Doug Lemov's field notes

Reflections on teaching, literacy, coaching, and practice.

03.26.20Online Lessons: George Bramley Wins the Battle of Hastings

Hard to tell from this image but this battle was a clear win for George Bramley

As you probably know I’ve been trying to share useful video and analysis of successful approaches to online learning on this blog. One of the big challenges is that synchronous lessons are challenging–challenging to run; limited in terms of how much students can do in a day–while asynchronous lessons are hard to make interactive. As I noted last week in sharing pieces of Sara Sherr’s lesson, it’s not enough just to talk about ideas online. Students need to do things to consolidate concepts into memory and to help them maintain focus and engagement.

That’s why I’m so excited to show you parts of George Bramley’s lesson. George is subject leader for History at Brigshaw High School in Leeds, England. He’s done an exemplary job of some pretty important things that I’ll describe briefly before I show you four clips from his lesson.

  1. To me George has done an amazing job of thinking through his lesson from the students’ perspective, a technique I call Double Planning in Teach Like a Champion. It’s evident that he is thinking about how students will receive & process the lesson & he plans constant activity for them in a variety of formats.
  2. He’s designed a student packet that allows them to track and organize their work and for him and his colleagues to hold them accountable and give them useful feedback.
  3. He’s executed all of this with exemplary attention to detail especially regarding his directions. It’s always clear exactly what students are supposed to be doing and how.
  4. He’s done all this in a gracious and warm manner that balances the importance of honoring students time and maintaining a feeling of warmth and connection.

Here for example is the opening minute or two from his lesson and an introduction to the student packet.

I love how transparent he is about what to he’s going to ask students to do and why: “There’s a few bits I’m going to ask you to do. I’m going to ask you to type some things into a document. There’ll be times I ask you to pause maybe to give you some time to think about the question I’m posing…” This makes it clear that he’s very prepared and makes his activities seem valuable. There’s also clarity about mundane things like the materials students will need: the two different colors of pen for example and notebook to write in. He’s easy-going about it but it shows how carefully he’s planned things.

Next there are five minutes when he asks students retrieval practice questions. They jot their answers on their paper and self check. We then pick it up after that when George begins the heart of his lesson.

The word document he’s put in google classroom is a thing of beauty. It allows students to track their progress through the lesson. We’ll see more of it an a minute. For now he asks students to pause the video and write everything they know about the Battle of Hastings in a specific space on the document. You can just see the carefulness of the planning. His What To Do directions here are crystal clear: “Can you write that into the word document now? Please pause this video now while you fill in that box.”

Here’s a second clip from a few minutes later:

It’s not enough just to talk about ideas online. Students need to do things to consolidate concepts into memory.

George has planned this out beautifully and built a system for students the track their thinking throughout. First he shares information about Harold Godwinson and William of Normandy. Students take notes as he talks. Then he pauses and asks them to predict what they think will happen. Then he tells the next part of the story. Again they take notes in a designated place but now they compare their guess to the actual events. It’s not just impeccably planned interactions by students but different kinds of interactions. Note taking; predicting and arguing why they think so; assessing their earlier thoughts. “We’re going to do it six times in total, bit by bit teaching you the story of the battle…” It’s clear and engaging and organized and again his directions are impeccable.

I’ve skipped ahead here to two scenes from a a few minutes later in the lesson as George is rolling out the story of the battle. As he goes he’s careful to continually re-orient students to where and how they should be processing the lesson: “Please make sure you’re taking notes in that second row box…” “You should now be in box #5…” Again the writing that students do is constantly changing in variety. Sometimes they are taking notes, sometimes guessing what will happen next at a point where George builds a bit of suspense, for example, when William appears to retreat down Caldbec Hill, will Harold send his men to chase them? Why?

[Yes, incidentally, he will, but it’s a trap! The turning point in the battle. William turns and routs Harold’s exposed infantry with his cavalry. George, if you’re reading this I didn’t want you to think I wasn’t paying attention.]

We’ll skip ahead now to the end of the lesson:

Here George gives students “stretch readings” and gives them a place to share new knowledge. Then he notes “You teachers will check these documents in the next couple of days to see what you’ve got right and what you’ve got wrong.” This statement reveals a couple of key things. First that there’s not only an accountability loop–did you do the work?–but just as important a Check For Understanding loop- if you’re not getting it your teacher will follow up and make sure you understand. Second it shows that George and his colleagues are sharing the work load of the online world. Multiple teachers use the lesson he’s built–a key efficiency under current conditions–but then they each check on the progress of their own students.

George wraps things up with a reminder about how to hand the work in and then a nice personal message to students about giving him feedback and even getting outside a bit, establishing a bit of personal connection.

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