The above image shows results from a survey I created to identify areas of learning need.

Online teaching can be a bit like a lone voice shouting into a cavernous room; the reply is merely your own voice echoing back at you. One of the challenges of remote learning is the lack, or absence of immediate feedback that teachers receive from their learners. This feedback is valuable for finding out what learners are really struggling with so we can adapt our instruction to support their understanding. Conversely, if all learners are getting it, we can raise the level of challenge to stretch their thinking. This is what skilled teachers do. We employ techniques such as thumbs up or down for students to indicate their answers and we immediately survey the room to gauge whole class understanding within seconds. Sheer teaching virtuosity!

Remote teaching forces us to grapple with the question: how can we reliably find out what students are struggling with so that we can ensure our content is matched to students’ needs? As they say, sometimes the best ideas are hidden in plain sight. Keep reading to find out how I managed to get whole class feedback during distance learning. 

Like a company surveying their customers to find out their wants and needs, I simply sought about asking my students the things they were struggling with. Out of this approach, the Struggle Form was borne. This was a simple Google form created where I asked students to select from a range of options the aspects of the curriculum they were struggling with. In this instance, I thought about some of the key components required for students to be successful at essay writing: planning, generating ideas, forming convincing arguments, sounding authoritative etc. and these comprised the content of the form. It’s a fairly straightforward template that can be adapted to suit literally any subject area.

The results were extremely valuable. I found that some of the areas I thought they had struggled with were not the same things they perceived to be their own weaknesses. This approach brought about many benefits. One such advantage was that it engaged students with the process of learning outside of scheduled lessons, which borrows from the flipped classroom approach. This is an easy win if you want to keep students engaged in the learning process without you having to pile on extra work, which has the potential to increase anxiety for students who are already struggling with online workload. 

Another interesting finding was the notion of what can only be described as the knowing and doing gap. This is where a student perceives themselves as knowing something and even performing the said thing, but in reality neither demonstrating their knowledge, nor performing the action. Think of it like a person who claims to know how to eat healthily and professes to actually practice healthy eating. However, at each meal you see them eating fries and burgers washed down with a large Diet Coke! Over 50% of my students said they always planned their essays before writing, however, my past experience of marking their essays had proved otherwise! This made me realise that part of our job as teachers is to get learners to see themselves as they really are. Something of which I have no idea where to start, so answers on a postcard anyone! 

We are all on  a very sharp learning curve concerning remote learning and I think now is the time for teachers to build global professional communities where we can support one another on best practice. Feel free to reach out to me if you’d like to discuss issues related to e-learning.

If you’d like a copy of the Struggle Form I used, please get in touch! Email me at darren at keystolearn d0t 0rg

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