Recovering from Closure – Priority 4: Developing Extended Activities

This is the fourth in my series of 6 priorities I believe are essential, if we are to recover fully from the school closures.  Hopefully, attention given to these six areas will not only help schools recover, but place them in a stronger position than before the closures. 

The 6 priorities are as follows:

  1. Become Trauma Informed
  2. Give more time to Form Tutors
  3. Develop aspirations in young people
  4. Prepare for the future by developing extended tasks
  5. Focus on skills and habits of learning first
  6. Re-set/re-group; there will be gaps to close

I’ve written on this subject several times over the past year. See:

The Next Steps

Blended Learning Part 1

Blended Learning Part 2

Blended Learning Part 3

In these blogs I described a model of learning which was perhaps too much to consider at the time, when we were all trying to put together a decent online curriculum.  It takes years to achieve the full scenario I described and I for one have certainly not achieved this yet (But we were close!!).

The scenario we found ourselves in a year ago was completely new for us (certainly in the UK).  There are four areas that made it extremely difficult for us:

Firstly, looking back at ourselves and the colleagues I have spoken to from other schools, we all had two major problems:

  • Young people were not equipped with the skills and habits of learning to work independently for long periods (or even short periods for many)
  • Not all young people had access to their own device to work independently.

Secondly, on the whole (not everyone and not all of the time) we tended towards replicating the ‘lessons’ we did back in school.  (I put the word ‘lessons’ in inverted commas because lessons have a very different feel and pedagogy to ‘learning sessions’).  There are many possible reasons for this:  

  • We didn’t trust young people to work independently
  • Staff hadn’t been trained sufficiently in alternative methods
  • Staff didn’t have enough first-hand experience of applying alternative methods (Don’t forget, our profession has been standards based/driven for years now.  It was a frightening thought to let go of students and allow more autonomy, certainly in challenging schools) 
  • It’s easier plan/organise and we remain in control

Thirdly, teachers were being bombarded with different definitions of ‘blended learning’ (I was just as guilty of this) and online learning which probably made it confusing and sounding far more complex than it actually was.   This, I’m sure, led to teachers and many leaders reverting to replicating normal lessons, but online. 

And fourthly, we had other things on our mind! 

So, what next?

If you look at the quotes at the beginning of the above mentioned ‘Next Steps’ you will see that the educational world had warnings in the past, highlighting the necessity to develop independent learning skills in young people.  By this I don’t mean independent learning in front of a teacher, but autonomous learning not in the presence of a teacher or even in the school. 

There was the SARS outbreak in 2002/03 where many schools in East Asia were closed. Singapore in particular acted on this by developing their digital capacity and their pedagogy. The second warning was in 2010 when Swine Flu closed many schools in the USA, resulting in a drive towards Project Based Learning and digital capability. 

In the UK we began to move down the right path, between approximately 2003 and 2012 with huge drive towards equipping every child with a device and fantastic developments in pedagogy, but unfortunately much of this pedagogy was stamped out (almost overnight) when the Conservatives came to power and the then Education Secretary Michael Gove reformed the curriculum.  I sound like I have an axe to grind here – I certainly do.  Children have as much access to information as we do. In the 21st Century:

Teachers no longer have a monopoly on knowledge and information.

Our job then, and even more so today, is to guide them through the maze of knowledge and information that is out there.  The role of the teacher and how they help and support young people has different priorities in the 21st Century, where we help them with: 

  • Where to access information
  • How to research effectively
  • How to critique what is found for accuracy, authenticity and bias
  • How to dig deeper when something is not understood, through research or communication with others
  • Understanding particularly difficult concepts
  • How to navigate safely
  • How to work and communicate with others
  • How to avoid distraction
  • How to present information in meaningful ways
  • How to store information in ways that are organised and easy to retrieve/recall

The list goes on.  What it does is give a flavour of the new role teachers should develop.  I’ve mentioned it before: this is not a million miles away from the pedagogy underpinning the New Curriculum for Wales.  It must not be diluted, if we are to move forward and ensure young people are ready and prepared for any type of school closure in the future.  However, the reason for doing this is not only related to school closures.  It is right and proper if young people are to flourish in the 21st Century.

If you want to go the whole distance, then have a look at the blogs I mentioned at the beginning of this blog.  However, if you want to begin to develop independence and greater autonomy in your students then consider introducing extended activities into your ‘learning sessions’ (very different to lessons) and begin to think about the bullets above and how they relate to your own teaching practices.

Below is my interpretation of blended learning which you will also find in the blogs mentioned. At its simplest level the teacher is doing one of two things:

  • ‘Teaching’ any difficult concepts to ensure everyone can access the task. This can be done with some (if the more able for example are able to proceed independently) or to all
  • Facilitating learning using the bullets I mentioned above

If you are able to team teach with another class then it maybe that one person facilitates while the other teaches difficult concepts when appropriate (for more able to push them or less able to ensure access). 

The use of the term ‘blended’ comes from the notion that young people are learning to work independently with teachers facilitating or even teaching where appropriate.  It can be practiced in school but can then be adapted in situations where young people have to learning out of a school setting.  

The more we develop this style of learning, the more we will be better equipped as a profession not only in relation to future school closures, but for some point in the future when young people begin to question why they have to sit in front of a teacher day in day out when the information is readily available elsewhere.  

It is essential the profession adapts to meet this present and future need.

What follows is more detail should you wish to consider this further.

Planning and delivering extended activities

The Essential Elements 

When planning any extended piece of work for pupils we should include the following basics (These should all be made explicit to the pupil):

A Driving Question – Getting to the heart of the matter

  • Consider the extent to which it is important to their lives. 
  • What is it you want your pupils to be able to answer at the end of this activity or project? 
  • What do you hope that pupils will discover or learn as they confront the issues or problems? 
  • What sub questions arise from this driving question? (Answering these will help the pupils take a stepped approach towards answering the driving question)
  • It should not be a question that has a yes or no answer

Identify the difficult concepts – When only a teacher or expert will do

  • What difficult concepts will the pupils come across when working on this extended task?
  • How will you ensure you can explore and clarify these difficult concepts with pupils?

Products – The outcomes you want to see

  • What do you want the pupils to produce during this extended task? 
  • There may be several products or just one product
  • These products could be linked to the sub-questions which progress the pupils towards answering the driving question

Clarity with regards to assessment – Knowing how well they are performing

  • For each product, there needs to clear guidance for pupils, as to your expectations for all, most and some.

Every product needs a milestone – Deadlines

  • All pupils should be aware of the deadline for each product within the project or extended piece of work.
  • At these milestones opportunities for pupils to review their progress should be given.
  • As with the products the milestones can be connected to a sub-question
  • These are good times for assessment/feedback 

Answering the driving question – A solid conclusion

  • An ‘informal’ ending could be assessed through a final product e.g. an online presentation, illustration etc.
  • However, a ‘formal’ ending should also be included, where the pupils are given an opportunity to answer the driving question, through a written essay, referencing all the points they have learnt on their enquiry journey.

Planning a project or extended task

The remainder of this document is intended to help colleagues plan and deliver effective feedback, challenge and encouragement when facilitating online Blended Learning. The script is intended to give practical suggestions of activities colleagues should undertake with pupils, as well questions they can ask, which prompt learning to take place. 

Planning the task 

Ensure the task has: 

  • a driving question which will be answered in steps.  
  • steps which should take the form of sub-questions or areas of understanding (It is essential that each step plays a crucial role towards answering the driving question) 
  • a list of the products (outcomes)  
  • the milestones (deadlines) for these products and final product.
  • transparent assessment criteria for each product

When you have worked out the scope of the task (intended steps), work out your timeline.  

  • How long should it roughly take to complete each milestone? 
  • How long will it take to complete the project overall? 

Identify the difficult concepts, where you as a ‘teacher’ will need to explain/discuss in more depth than a video or other online resource can offer.  If choosing to use an online ‘expert’ to do this then identify when you and how you will check for understanding.  

  • Be discerning with regards to the resources given.   
  • Do they all need them?  
  • Use them as scaffolding for those in need.    
  • Point them in the direction of sites if necessary.

Decide if you would like the pupils to work in teams (possibly remotely) 

Think about how you will organise the use of various digital communication tools available.   

  • How will you deliver a class lesson (lecture)?
  • How will you communicate with individuals?
  • How will they communicate with you?
  • How will they communicate with each other?
  • How will you supervise and check progress?

Are there opportunities to team teach?  E.g. Plan and co-deliver a project with colleagues in the same department.  One person may be stronger at delivering a particular difficult concept. 

Organise/timetable your ‘check-in tutorials’ with small groups or individuals

Each extended task could have a should have an ‘informal’ ending possibly completed by the team.  E.g. 

  • Presentation
  • Class debate with teams or individual arguing their point
  • Display board or info pack
  • A set of instructions
  • An online performance 
  • A piece of art or construction/design

Each extended task should also have a ‘formal’ end where the individual ‘answers’ the driving question. E.g. a written essay; a hypothetical lab report.

When pupils begin working on their tasks – The Script

Further questions to use as prompts during tutorials or when giving feedback

Question their understanding and learning:

  • Why are you doing this?
  • What do you hope to learn by doing this?
  • What do you think you have to do?
  • How could you extend this further?

Question the quality of what they are producing:

  • Do you think this is as good as you can make it?
  • What could be better?
  • Why do you think this is good enough?
  • Can you point out the criteria it meets?
  • Has it met all the criteria?
  • Give/agree action points for improvement

Question the pace of their work:

  • Are you going to meet the deadline?
  • Is the quality of your work going to be jeopardised to meet the deadline?
  • Why aren’t you going to meet the milestone
  • What could you do to ensure you make it?

Question the extent to which they are developing good habits of learning (this will depend on what they are focussing on in the project):

  • What could you do to improve the way you are working with the others in the team? 
  • What could you do to avoid distractions?
  • What could you do to improve your time management and planning skills?
  • How could you make better use of the resources you have available (including ICT)?  

Towards the end of the project or extended task

  • Allow enough time at the end for the pupils to complete their work records (in their booklet) to show how far they have progressed in the project
  • Bring the class together or as tutorial groups online and ask the teams working on particular products whether or not they have met their target for the session
  • Ask some additional questions related to the project in order to check for understanding.  
  • Allow for time for the ‘informal’ ending
  • Set the final individual task to answer the driving question

5 thoughts on “Recovering from Closure – Priority 4: Developing Extended Activities

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