Once bitten, twice shy: ensuring your department is prepared for a second school closure

I am writing this on Tuesday 12th May, the day after the night before. In a large document sent out yesterday schools were given the order to open – kind of. While most of the contents (or lack of) has been discussed in detail in the House of Commons, the press and social media, I want to focus on one concept that seems to be accepted logic; current Year 7,8,9 returning in September.

In the popular book and film ‘World War Z’, we are told of the 10th Man Rule. The idea is that Israel’s security council had 10 advisors that looked into big picture issues. If the first 9 dismissed an issue or potential danger, then the 10th advisor had to look into the issue no matter how far-fetched the scenario.

As teachers in schools we now need to be that 10th person. We need to simultaneously plan for the here and now whilst planning for a normal September AND a second lockdown. I know, I’m sorry to be a Debbie Downer, but given what we know and the distinct lack of a vaccine it is quite possible that the autumn or winter term will be disrupted by a second wave.

What ways can we try to achieve both of these long term plans? I think it falls into two main areas:

  1. SLOP mastery
  2. Embedding IT solutions within day-to-day school life.

SLOP mastery

SLOP stands for Shed Loads Of Practice. SLOP is a technique embraced by CogSciSci, a grassroots organisation which aims to apply the findings of cognitive science to science education. It is a way of carefully structuring:

  • Clear explanations
  • Worked examples
  • Comprehension and application questions
  • Literacy
  • Faded practice
  • Examples and non-examples
  • Retrieval practice
  • Interleaving of relevant prior knowledge

This allows you to pre-plan large parts of your curriculum and its implementation. By sharing the work throughout a department it also massively reduces workload in the long run. Got to isolate for 7 days? No worries, your cover is sorted!

You can learn about how to build SLOP by using CogSciSci’s free CPD module, even if you are not a scientist!

What is that you say? You don’t have any time right now? Don’t worry, there are a number of pre-made SLOP booklets on the resources page of the CogSciSci site!

Or, even better, you could invest in the Oxford Revise books, which have clear explanations, knowledge organisers, retrieval and exam practice included.

The best thing about providing SLOP is that it levels the playing field for disadvantaged students. If all students, no matter their background, are given the same resources and use them in class, there are no barriers in terms of access. By adopting them for September and embedding them into your own teaching, when/if there is a second closure the students can take their SLOP bank with them and continue their learning seamlessly (albeit to a lower quality than having you there).

Having resources like this does not stop you teaching in your preferred style. A bank of SLOP is more like a foundation. Every student gets one and teachers use as and when they see fit. So it doesn’t have to be a chore to embed across the entire department.

Embedding IT solutions in day-to-day teaching

I am not an EdTech evangelist, far from it. However there are some pieces of technology that I do embrace wholeheartedly.

In my classroom I love my visualiser because it’s such a versatile piece of equipment. It allows me to do live drawings and build explanations. I can use it to model my expectations for students’ work and give live feedback. It’s also incredibly powerful when teaching remotely. It can be used when delivering live lessons or used to make a quick feedback video on some work that has been submitted. I personally like the IPEVO VZ-X as it can connect to your laptop via wireless, so helpful during practical demonstrations, but there are lots of options out there.

Then next thing is to embed the use of technology such as Google Classroom or Microsoft Teams into your everyday teaching. Whatever your feelings on a blended approach to the classroom, if you can get your students comfortable with accessing work and submitting work via one of those platforms then if you have to move to remote learning then you know they will be used to it. I’m going to use it for homework from when schools open. It might take some training, but it will pay off. Teams is also incredibly powerful from a department leadership point of view. If you are worried about safeguarding, fear not. With the right guidance, your IT support team can lock down all but the most essential aspects to prevent students being put at risk.

These are the two best bets for making your classes COVID-19 proof. Get yourself some SLOP, get a visualiser and get sorted on a learning platform and then, should the 10th Man Rule be right, you can have some solace in the fact you are prepared. And if it doesn’t happen, you and your students will still benefit.

Stay safe.

Photo of Adam Robbins

Adam Robbins is a Head of Science at a large coastal comprehensive. He has spent 17 years teaching across the range of ages and abilities. He has a passion for evidence-informed teaching techniques, particularly cognitive science. He currently serves as CogSciSci’s resources editor where he curates the resources section of the blog and supports teachers in developing resources in line with the principles of CogSci. Adam is also an author for Oxford Revise: A Level Sciences (publishing Autumn 2020). Find out more about the series.

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