There’s likely to be a flurry of remote teaching blog posts over the coming days and weeks, and I sincerely hope so. Since last March, we’ve never had to learn such a complex new way of working such a short amount of time. But as a profession, we have learned a huge amount, and I’m sure I won’t be the only one to say that my early remote lessons bear very little resemblance to what I plan to be using in the upcoming weeks.

This post outlines what I think are the most important things to remember when teaching children remotely. For those of you delivering CPD on this topic, feel free to help yourself to my presentation here.

Most importantly, we need to remember that despite the unsatisfying and often frustrating nature of remote teaching, the teacher still holds enormous influence in motivating children to learn. It’s sometimes tempting to believe that because the child is out of our eyeline, that we have little impact, and that children’s diverse experiences at home (parental support, space to work, home routines) completely take over. Whilst it’s clear that many children will find it extremely difficult to learn at home, their teachers can still do an awful lot to help them and influence their attitudes.

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So how should we plan lessons to maximise pupil motivation?

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1. Ensure crystal clarity

Classroom instructions have always been important, but when teaching remotely our wording of tasks and expectations must be even more precise. If there is anything even slightly unclear or confusing, children (and indeed adults) will give up very quickly.

Use carefully chosen typography which is standardised across your resources. Ensure that all links and tasks are embedded on to one document, if possible with clearly labeled boxes for pupils to write their answers in. The brilliant Head of English at my school, Dan Blackburn, came up with the following design which is used across the department. It works masterfully in making pupil expectations completely unambiguous.

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I learned a huge amount about clarity when creating resources for Oak National Academy. Namely, I realised that seeing a teacher’s face helps enormously with understanding instructions and I’ll be continuing to do this in my remote lessons. In starting each lesson with ten minutes of live instruction, I can make sure that pupils hear and see me explaining the purpose of the lesson and clearly sharing my enthusiasm for the topic.

Oak also helped me outline the clearest structure for a remote lesson, as follows:

Best practice in structuring a remote lesson:

‘Do Now’ recap

Instructional video

Practice tasks

Quiz

The idea is that the instructional video removes any degree of confusion in the practice tasks. Everything is fully accessible by all.

2. Promote feelings of success

Feeling successful is essential for motivation. Although it’s harder to make children feel successful when they’re not directly in front of you, it’s far from impossible. To generate feelings of success:

  • Pitch your tasks far, far lower than you usually would. This is especially vital for the first tasks at the start of lessons. Ensure 100% success rate, and slowly (very, very slowly) build to more challenging tasks that require more thought. Remember: many children will switch off the minute they start to flounder.
  • Prioritise consolidation tasks over new material. If possible (and it’s not always possible), revise previously taught content rather than ploughing onward. When teaching new content, isolate the precise knowledge you want them to learn, and go over it far more than you would normally deem necessary. Allow for overlearning.
  • Make your praise of pupils regular and public. If possible, offer praise and recognition as pupils start a task, not just upon completion. Build in public shout-outs to your planning cycles.
  • Use your normal school reward system. Merits and certificates posted home work a charm.

3. Incorporate interactivity

The more ‘active’ your learner is at home, the more they will learn. Some ideas to help with this:

  • Use short, live sections of lessons to build rapport, share learning aims, shout-out excellence and generally have a nice time with students. These can be used at the start of lessons to introduce a topic before pre-recorded instructional videos are used.
  • Questioning is still vital, even if you don’t always hear the responses. In pre-recorded instructional videos, incorporate pause points and short answer-questions to keep pupils thinking. Ask them to say the answer aloud, or point to something on their screen. Anything to make them active.
  • If reading with pupils, pre-record your voice so that pupils can listen to you as they follow along.
  • Everyone loves a quiz. Google Forms are incredibly easy to create (just switch to ‘quiz mode’ and pupils can quickly check their learning and you get instant feedback.

It’s going to be an interesting term, but we can absolutely continue to support and motivate our pupils.

Further resources

The following posts and videos are incredibly useful when thinking about remote teaching:

Elisabeth Bowling @elucymay

Considering education, schools and books. Elisabeth Bowling, Assistant Principal and Head of English. I tweet at @elucymay.

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