Schools are operating across an unlevel playing field perhaps more akin to an ice rink, with some learners being expert skaters, gliding like swans, others wobbling, falling down and getting up again, whilst others cling precariously to the safety bar at the side.
We used to talk about ‘closing the gap’ when it came to describing how pupils achieved. In the current climate, with the impact of partial school closures on learning, it is more like bridging a chasm in every school. This begs the question of how teachers can ensure fairness against a background of differential loss in learning, which is becoming more visible as the full range of their students sit alongside each other, in their face-to-face lessons.
Hybrid learning (a blend of remote and face-to-face instruction) has and continues to work well for some students, but not for others. From my perspective, one key point has emerged: to access learning, children across all age-phases have to develop the ‘three Rs’; resilience, self-reliance and self-regulation. Teachers are having to adapt the way they teach, moving away from the accepted model of knowledge transmission and towards a greater use of formative assessment and feedback.
Education is not only about acquiring subject knowledge, but, importantly, acquiring the skill to transfer and use that knowledge. Self-motivation, memory and self-regulation are increasingly recognised as key essential ingredients of active learning in different contexts (EEF, 2020). These are the same skills needed by young people in everyday life, such as when undertaking further training and employment. Research on education-to-work transition suggests that young people will benefit from being reactive, adaptive, creative and self-motivated (Fettes, 2018).
Arguably, hybrid learning has profiled the importance of promoting independent learning, through and beyond the curriculum post-COVID-19. What are the implications for teaching in the classroom?
From knowledge transmission to assessment: The power of teacher feedback
Assessment and feedback are the greatest catalysts in developing self-regulation – an individual’s capacity to think explicitly about learning and execute strategies for planning, monitoring and evaluating their own progress (see EEF, 2018). Promoting self-regulation involves encouraging young people to work at their own pace, continuously refining and deepening their learning.
In their 2007 study on the power of feedback, John Hattie and Helen Timperley assert that effective feedback must address three major questions asked by a teacher and/or student: Where am I going? (the goals); How am I going? (the progress being made toward the goal); and Where to next? (the activities that need to be undertaken to make better progress). The authors rightly identify misconceptions – or ‘faulty interpretations’ – in feedback as key to helping students move forward. In general, the majority of feedback in classes is task-based feedback, the most acted upon is ‘Where to next? ’ and the least used is ‘How am I going’. The majority of teachers formatively assess using Ipsative measures; how well a particular task has been undertaken against the student’s best work or against their most recent piece of work. This is then followed with dialogic feedback; a focus on the areas where a student needs to improve, consolidate or extend learning.
What would happen if we balance our feedback equally between how well a student has imparted the knowledge (task level), including ‘next steps’, to giving the student prompts on monitoring their choice of process strategies in the completion of the task (how am I going?)? This has the potential to change the current ‘transmission’ paradigm of education, enabling students to take greater responsibility for their learning and to become leaders of their learning.
The iceberg learning paradigm: What lies beneath the surface
The Iceberg learning model (Wood and Haddon, 2020) demonstrates the power of actively interlacing learning and teaching as a continuously fluid process triggered by a teacher’s written and verbal feedback, along with any peer feedback and self- assessment. The circularity of the active feedback process includes the student’s reflection and response to the feedback. The impact of visible learning then resurfaces through students’ verbal and written responses.
Visible teacher input is in one third of the iceberg. Two thirds of the iceberg holds the potential acquisition of knowledge and skills by the students. Only through providing targeted, quality feedback, will students develop the conceptual thinking and metacognitive skills they need for deeper understanding. In other words, giving greater primacy to the ‘How am I going?’ question, will reap rewards in the learning process.
(Image reproduced with permission from Routledge).
Hybrid learning opens up new possibilities for encouraging independent learners who use their metacognitive skills. A good example is ‘Flip learning’, a technique encouraging interdependence. An aspect of knowledge is researched or reviewed before the lesson (for example, a video/YouTube clip or a pre-prepared e-learning module). Students have structured opportunities beforehand to create questions that they can ask of the teacher, or their peers, or they can create a brief summary such as a knowledge organiser for an oral presentation. Training students in asking elaborative ‘Socratic’ questions (the how and why), allows the teacher to assess what they have understood, and most importantly, what they have not understood, and to identify any misconceptions. Closed multiple choice questions are an extremely powerful tool for understanding what students know and what they do not. ‘Hinge questions’ lend themselves to synchronous learning with Google or polling tools built into Google Teams or Zoom. What is key, as always, is the analysis of responses by the teacher that informs next stage planning.
Digital technology, if integrated intelligently and led by students’ needs, has the potential to free up the teacher in transmitting knowledge. It is now widely accepted that teaching quality is more important than how lessons are delivered. We know that synchronous (live) and asynchronous (pre-recorded) lessons can work side by side. An added advantage of asynchronous learning is that students can digest the knowledge and skills they need and review their learning at their own pace. For instance, some teachers found that recording voice notes over slides enabled pupils to listen to instructions repeatedly and complete the task more effectively (EEF, 2020). Learners who particularly benefit from this approach include slower learners, those with dyslexia, those who need visual and graphic imagery to understand concepts and those for whom English is an additional language.
Given the move towards hybrid learning, should we not also consider project-based learning as a more authentic assessment of certain knowledge and skills? Synoptic assessment encourages an enquiry-based approach where students combine elements of their learning from different parts of a programme of study. One project – for example, on climate change, deforestation, global warming, and renewable energies – can be used to assess cross-curricular concepts relevant to science, maths, geography, history, business studies and spiritual, moral, social and cultural development (SMSC).
Structuring opportunities for public speaking, persuasive reasoning and critical thinking skills involves students working in small groups with each presenting a concept, backed by empirical data; for instance, deforestation, effects of global warming, forest fires, plastics pollution, the economic interests of politicians and businesses. Other students can be tasked with seeking solutions; renewable energies, changing human diets or presenting their findings to the UN.
Acquiring knowledge and skills is at its best when the assessment focuses on how students can apply their subject knowledge in progressively more challenging real-world situations, rather than testing only the knowledge itself. This creates relevance for students in why they are learning the knowledge or skill. For instance, students need to know that algebraic equations are used in chemistry and business studies; that mathematical skills using data and probability will help them make sense of world demographics in geography; sociological methods using primary and secondary data can help them in geography fieldwork. Within a subject, structuring in opportunities for self-reflection as an integral part of the assessment process helps students to make links to past study and to solve problems independently. The use of curriculum maps lends itself to creating this relevance as students embark on their learning journeys.
To sum up, teachers need to demonstrate that the goal is relevant and that they believe in their students’ aspirations. In this way, students are motivated and ‘aim high’. Feedback is a powerful enabler within the ‘knowledge transmission process’. Students are assisted to let go of the safety bar at the ice rink, and to become ‘gliding swans’; independent, confident, knowledgeable and skilled learners.
- Is hybrid learning the new social leveller creating a shift away from ‘pupil’ protected characteristics, to a spotlight on quality individualized feedback for each pupil?
- Will hybrid learning become the new norm?
- Will assessment shift from summative and normative to formative and synoptic?
Fettes et al. (2018). Putting Skills to Work: It’s not so much the WHAT or even the WHY, but HOW… London: Commercial Education Trust.
EEF (2020) Remote schooling: New EEF evidence review highlights core features that can unlock its potential. Available at: https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/news/eef-publishes-new-review-of-evidence-on-remote-learning/ (accessed 4 May 2021).
Hattie H and Timperley H (2007) The Power of Feedback. Review of Educational Research DOI: 10.3102/003465430298487.
Wood M and Haddon N (2020) Secondary Curriculum Transformed: Enabling All to Achieve. Routledge.