Remote Teaching: Three teachers reflect upon three things learnt over three weeks

In this post, the Teaching and Learning Team take stock after three weeks of remote teaching, and ponder what they have made of their experiences so far.

Routines are more essential now than they have ever been.
Julie Summers writes:
Every teacher knows that routines are the cornerstone of an effective lesson. At the most basic level our pupils, who now find themselves in a daily world very different from one they have experienced before, can find reassurance in the continuance and maintenance of a teacher’s routines and expectations. The important psychological role we can play is as valuable at the moment as our pedagogical one. Joe and Susanna’s excellent tips are just some of the ways in which we can smoothly transition our physical classroom to our virtual one in order to establish a calm and happy platform from which teaching and learning can progress.
Susanna Boyd writes:
One thing which has not so much come as a surprise to me, but has been very much reinforced in these three weeks is how important it is to form new routines. For many of us who have been teaching for a long time, we already have a variety of classroom routines which have become almost instinctive – line up outside the door, get equipment out ready, get on with the starter on the board and so forth. Online this is more of a challenge as new routines need to be formed, students need to be taught these routines and the social mechanisms whereby students help each other to follow these routines have been taken away.
At the most basic level this can include, training students to register themselves when they arrive and when they’re ready to learn through the chat function on MS Teams, and having both a starter and instructions of where to download resources on the screen. This is also essential for latecomers as they can quickly work out what to do.
Joseph Sanders writes:
I rely on my much-repeated refrain of the importance of starters. This has become more pertinent with the move away from face-to-face learning. I follow a number of golden rules at the beginning of lessons. Firstly, I use the extra break time between lessons to ensure my resources are uploaded to the Posts page in my Team. That way I know I can easily access them live. Secondly, I join the lesson a couple of minutes early so that I can press record and share my screen in the meeting, queued up on the relevant starter activity. My instructions are ready to go and there is no need to explain every time a student joins. Having a starter activity of this kind settles the students and provides a relevant task for us to discuss once everyone has arrived. Finally, I personally greet each student as they arrive. The thing I miss most about my classroom is being able to check that my students are happy and learning. A quick conversation with each one as they ‘enter’ allows me to do that.
Planning is different and can take longer.
Julie Summers writes:
I have been reminded what it is to be a PGCE student or NQT over the past few weeks as I go back to square one and teach myself how to plan effectively for online lessons. Everything seems to take longer! Many of us will have found that we have had to adapt resources to make them screen-friendly, try to vary activities when pupils can’t easily work together and plan in lesson time to gather feedback on their understanding without the usual visual cues face to face contact with a class usually provides. The good news is that it is getting easier, especially now that we, and our pupils are more competent with the technology we are using. However I still find myself spending time turning powerpoints into worksheets, making vocab tests in Forms, experimenting with apps that might help consolidate learning and uploading everything in as many places as possible to ensure pupils can access them. I maintain my mantra that good planning is good teaching though and I strongly believe that the time spent is well worth it as it ensures a successful lesson.
Susanna Boyd writes:
There are more things to consider when planning when you are out of your classroom. There is the technology for one, and you have to consider what you will do if it doesn’t quite work the way it was intended, or how to help particular individuals who get stuck or can’t access resources. It really helps to establish good relationships with students so they know they can ask for help, and to have ‘holding’ activities for them to be getting on with while waiting for you to assist. Activities that involve recall, spotting patterns, or coming up with questions can all be done without any technology at all. And then there’s differentiation to consider too – some students will find it difficult to access resources due to lower levels of literacy or even computer literacy.
Joseph Sanders writes:
Planning lessons for distance learning is a far more cluttered process than before. The array of tools at our disposal can be both a blessing and a curse. There are some apps that worked well in the good old days of classroom teaching that seem to have made a smooth transition to distance learning. Forms, Nearpod and Class Notebook all worked before and, despite technical difficulties, work well now. Our approach should be one of evolution, not revolution – we don’t need to try out every new thing at our disposal. Start by dipping your toe into one new aspect of technology, perhaps one that is already aligned with Teams, such as using Channels for collaboration, or the @ mentions and praise in Posts. If in doubt, try out some simple Assessment for Learning using the Chat function in live meetings. Quick questions and activities can be imagined on the spot, pre-planned in an app like Polly with ease, or created by loading up a model answer from your student’s Assignments to ‘Ink’ on.

Students are not necessarily ‘digital natives’.
Julie Summers writes:
We have all been metaphorically thrown in at the deep end with the sudden complete and total dependence on Teams for all our teaching and learning. We should applaud ourselves for the skills and confidence we have already acquired with this. Our pupils had less of a head start and (arguably) had less motivation to familiarise themselves as quickly as we have. As Susanna says below it is important to remember that pupils need explicit skills teaching – now is certainly the time to flag up the ATL branch of the MYP known as ‘Information Literacy’ and to plan teaching time to upskill our students of all ages.
Susanna Boyd writes:
We often assume that our students, who have never known a time when the internet did not exist and telephones were portable and could do so much more than make calls, are digital natives with the ability to do far more than we can dream of. This is certainly true in some respects – students often put us to shame with the knowledge of social media or video editing. However, there are many who still need our assistance with learning to use a standard computer or the skills we used to call ‘Information Technology’ such as downloading files, using excel, or even how to problem-solve when it’s difficult to upload work. I have become more aware of the need to take time out of lessons to deliver these step by step instructions, trying to take into account that students could be accessing materials on a range of devices and may need further help. In many ways this is similar to the process of verbalising our thoughts to demonstrate how we problem solve – essential for teaching students metacognition or expertise in (in my case, historical) ways of thinking. Teaching students resilience and the ability to problem solve for themselves with technology is also something I have been trying to develop too.
Joseph Sanders writes:
What a month ago felt like the future of teaching is now very much here to stay. Though Teams is undoubtedly a very good platform for distance learning, it still feels very new. Students are still asking important basic questions such as how to post in the correct Conversation and how to attach work under Assignments. This is where the collaboration between colleagues becomes vital – The Distance Teaching and Learning Team thrives when teachers share their pedagogical highs and lows with us. So please keep it up!

JAS, SMB, JKS 4/5/20