HOW TO Teach Remotely

Lockdown Remote Teaching and Learning Strategies

I have really enjoyed online lessons so far in this second major lockdown, perhaps my experience of personal tutoring has made the transition easier. I read one colleague describe her experience of remote teaching so far “is that it feels like normal teaching on steroids!”. She’s right, everything seems to be exaggerated. Yet we are so caught up in the novelty of online teaching, it does seem that the basics are being missed. How are we stretching the most able? Has EVERY student understood the lesson? Focus on the basics and the online lesson, becomes part of our every day teaching practice.

The greatest benefit I have seen from online teaching is simply the willingness of colleagues to share their experiences free of charge. It has always troubled me that educators have made money out of fellow teachers, moving outside of the classroom to dictate directed pedagogical methods. These methods are then adopted as gospel by uncreative SLT teams who then in turn use the latest educational fad to beat up weary teachers.

In my opinion, these so called ‘super educators’ are the problem, not the solution.

Yet, we are seeing a real change where those at the coalface are sharing ideas and strategies to help everyone navigate their way through this challenging time, we are all in this together seems to be the mantra.

This second lockdown seems to be much better than the first, teachers are well prepared and armed for the challenge, parents are happier too as the quality of the service means less dependence on them, allowing the adults to focus more on their own work. Reading other blogs and experiences, the following are some pieces of advice I would like to share to help support the delivery of quality remote teaching and learning.

45 minutes are the maximum lesson time

The number of schools who still insist on one hour online lessons still astonishes me. Kids are sat in front of their laptops for the full hour, before logging off that one and joining another, utter madness. In real life there are a few minutes lost at the start and end of the lesson with students entering classrooms, taking coats off, registers etc. As much as ‘Do Now’ activities try to limit this disruption, at no point does anyone teach a full hour, yet online the expectation is there. It is so important that teachers don’t try to cram too much into their lessons and give themselves and their students a short break in-between lessons. So much more productive.

Try to get the balance between expectations and reality right.

There is some who argue you should avoid giving students too much work to complete during lessons and to finish off outside of lessons. Students who work at a slower pace may quickly become overburdened and anxious. This is true, but for the more able students there is the opportunity to really stretch them with deep questioning and extended tasks. The working memory has a limited capacity and is easily overloaded. If a student’s working memory is overloaded, their perception and ability for higher order thinking decreases. So, as with normal lesson preparation, when planning and delivering remote teaching, ensure that what you have planned avoids overloading a student’s working memory.

To avoid overloading working memory, consider using retrieval practice techniques: strategies to encourage students to store and retrieve information from their long term memory, as this reduces the demands on the working memory and develops their fluency in recall. The good news is that the capacity of the long-term memory is almost limitless!

On the other hand, the working memory can also be underloaded. If underloaded, you risk students becoming easily bored and less engaged, and you will lose their attention. The issue of boredom can be more problematic in the remote learning environment, as you cannot readily monitor their screens or other distractions that they might have.

The sweet spot is difficult to judge, that balance between stretching students and risking leaving them bored. It is a tough one, but so important to match.

Adapt key principles of teaching and learning for the remote context

When teaching online environment, far fewer non-verbal cues are available, if any. So it is more difficult, if not impossible, for the teacher to read body language and to survey the classroom to pick up cues from students and respond accordingly.

This issue can be alleviated by adapting some key principles of teaching and learning for the remote context and applying them. Many key principles of teaching and learning cannot be applied to the same extent or in the same ways in remote contexts as they are in the classroom. But they can be adapted for an online environment.

In what follows, ten adapted key principles are outlined.

1.    Try to replicate your classroom

As far as is practicable, try to plan your lessons such that they imitate your usual classroom lessons, both in terms of routines and activities. This gives the students a sense of normality that they are missing in many other aspects of their lives.

Try to break through the barrier of the computer screens by ‘over-egging’ the behaviours you normally employ to engage positively with students. This is vital at this time, as students are feeling isolated and need to know that you care.

Remember, also, that a classroom is a social and intellectual community, and by imitating that community online, you can support the development of an online community. This supports student engagement both with one another and with the teacher. (For more on this, see our earlier blog post.)

2.    Postivity is the key

A positive tone clearly underlies the success of any lesson. In a remote learning setting, students are even more dependent on the teacher’s positively and enthusiasm than in the classroom.

3.     Clear expecations and explanations

It is riskier to rely on students to let you know whether or not they have understood in a remote learning environment, because far fewer non-verbal cues are available for interpreting students. Alleviate the risk that students have not understood by ensuring that your explanations are as clear and coherent as possible.

4.     try to get work completed in lessons

Make the most of every opportunity to work in real-time, as you do in the classroom. For example, demonstrate modelling and scaffolding techniques, illustrate examples and share notes using digital file sharing platforms, live. Good ways to do this online include the screen sharing facilities on Skype or Zoom (both of which are freely available online), sharable documents in Google Docs (also freely available online), and sharable digital whiteboard facilities (Microsoft OneNote is particularly good for this).

5.     Time

We can often underestimate this in the classroom and in the remote classroom it can be more difficult to ‘get around the room’ to support students by, for example, answering questions. You may need to allow students more time than in the classroom to complete tasks.

6.    Encourage active participation

That tumbleweed moment – when you ask a question and no one responds, however pauses can actually be Regular pause points support formative thinking both in classroom and remote settings. For example, students can learn from one another through a discussion during a pause point, or students can use pause points to consolidate their understanding.

I am enjoying the breakout rooms on MS teams, allows groups to get together for further discussion and to share ideas. I am a huge fan of group work in class and now I have the opportunity to build collaboration spaces online, brilliant.

Pause points in a remote learning setting can also help to develop a culture of active engagement in the remote setting. Students should not just be present in the remote ‘room’, but actively engaging in the content of the lesson.

7.     Build in opportunities for independent learning and creativity

Encourage opportunities to learn creatively and stretch and challenge opportunities that students could undertake independently. This seems even more important during this period of lockdown, as students will not be engaging in their routine co-curricular activities and so many students will have more spare time.

8.     Reflect upon the ways in which you can provide effective and timely feedback

We all know about the importance of feedback, but also the time it can take. Try to avoid overburdening yourself with unnecessary marking by considering other forms of assessment that could be employed online. In particular, if working through videoconferencing you can assess work in real time, by providing feedback – written or verbal – on work that has been shared via email or viewable on a shared document.

Some shared document pages allow students to see the teacher’s comments in real-time – for example, Google Docs and Microsoft OneNote. OneNote allows teachers to comment on the work students are doing and has a ‘collaboration space’ where students can contribute their ideas, which enables peer assessment. This helps the teacher to check that students are on-task.

Alternatively, use mark schemes so that the students can mark their own work through self-assessment; this helps to build a culture of ownership and responsibility.

9.     Use regular, low-stakes testing

Regular, low-stakes testing helps to ensure that all students are ‘on track’. This can be conducted through, for example, starter activities and plenaries. This seems to be even more important in the remote learning setting, as there is a risk of some students becoming disengaged and falling behind.

10.  Stay connected

Students do not currently have opportunities to ‘drop by’ for additional support. Provide students with opportunities to contact you for additional support that they might need. However, ensure that you give clear boundaries in terms of your speed of response, to preserve your own well-being.

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