Tethered teaching: how to get close from afar

    Published: 23 October 2020

    This term I have taken up a three-day-a-week secondment to the Senior Leadership Team at Monk’s Walk School in Welwyn Garden City. It has been a joy and a privilege to see first-hand how well both staff and students have returned to school post lockdown.  There is a calm and orderly return to the business of learning, aided by unambiguous one way systems, COVID-19 safety regulations, and a clear focus on re-establishing routines and expectations. 

    However, the new normal is not the old normal.  It is difficult, is it not, to maintain a 2-metre distance from students, and also to assess how each pupil in the class is doing? We can’t look over their shoulder, or give one-to-one feedback in the way that we used to do.  Tom Sherrington has written a really useful blog addressing just this issue: Teaching from behind the safety line and I do recommend you read it (and all his blogs). 

    In a nutshell, useful strategies to employ are:

    1. Check for understanding. Seek out all the corners of the room looking for misconceptions using a range of inclusive questioning strategies:

    (a) Cold calling.  The simplest way to achieve this is to print off your class register onto card, and cut up each name so that you create ‘lollysticks’.  Use ‘think, pair, share’, or even ‘write-share’ and then randomly select a name. From there you can use a mixture of hands up – “Who agrees with…?” – and a further random selection of names. Read this blog from Doug Lemov on why cold calling works: it’s not just an important accountability measure, but the key to inclusion, to belonging, to safe learning environments.  It says to each student in the class: ‘You matter and so do your thoughts.’

    (b) Chorus answers. Class answer in unison. Look for the silent mouthers and then cold call. Or rehearse, and repeat. (Think choir practice!)

    (c ) Show me: The mini whiteboard, or low tech multiple choice (1 finger = A, 2 fingers = B… ) Can be used with Hinge questions.

    (d) Entry and exit tickets: the tuning fork of teaching. (Exit ticket, assess, plan.)

    2. In-lesson Feedback to move pupils on from where they are, and help pupils to join the dots themselves. Utilise:

    (a) A ‘show me’ station and/or visualiser.  Have a desk at the front that pupils can place their work on.  Ask for a selection and then give whole class feedback.  Even better is to use the visualiser allowing the whole class to give kind, helpful and specific critique, against the success criteria. (The question is not, ‘have I used the success criteria?’ but, ‘where have I used it to best effect?’) Then pupils can go through the same process with their talk partner, or self-assess their own work in the same way. When working in pairs, the author still owns their work, reading it out to their partner. No swapping of books needed.

    (b)  Peer assessment against the success criteria

    (c)  Whole class feedback. This is faster than marking.  Collect in the work, and read, collating a whole class feedback sheet of what has gone well, and ‘even better ifs…’. Share this whole class feedback with the class next lesson. The clever part is in asking students to identify the comments that apply to them.

    In these ways, hopefully, even though tethered to the front of the classroom, we can get close from afar – accurately seeing the curriculum through the eyes of each member of the class in order to diagnose what needs re-visiting or when to move on.

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