A blackboard sign with Welcome please come in, written on it.

My children went back to school seven weeks ago. This blog post sat in a corner of my brain, waiting for when I had caught up on workload. That is unlikely to actually happen, and the raw edges of the memory of those challenging days are giving way to gentle fogginess. So I will jot down here some thoughts about remote teaching.

We had no such dealings in the first lockdown but, by the last one, the teachers were ready for remote classes. As I juggled work, caring responsibilities, and the dreaded fronted adverbials (I laughed too, until they arrived one Tuesday morning), I observed a few simple techniques that the teachers used. These are also applicable to remote HE teaching.

1. Thirty classrooms, not a single one

A young boy sat in front of a laptop, waiting for a video call to start. The laptop is balanced on an indoor football table.
Waiting for the teacher to start the class.

Most classrooms (pre-covid) are structured around pedagogic practices and give pupils a sense of place and community. Although we joined whole class sessions at least once a day, you can see from the picture above that lockdown physical settings are far from the ideal classroom set up. We rounded up devices for both children, but finding suitable space was challenging. The same is true for our university students. In our Digital Learning Team we work on the principles of Universal Design for Learning for inclusive education. Providing resources and activities in a variety of accessible formats is an essential part of education provision for all.

2. It will be ok when it’s not ok.

A detour road sign.
Photo by Kind and Curious on Unsplash

Things inevitably don’t go according to plan. Reassurance from the teacher was really important; don’t worry if the screen sharing doesn’t work, or if a link was broken. There are other ways for you to get involved and the issue will be fixed after the session. It’s possible to catch up if needed.

3. Welcome everyone

A blackboard hanging on a post. Written on the sign are the words Welcome, please come in.
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

In remote primary school teaching we experienced whole class and small group teaching. In each setting, the teacher welcomed children individually and invited them to share any news they had. This is not immediately transferable (or relevant) to large cohort of online classes. However, holding slides can:

  • provide an informal and personal welcome from the educator to the group
  • encourage sharing outside of the session and during ‘office hours’ (if students have questions, difficulties etc)
  • maybe include an icebreaker – a ‘rich question’ that frames the content for the session

4. Directions and expectations

A car dashboard with a sat nav showing a route.
Photo by Alvaro Reyes on Unsplash

Prior to the small group settings online, the teacher posted a message in Teams. This included a reminder about the ‘live’ session and where to find the additional resources. Because the live class was occasionally cancelled, clear directions about alternative activity were useful. Something else that helped enormously was being told what could be dropped if we had to. I think any struggling first year students might find this beneficial when they are learning to prioritise study tasks.

Live class etiquette reminders set expectations at the start about how to behave during the session. For example, staying on mute, or when it was ok to shout out answers, raising hands etc.

5. Show me how…

Photo by Jason Coudriet on Unsplash

Not all online live sessions were flipped. The start of each small group session usually included background to a basic principle and a guided worked example from the teacher. Teachers invited pupils to make predictions; this could be done with larger online cohorts using Vevox, or polls or feedback features in Collaborate.

6. Let me try…

Two hands building a small pile of rocks balanced on rocks.
Photo by Andrik Langfield on Unsplash

For simple tasks like phonics practice, there was time in the session for pupils to write in their own whiteboards at home and hold up their answers. Again, this could be adapted (depending on the knowledge check) for online university cohorts by using Vevox. For the children there was a game format; sometimes Catchphrase or Bingo, and there are many educators in the University using gamification to improve engagement.

When there wasn’t time during the live session, the teacher drew to a close with a summary of what the pupils should do as follow up and instructions as to where to share their work. For us it was in individually named folders in a Team. This helped with the final lesson…

7. Close the loop

A coiled rope on a white background.
Photo by Önder Örtel on Unsplash

The teachers closed the loop for pupils by reviewing their work asynchronously and sending brief individual feedback (via agreed channels) at some point during the week. That feedback took the form of encouragement, highlighting successes and reminders about common mistakes if they occurred.

With large cohorts, again it is not always practical to provide that level of individual feedback for formative works. But, being present and visible online with words of encouragement and some specifics about how to improve is something we all recognise as good practice (both as online learners and educators). Feedback can be addressed to whole cohorts, and role modelled practice for peer support.

7 Lessons learned from lockdown home-schooling

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