Remote teaching: Effective live lessons

Written by: Dr Sharon Smith | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Schools may have re-opened more widely after the third lockdown, but remote teaching looks set to be with us for some time to come, including live online lessons. Dr Sharon Smith considers some differences between online and classroom teaching and offers a few tips

Without doubt, teachers are the experts when it comes to helping students engage and thrive with their learning in the classroom. However, it has been a challenge to adapt our teaching practices online, to manage student engagement, identify each individual student’s needs and carry out effective assessment for learning in the new remote environment.

Remote learning research

The pandemic saw an explosion of ed-tech video-conferencing and online learning content providers and this technology has meant that a majority of students have been able to continue their education and receive academic support beyond the physical classroom – but this has not been without challenges, not least with regards the digital divide.

With this explosion of online learning and technologies has also come a welcome increase in research looking into what makes remote education effective.

A research review by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) last year found that quality of teaching, facilitating peer interaction, and supporting pupils to work independently were key to effective remote learning. It added that quality of teaching is much more important than how lessons are delivered.

A report from the NFER in June found that, in terms of teaching and learning approaches, schools delivering content to pupils via “online conversations” saw higher engagement, especially among poorer pupils. Also effective was setting activities involving consolidating previous learning.

In January, Ofsted published guidance –‘What's working well in remote education – which provides teachers with good advice on optimising the outcomes of remote teaching. Key messages from the guidance are that:

  • We don’t have to make huge changes to the way we teach.
  • Quality of teaching is far more important than how lessons are delivered.

The guidance also sort to dispel a number of myths about remote teaching Namely that:

  • Remote education is fundamentally different to other forms of teaching/learning.
  • Remote education is a different curriculum/offer to the content that would be delivered normally
  • The best forms of remote education are digital or live lessons.

Live teaching

That said, many schools have embraced live teaching as one part of their remote education provision. As such, this article focuses on effective online teaching in the live classroom environment.

For me, a key problem in many approaches to remote education during the pandemic lies in the fact that the underlying foundations have not been put in place for the practitioners – teachers are simply expected to “do the best they can”.

So when live teaching online, what are the main teaching skills that need refining?

Engaging with students online

Possibly the most difficult thing for teachers to adapt to is ensuring all students are engaged. Teaching more than 25 children on a Zoom (other video technology is available) screen does not give teachers the luxury of being able to easily recognise the usual visual cues of whether a student is concentrating and engaged; we cannot “see” the students and visually read their reactions.

On top of this, many schools are not encouraging students to share their webcams for very good safeguarding reasons. This means that teachers need to devise alternative ways of recognising student engagement.

To help track engagement and encourage participation, teachers can use built-in chat boxes that many technologies have. This is ideal for “chatting” to individuals or a group; you soon learn to gauge responses to interpret how each student is progressing.

We can also encourage students to use emojis to show if they do not understand, are struggling or indeed if they have fully understood the learning objective. Emojis provide the teacher with a quick visual summary of “where each student is” in their understanding of a particular skill.

Another problem that large classes bring is student expectations. In a face-to-face class, the student’s hand going up is a clear signal to the teacher and the other students that they have a question and that the teacher will answer it. Again, many technologies offer an online “hands-up” tool that works well. However, I have also found that with remote classes, students often expect immediate feedback, particularly on the work they submit during a lesson.

So setting expectations early on, in terms of response times and how and when feedback will be given on completed work is recommended.

Personalising the learning

We all try to deliver a personalised approach to each child’s learning, but this is particularly hard when you are faced with a screen of 25 or more faces. It is more important than ever to have several learning activities ready for each group of learners. Careful thought has to be given to how to have students engaging in a variety of tasks simultaneously online.

Progressing the lesson

Another problem that teachers will be facing is progressing the lesson if there is limited engagement. For example, if no one is answering a question, how do you encourage participation and feedback in order to ensure students are progressing and to move to the next topic?

Like in a classroom environment, the teacher can select one child to answer the question and start the discussion. However, you will also need to develop other strategies including giving individual students specific questions or tasks to work on, encouraging group work, using polling tools or using a virtual interactive whiteboard to provide an alternative representation of the question.

Assessment for learning

Teachers will still have learning assessments to carry out online as they do in the physical classroom and effective feedback has been identified as one of the keys to successful online learning (see the EEF research previously mentioned).

Again, setting up graphical scoring systems like emojis or any other image to signify confidence against a learning outcome is ideal; one apple might represent “I don’t understand any of that”, and others indicate progress incrementally up to five apples meaning “I’ve got it”.

This is an effective way for teachers and students to communicate and ensure that each child understands the learning outcomes and lesson objective/s.

This is also important because it gives the students a level of autonomy in their own learning. Of course, there will always be those learners who may indicate that they’ve “got it”, but then don’t respond to any questions, but this in itself is valuable; it gives the teacher a way in to questioning the student on their feedback and highlights where they might want to look for further evidence of progress during the lesson.

Building the learning

Building the learning in stages is nothing new to teachers but it is even more important when teaching remotely. Start with easy tasks such as researching information on the topic, then move on to discussing each point in more detail before taking the learning skills to a higher level.

And don’t forget breaks! Maintaining focus online for an hour is a lot more demanding than an hour in the classroom – for both students and teachers. Make sure you all take regular breaks with agreement on the times that you will all reconvene.

Further information & resources

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