Professional Learning in Lockdown – Alex Gordon

The post below is a guest blog by Alex Gordon. I met Alex in Hong Kong 2019 where I attended a workshop she delivered with her colleagues at the. Asia Pacific International Schools Conference (AISC). I was so impressed with her knowledge surrounding teaching and learning as well as her enthusiasm that I asked Alex to contribute a case study to my book Retrieval Practice: Research and Resources for every classroom.  Alex is a Science Teacher and Head of Year 11 in an international school in Malaysia.

If you have been lucky enough to have some spare time between the online teaching, zoom meetings, rewriting schemes of work…, you may have seen all of the fantastic online CPD that has become available in the last couple of months. I have been totally geeking out on the recent ResearchEdHome presentations, Tom Sherrington’s YouTube videos about Rosenshines Principles in addition to a Google Educators online course. But not everyone has the time and these are not your only options. Let me start by taking you back a few months…

Last term, after having visited a colleague’s lesson and seeing how he used competition to create discussion, I invited him in to watch my Year 10 lesson and speak to the learners about their learning. I wanted him to look at their understanding and contributions in the lesson, which we later discussed and reflected on during our feedback conversation. It was during this conversation that he commented on how I modelled explanations on the board. I was explicit, I went through the concept step by step and verbalised my thought process out loud throughout. This is actually something I have been reading about and working on in my practice so it was really nice to have that positive confirmation. Still working on getting them to talk more!

Being observed by our peers encourages us to reflect on our practice and learn about what we may want to improve on. It can also confirm what we are good at. Always great to know what we know. 

In a more recent observation, a colleague focused on asking the learners in my classroom about retrieval practice and how they apply what they have learned in my lessons; How often do they return to topics? Is this helpful? Why is it done? etc. We came up with these questions together before she visited my classroom.  Retrieval practice is something I have been working on building into my lessons for a couple of years now, so I was very keen to know what my learners thought. 

To my delight, they all commented on how retrieval practice works, activities used in class and why spaced practice is important. They all understood the relevance and the teacher told me that I was very explicit with my instructions and clear about the purpose of the retrieval practice grid I used in the lesson. Success. 

The teacher was going to revisit again this term and ask the learners similar questions in order to establish if they have noticed any progress. Is the retrieval getting easier? Are they getting faster at retrieving? How do they now feel about last year’s topics? Has their confidence grown? Due to the current circumstances, she won’t be able to visit my physical classroom but there are always options. I am considering putting my questions into a google form, or the same teacher may have an online meeting with some members of my class, or she may drop into one of my live lessons. 

In the current situation, you can still observe and be observed. It is a fantastic way to learn and still incredibly valuable, as I found out last week, it doesn’t have to feel invasive. 

I went ‘into’ a teachers Year 8 lesson to observe the language that was being used by the teacher and learners. I turned off my mic and video and just listened. It was fascinating to hear language that is used in the classroom being brought online and also new language emerging. The teacher wanted to know if her use of language was being reflected by the learners and if the language was more ‘work or learning’ focused. From just a 15-minute lesson visit, I observed that she was using and modelling academic language and key terminology throughout and that the learners were then reflecting this. Their use of these key terms showed their confidence and understanding of the topic. It was really interesting and has made me more aware of the language I am using in my online lessons. I highly recommend ‘visiting’ a colleague’s online lesson to observe when you can. 

You may not have time at the moment to complete an online course, read the latest teaching book or join a webinar, but even in these strange times, we can continue to learn from each other.

You can follow Alex on Twitter @pedagogygeek

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