Research School Network: Reflecting on remote teaching: Exemplifying several strategies Our Director Steve Smith reflects on what he has learnt so far regarding teaching live lessons online

Reflecting on remote teaching: Exemplifying several strategies

Our Director Steve Smith reflects on what he has learnt so far regarding teaching live lessons online

We must accept that home school isn’t school, and some children will find it much harder to learn at home than others. If we follow some key principles for teaching and learning, using these as we adapt to our new normal,’ we can be more hopeful that the work we set can support them more effectively.” Alex Quigley EEF

It has indeed been a steep learning curve over the last few weeks. I have experienced the rollercoaster of emotions that students must experience every day as learners. It’s exhausting being a remote teaching’ novice, being forced out of my comfort zone, getting frustrated when things don’t go to plan, and (as most teachers are their own worst enemy) being self-critical of what I have achieved. The initial problem was that we had very little time to prepare, with only our classroom experience to draw from. And with that, I initially resorted to trying to replicate what normally happens in my classroom through online lessons. I did this because the only knowledge I could draw on was from my 20 years of teaching in the classroom. I was disappointed with my first week as I felt that my lessons were not effective, despite the hours of planning I was doing.

Fortunately, over the last few weeks, more and more information has been made available to teachers through blogs, videos and evidence reviews to highlight best practice’ and to allow us to make more informed decisions. Each piece of reading /​watching has made me reflect on my remote teaching and to make gradual refinements in order to support the learning of my students the best I can. I am far from cracking’ it and am still making mistakes on a daily basis (as I would if I were in the classroom), but I am gradually feeling more confident. With that in mind I thought I would try to exemplify my thought processes and online teaching strategies that I have picked up on the way, linking it to some of the reading I have undertaken. What I am going to share might not be rocket science, and to some it will just seem common sense, however I hope that it is useful to someone. It has indeed been useful for me to reflect on the process myself.

I am very much aware that my school context will be different to many. I teach in a 11 – 16 secondary school, with most of our students having access to computers at home (and provision organised for those who do not). This means our journey has involved daily online lessons for our students using Microsoft Teams, and I will therefore share my experience of this. We have gone down a path that very much suits our context. It is indeed unhelpful for any school to be criticised for making the decisions they have without understanding their context and with the very limited time they had to plan. I will share the successes that I have had with online teaching, but I do think it is important at this stage to highlight the EEF’s recent rapid evidence assessment findings into distance learning. One finding was that there is no clear difference between teaching in real time (“synchronous teaching”) and alternatives (“asynchronous teaching”). EEF Covid 19 resources . The EEF’s rapid evidence assessment examines the existing research (from 60 systematic reviews and meta-analyses) for approaches that schools could use, or are already using, to support the learning of pupils while schools are closed due to Covid-19. The key findings from this evidence assessment are that when implementing strategies to support pupils’ remote learning, or supporting parents to do this, key things to consider include:

  1. Teaching quality is more important than how lessons are delivered
  2. Ensuring access to technology is key, especially for disadvantaged pupils
  3. Peer interactions can provide motivation and improve learning outcomes
  4. Supporting pupils to work independently can improve learning outcomes
  5. Different approaches to remote learning suit different types of content and pupil

More information about the differences between synchronous teaching and asynchronous teaching can be found here TLAC blog .

Planning a series of lessons

When I first started teaching online lessons, I had many questions such as:

  1. How can check responses from students?
  2. How can I find out whether students are actually engaging in the lesson?
  3. How can I teach challenging concepts without being in the classroom? 
  4. Should I be teaching new challenging concepts or just focus on reinforcing prior learning?
  5. How will I know if my students are actually learning anything?

There are key principles that apply to teaching and learning that exist whether in the classroom or online. For example, a standard series of lessons in the classroom for me involves some sort of retrieval practice, sharing the aims of the lesson and learning journey so far, teaching new knowledge interspersed with questioning and feedback, scaffolding and modelling, learning checks and application tasks. However, it is the method of implementation and delivery that need to be carefully thought through and adapted for online lessons. This is what takes the time, but what is so important. 

A useful starting point for planning a series of lessons is the framework below which has been adapted from the EEF guidance report, Metacognition and Self-regulated learning . There is a large body of international evidence telling us that when properly embedded, metacognitive approaches are powerful levers for boosting learning. I have found that this tool helps to refocus the mind when planning lessons. It is a reminder for me not to overcomplicate lessons, but to strip them back to key principles. It also reminds me to make the implicit explicit by talking through my thought processes.

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Another useful starting point is this ResearchEd home talk . In this recent presentation Paul Kirschner expertly and succinctly talked through ten tips for emergency remote teaching. His ten tips are:

  1. Stick to the essentials
  2. Spread learning and practice
  3. Communicate goals and success criteria
  4. Frame new material in the bigger picture
  5. Use / prep relevant prior knowledge
  6. Give examples before exercises
  7. Offer support and guidance during practice
  8. Support / stimulate active processing
  9. (Let students) check for mastery
  10. Provide adequate feedback

1. Starting a lesson

Initially I started my lessons with a quick introduction and got straight into some retrieval practice, but then after reading this blog Virtual procedures and routines I realised that I was missing something that now seems so obvious. I now have a starting slide that I put up 5 mins before the lesson starts to cue the students into organising their workspace, and to reinforce expectations regarding use of microphones and the conversation / chat function. Having observed my 13-year-old son starting his lessons, I have also started to remind students to put mobile phones and other distractions away so that they can focus on the lesson.

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2. Activating prior learning

Activating prior learning helps to focus students on the Velcro’ knowledge that is needed to stick new learning to. Not being able to see the students during the online lessons has really made me think about making the purpose of everything I am doing explicit to the students. Therefore, I have become like a broken record by referring to the many assemblies they have had about how we learn and the reason why I am starting every lesson with some form of retrieval practice.

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Strategies that I have used so far to activate prior learning include:

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Knowledge organisers:
These are very useful when starting a new topic. They make it easy to make links back to previous topics that form the foundations for the new topic. For example, when starting a topic about acids and bases it is important to check that students understand the fundamentals of chemical reactions. I can then go through this with the class to reinforce key points.

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Key images from each lesson:
Building a slide of key images to trigger key learning points is useful to show at the start of each lesson. These images build throughout a topic and so by the end of the topic students will have revisited the key points from each lesson several times. I normally ask my students to elaborate on each image by typing into the conversation bar. Examples of this can be seen in the image below. It allows me to read out and acknowledge students’ responses, make corrections, and address any misconceptions.
Once these have been made, I can then support the retention of knowledge over time by spacing the image slides. For example, in the middle of the acids and bases topic I put up these images from the previous heating topic.

Examples of using the conversation on Microsoft Teams. Students type in the letter of the image and then any words or definitions relating to it:

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Students are probably feeling very isolated currently. By asking students to engage using the conversation chat I can personally thank individuals on the points they have made, build on responses, and reinforce my expectations that everyone should be thinking! ‘’I haven’t had a response from a few of you yet’’. Praising the effort and engagement of students has helped to motivate them. The conversation also allows me to add some humour to the lessons by responding to some of the witty’ comments that some students write.


I have now got into the routine of setting a short 5 – 10 question multiple choice quiz in the last ten minutes of the lesson that has to be completed there and then. I realised quite early on that students could just be joining the lessons and then going off to do something else. This quiz therefore helps to reinforce the expectation that students attend’ the whole lesson, but also allows me to identify widespread misconceptions to address. I set the same quiz at the start of the following lesson as retrieval practice, but then unpick each answer and spend time on questions that several students got wrong. The screenshot below shows how I use the same quiz (pasted onto PowerPoint) at the start of the following lesson. Students use the conversation bar to type in a,b or c. The starred’ question was one that several students answered incorrectly in the previous lesson and is a reminder to me to talk this through.

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I set my quizzes using Microsoft Forms. When I start to plan the next lesson, I can then download the analysis and use it to inform my planning. This is also useful to share with the students as it shows them that completing the tasks I set them helps to inform my teaching.

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I do not think I always necessarily set effective multiple-choice questions, but at least these quizzes keep the surface knowledge ticking over. I mainly create my own questions so that they link specifically to my lesson, however I have used questions from sources such as BBC Bitesize to reduce workload. I am finding increasingly that more and more time each lesson is dedicated to reinforcing prior learning. By the time students have elaborated on the key images, attempted the retrieval quiz, and I have talked through the reason for each answer, we are normally 20 – 25 minutes into a lesson. On reflection, this is also true of my teaching in the classroom over the last couple of years. I feel that is important to regularly model and provide opportunities for students engage with effective learning strategies during lessons, with the hope that they will be able to eventually do this independently at home. 

Setting the scene

The next step in my routine is to show how the lesson fits in with previous ones and to then make the objective of the lesson clear. I have used different methods to do this so far, such as a learning journey slide, referencing their knowledge organisers, and a lesson key question’ with success criteria. Regular modelling of how to use the knowledge organiser to quiz themselves will again hopefully provide strategies for students to be able to learn more independently.


Teaching new concepts

In the few days we had to get ready for remote teaching, once being trained how to use Microsoft Teams, I investigated different ways I could replicate the use of my whiteboard. In the classroom I regularly use the whiteboard next to the screen or annotate diagrams on my PowerPoint presentation to help with my explanations. I didn’t want my online lessons just to be me clicking through a PowerPoint. I wanted to make sure that my students were understanding (as best they could). As a school we were able to invest in more visualisers for staff that didn’t have them, and some of my colleagues have been trialling the use of electronic graphic boards which allow you to draw on the screen. I am fortunate enough to have a laptop with an electronic pen, which allows me to do the same. Because I am not able to receive the regular feedback from students in online lessons, I have really focussed on improving the quality of my explanations when teaching new concepts. I was inspired further after watching Adam Boxer’s ResearchEd video about the process of dual coding Adam Boxer dual coding . I am also looking forward to watching this week’s video from Oliver Caviglioli Oli Cav dual coding. Here are some examples of my attempts:


The screenshot above was from a lesson teaching efficiency. There were so many concepts covered previously that needed to be understood. I wanted to make the big picture’ clear to the students so that they could see how everything fitted together. I planned my explanation on paper first so I could think about the space of the page and the colours I would use (so that my annotations were linked closely to the equation). In the lesson I started with a blank page and then live modelled’ my explanation. As Adam Boxer puts it, dual coding is a process. It is not something done by teachers, but in the minds of students. As experts, when we teach a concept, we have images in our minds. As a teacher I am trying to get these images / models into the heads of my students. The screenshot below shows how I used diagrams to help explain the answers to students after they had completed a learning check.

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Being able to write on the screen allows for live worked examples whereby you can share your thought processes whilst solving a problem. In the example below I had a blank slide and kept flipping between the two to model myself glancing’ at the question and picking out key points.


Assessment / Checking learning

Checking whether students really do understand something is hard enough to do in the classroom, let alone when you are talking to a screen at home hoping that someone is listening to you! In a dialogue rich classroom you receive feedback all the time from student responses, facial expressions, sighs, and frustrated shouts of I don’t get it’. The quizzes that I have referred to in the sections above help me to check surface learning, but deeper learning is harder to assess. I always try to build a task into each lesson so that students are required to think about and engage with the knowledge. This could be reading from BBC bitesize, a video clip followed by questions, or online resources.


To assess deeper learning, I set one or two key application’ questions per topic as an assignment. These are built into our normal schemes of work to assess the application of knowledge rather than knowledge retention. These can be answered open book. Examples of these application questions can be seen below. They include an explanation of how a Thermos flask works, and what happens in a neutralisation reaction. I ask students to send me their work (a photo or a document) via the Teams assignment or via email. The great thing about his is that I can use this work the following lesson to live mark and to provide feedback to the class. I then ask student to type in the conversation feed what they have learnt from the task. This could simply be how to write the chemical formula of a compound correctly, or that it is not heat that rises but hot air. Students sending their work in provides me with the opportunity to praise the effort of my students. If they know that I am looking at their work and acknowledging it, they are more likely to complete it. I’ll email pupils whose work I am going to use in my lesson to check that they are happy with this, explaining that their work will help me as a teacher to address a misconception or to highlight a particularly good explanation.

A students’ response to a key application question used as a model answer:


A response to the Yr8neutralisation’ question with annotations from live feedback during the lesson:



These are some of the habits and routines that I have developed so far in my remote teaching. I want to reiterate the point that providing live lessons seems to be working (and is indeed feasible) in our context, but that there are other effective methods of remote teaching.
I am also aware that the examples I have provided are science specific, but they are indeed applicable to all subjects. 

"We must accept that home school isn’t school, and some children will find it much harder to learn at home than others. If we follow some key principles for teaching and learning, using these as we adapt to our ‘new normal,’ we can be more hopeful that the work we set can support them more effectively’’.

Alex Quigley EEF

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