Helping teachers to explain more clearly: 3 remote learning tips

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Date published 26 January 2021

Explaining concepts with clarity is incredibly difficult.

In the classroom we rely on non-verbal cues and Assessment for Learning to check that our pupils are understanding. If I survey the classroom and see a sea of blank faces, or ask a question and get incorrect responses I can stop my explanation and try again. Now I am teaching through a computer my ability to teach responsively is significantly hindered. Even if I set pupils a quiz at the end of each lesson, there is the potential for them to spend the entire lesson not understanding, eroding their confidence and motivation. It is therefore vital that my exposition is as clear as I can possibly make it.

As a head of department, in identifying the importance of exposition clarity for online learning, I wanted to ensure that anything we focussed on now was relevant both now, and when back in the classroom. From the reading (and watching) that I have done I came up with my own ‘best bets’. There is a huge amount of sophisticated research out there but in terms of enacting change quickly I wanted to settle on three key, high leverage principles. I decided that, for us, these were chunking, thinking ratio and visual cues.

Randal Cremer_library portrait2

1. Chunking

Online learning is harder for pupils to engage with, so concepts need to be broken down into much smaller chunks. To increase pupil motivation we want to make the first step easier ensuring they feel successful early. By breaking new knowledge or procedures into smaller chunks, practicing each chunk and building on each previous idea helps us to build up sophisticated schemas in pupils.

2. Thinking ratio

It is much harder, if not impossible, to know if a pupil is actively thinking online. Pupils passively listening to a video will not be learning as much as if they are actively thinking, so it is vital that pupils are thinking throughout my exposition. There is no perfect solution, we can’t force pupils to think. In the classroom we might use cold call or mini whiteboards however online we have limited options. We can encourage thinking by pausing between sentences and using ‘pause points’ to encourage active participation. These pause points allow you to direct pupils’ attention, to be listening when you are speaking and thinking when you ask a question.

Claire introduces collision theory for Year 10 and Key Stage 3, using the techniques she outlines in this blog.

3. Visual cues

Dual coding is a popular term at the moment and there are lots of great blogs and videos showing excellent examples. It is important to remember that dual coding is more than just relating a picture and a word. It is about using well constructed diagrams to support pupil understanding. Effective use includes: consistent use by those teaching the same concept, building these diagrams by starting with prior knowledge and using the same diagram to support retrieval.

Having identified and trialled what makes a good exposition I set about designing a scheme of CPD to share these ‘best bets’ with other teachers. To align my teachers’ thinking and ensure our diagrams are going to support understanding we present them to each other and ‘minesweep’ them for misconceptions. We then share these ‘finalised’ diagrams to promote consistency in the future. I am hopeful that not only will this have a hugely positive impact on our remote learning provision but that our supercharged explanations will remain invaluable when we return to the classrooms we very much miss.

Further reading:

  1. Pupil Accountability by Doug Lemov
  2. Clear Teacher Explanations by Pritesh Raichura
  3. Structuring and Organising Knowledge by Harry Fletcher-Wood
  4. Dual Coding for teacher’s that can’t draw by Adam Boxer
  5. Pause Points by Doug Lemov
  6. Implications of distance learning for teachers Harry Fletcher-Wood
  7. Setting work for a long shut down by Tom Sherrington
  8. Dual Coding by Oliver Caviglioli
Claire Couves
Associate Assistant Headteacher, Reach Academy Feltham

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