EEF Blog: Classrooms look very different this year. Here are 5 research resources to support teachers in adapting your practices

Chemistry teacher and EEF science specialist, Niki Kaiser, reflects on the ways teachers are adapting their classroom practices as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, and highlights some of the the support that research can offer in these challenging times... 

All classrooms have one thing in common currently: they look very different to last year. The restrictions and rules in place within schools, to mitigate the risks and effects of Covid-19, mean that teachers are enacting a host of new habits that prove an unfamiliar challenge.

The loss of a single classroom base has been very significant for some teachers. They have become nomads. And, as such, have lost access to specialist resources, restricting the activities available within lessons.

Some schools have decided to lengthen lessons, to reduce the need for movement; whereas others have changed the way the school day starts and ends, to decrease interactions at the school gates.

In all schools, staff and pupils are focusing more time and attention on cleaning, so teachers’ interactions with others are more limited than they used to be. In some classrooms, teachers are restricted to a designated area at the front of the classroom during lessons. In many cases, teachers cannot gather in the staffroom between lessons to chat and share experiences as easily as they could last year.

These measures, while understandable, impact on teachers in a number of ways. 

If you’re a teacher who generally greets pupils at the door – but you now can’t do this – you have lost one of the strings from your bow. And if you are used to circulating the room to find out how pupils are getting on – but you are now confined to a 2m box – you will have to find other ways to support pupils during the lesson.

Experienced teachers draw on habitual behaviours when they teach. The habitual responses that teachers build up over years of dealing with low level disruption, or tricky questions, are partly responsible for the seeming effortlessness of their craft. So, while these can be associated with a stagnation in teacher effectiveness, they also serve a very useful purpose. And so, we need to be sensitive to the challenge of habit change and support teachers at every turn.

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A guide to implementation applicable to any school improvement decision

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Expert adaptations in the classroom

Many of the established principles of great teaching still stand, but they require some expert adaptation for each classroom context.

Teachers are creative and resourceful, quickly finding ways to adapt to the changes. For example, they’ve increased their use of visualisers and mini-whiteboards, where they would’ve had a simple conversation before. Or they’ve adapted to nomadic timetables by introducing new routines for pupils between lessons, etc.

Of course, it is difficult to build up new habits and routines. The situation is fluid and changeable, so teachers must respond near-daily as each new development arises. 

Today, teachers will be teaching some pupils face-to-face at school, and others at home, remotely. Sometimes, entire classes or year groups aren’t in school, so teachers will adapt their lessons accordingly. In other situations, pupils within a single class need to access lessons in different ways.

So, how can research help us in this ever-shifting landscape?

Five EEF resources to support you 

As with everything in education, we can’t hope to do everything, and there are no silver bullets. 

Our best hope is to focus on supporting teachers to do fewer things, and doing them well. And so, keeping high quality teaching the main thing is essential for all of our pupils.

  1. The EEF Guide to Supporting School Planning, 2020-21 can help schools to look to the available evidence we have to tackle many current challenges.
  2. For a focus on high-quality teaching, even in extraordinary circumstances, it is worth reflecting on the recent review of the evidence on Special Educational Needs in Mainstream Schools, since high-quality teaching for pupils with SEND will equate to good teaching for all pupils. 
  3. It found that explicit instruction, scaffolding, flexible grouping and cognitive and metacognitive strategies, are key components of high-quality teaching and learning for all pupils, as exemplified here.
  4. When our pupils are not with us in the classroom, we can look again to research to find the most promising approaches to focus on. The EEF’s Rapid Evidence Assessment on remote learning suggests that the teaching itself is more important than the medium. 
  5. Alongside this, the EEF planning framework tool I helped develop suggests some practical ways of supporting pupils to develop metacognitive approaches for their remote learning (Jon Eaton explains here why this is so important).

Engaging with research evidence won’t capture all the differences we are seeing emerge in classrooms, but it can help root us in sound principles to help steer our efforts.

All classrooms have one further thing in common at the moment: they have committed teachers tackling new, extraordinary challenges with exceptional effort and skill.