dynamics between home and school, parents and children, teachers and students? What have we noticed during live lessons and video-based instruction about students’ learning behaviours? What good can we draw out of the challenges faced during the pandemic? Many schools and trusts have already profoundly shifted teaching and learning models and ideas for the better as a direct result of this pandemic.

For example, one school described how they continued to use Google Classroom when students physically returned. Their new normal is that all students across the school submit all their work online – using GoogleDocs, photographing exercise books, videoing offline talk or outdoors activities. They have the skills so they are being purposefully incorporated. It has not been about doing all their work online – it has been about using technology to improve and build on existing strengths.

Other schools are using the likes of SeeSaw, Tapestry and OneDrive in similar ways. Each of these schools have embraced the best of online and offline activity, and are using technology to facilitate both, capture both, share both and evidence both.

Students are taking responsibility for the capture, teachers are able to look beyond the old constraints of where evidence can be found or what handwriting looks like, and parents have real-time awareness of what students are learning in order to support more effectively at home.

The quality of parental dialogue with both students and teachers has improved, the accuracy of teacher assessment has improved, and the levels of student responsibility have improved. Why would we go back from that?

Another example can be found in how teachers have been sharing instruction. Many teachers have either made or incorporated pre-recorded film for students to watch lesson inputs or instructions. Others have facilitated live lessons and recorded instruction for students to watch back.

A number of schools have used these materials to build a library of instruction which has then been assigned to students based on prior attainment and need – differentiated on-demand instruction. As one student put it – it is personal, relevant and rewindable. Moreover, students can work at their own pace through instruction – something that traditional approaches prevent by the very nature of whole-class inputs.

Notably, teachers using this approach have found that by recording live-lessons or instructional input this frees up teacher capacity meaning that intervention in student learning can then be more targeted and more effective without needing any additional capacity.

What if we introduced artificial intelligence to this – capturing and analysing student work and directing to the most appropriate teacher input, guide or resource? What if parents have access to these films in order to equip them with the precise detail of what their child is learning to enable better continuity of support between home and school? That is all possible already and many schools are embracing it.

Think back to Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development – and how social dialogue with “a more knowledgeable other” moves learning on. Connections with people and technologies turbo-charge this. Therefore, by utilising the stronger links between home, school, teachers, family members, expert others and students we really are able to enable “the whole village to educate the child” – and that, could be one of the greatest silver linings to come out of the pandemic.

If you reflect on what has happened within your own school during the pandemic, what key considerations does this raise about “the bigger picture” – the nature of education and the opportunities for “the village” to educate the child?

What have you learned about pedagogy during periods where some or all children have been remote schooling? Key questions to consider might include asking what has been learnt about:

  • The role of the learner within learning?
  • The role of the learner within teaching?
  • The role of the teacher in teaching?
  • The role of the teacher in learning?
  • The nature of motivation?
  • The nature of communication?
  • Who seeks to take responsibility for, and within, learning activities?
  • The ways in which knowledge is created – and who is creating it?
  • The role of dialogue – and between whom dialogue takes place?
  • The role of resources – particularly technologies?

To help schools address some of these questions, I have recently published the Pedagogy Framework, a simple set of thought-prompts to aid discussion.

  • Dr Fiona Aubrey-Smith is director of One Life Learning specialising in education research and consultancy. She is also an associate lecturer at The Open University, a founding fellow of the Chartered College of Teaching and sits on the board of a number of multi-academy and charitable trusts. Contact Fiona via fionaaubreysmith@googlemail.com

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