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Research School Network: Effective teaching and learning in a remote secondary classroom The camera is off. The microphone is on mute. The chat is disabled.

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Effective teaching and learning in a remote secondary classroom

The camera is off. The microphone is on mute. The chat is disabled.

by Billesley Research School
on the

The camera is off. The microphone is on mute. The chat is disabled. Out of the computer, a PowerPoint is broadcasting, and a page of questions fill the screen.

On the bed, Eddie has turned on his laptop and logged onto the lesson, but he’s finding it hard to concentrate now. It’s hard to keep his paper and pens together on his bed, although at least he has got a notebook to take notes in. He can’t use the dining table, because his two siblings are sat at it with their primary school teachers online. This is his fourth lesson of the day, but he hasn’t actually spoken to another person so far today. He hasn’t been out of the house this week, and mostly he’s been in his bedroom. It’s easy to switch over the screen and start to browse Youtube, or pick up his phone to see what people are saying online. No one seems to be checking on him. Hamlet’s soliloquy is soon forgotten.


A week into remote learning, and the scenario above plays constantly in my mind. Eddie isn’t particularly unusual (fictional, illustrative) student. For all our students, there are suddenly many more barriers to effective learning, and many of them are outside the control of the school.

Staff all over the country are making heroic efforts to ensure students have access to laptops, dongles, communication with their teachers, but once this is established, a spotlight falls on the lessons themselves: what are we doing to ensure that these online platforms are translating into effective learning for our students?

A cord is thicker the more strands are woven together: so learning for our pupils is stronger if we weave together multiple threads of research into our approaches to remote learning.

Thread 1: Direct instruction principles still work


Rosenshine’s principles of direct instruction have been embedded over many years training into the teaching and learning approaches of our staff. Luckily, many of these principles translate easily onto online learning.

Starting with a short review of previous learning, and engaging in weekly and monthly review is easily built into lessons as a routine starter. Many staff at Bishop Challoner use a recall grid – demonstrated below – to recap learning from last lesson, last week, and last month (via colour coding), and we can easily share these through remote learning. They work in live lessons, recorded lessons, or independent work, depending how the answers are shared.

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We can design our lessons to cover information in small steps, to provide scaffolds, and to step back and provide space for students to work independently.

What about modelling? The ability to share a model on screen, to identify the key elements, the misconceptions, to compare it to a mark scheme…these effective strategies which are often the bread and butter of teaching move so easily to online platforms. And here, the ability to pre-record or to use visualisers gives us even more tools to enhance modelling.

So our first step is to reassure teachers: the lesson design which staff can deliver so expertly still works.

Thread 2: Innovative feedback strategies


A major additional challenge of online learning is reflected in the anecdote about Eddie above: how do we turn a one way broadcast into a two way dialogue?

John Hattie tells us that effective feedback has an effect size of +0.7, but suddenly we may feel our automatic classroom feedback strategies have been stolen away.

If you can’t visually assess the students and their work, how can we judge their understanding?

This is where technology comes to our rescue, and building staff confidence to exploit the tools at our disposal can be incredibly helpful.

The simple hands up feature can help us stimulate thinking through true/​false AFL.

The chat function allows students to elaborate on answers.

Quiz programmes like Kahoot, Quizziz, Forms allow us to assess student understanding and give feedback.

This is a brilliant opportunity for staff of all experiences, from ITT trainees to staff with 20 years in the classroom to share their ideas. Twitter is abuzz with newly-enthused teachers sharing myriad online tools which enable a high quality dialogue with our students.

We use a daily briefing to hear an idea from a different staff member each day, sharing these innovative approaches.

Thread 3: Metacognitive organizational approaches


EEF research on metacognition tells us that Pupils need to manage their motivation so that they are able to stick to learning, particularly when there is no teacher to guide independent study.’ So the third thread encourages and supports our students to engage with the learning being offered.

How do we support student motivation and engagement?

Communicate timetables for the week early so students can plan their time
Make expectations of outcomes crystal clear
Provide feedback and plentiful praise when students do engage
Building metacognitive tasks into lessons, scaffolding students to plan, monitor and evaluate their own work

Educating students about effective working environment choices they can make, from turning off music during a lesson, to taking a short break (even if it just to go to the toilet!) between lessons

So in summary…

Christmas 2019, I had never logged onto Teams, used ClassCharts, designed a Forms test, set a Kahoot. The week after Christmas 2020, every element of my teaching has been delivered through these platforms.

What are the key messages for teachers of implementing this massive change so rapidly?

A few things spring to mind.

We must remember that learning happens step by step, and we will get better at remote learning step by step. Start with the basics, learning the tech, then build on those basics, adding new refinements, strategies, tools, and approaches day by day. Strategise: where do you want to be in six weeks? What do you want to be able to do? Every week we will learn more, and get better and better.

We must remember we are experts at teaching. The research which underpins our classroom lesson design still underpins our remote lessons. Curriculum intent and implementation plans still underpin our delivery. Take power and strength from this depth of professional expertise.

And finally.

We must remember to be kind. We must be kind to ourselves, having high but not unrealistic expectations. We must be kind to our teams, check in with each other, praise and encourage each other. We must above all be kind to our students, and ensure that our teaching becomes a welcoming, nurturing space of safety and success for all our students.

Emily Giubertoni
Evidence Lead in Education
Billesley Research School


Research mentioned:
EEF metacognition
John Hattie Visible Learning
Rosenshine’s Principles of Direct Instruction

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