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5 ways to effectively teach remotely

31 Mar 2020

It’s amazing to think that in the course of a few weeks we’ve seen perhaps the biggest upheaval the education system has ever seen. From the primary perspective, the suspension of standardised assessment and of Ofsted have long been called for, but never at the price that has been paid - children kept away from schools. Yet is this strange new world we find ourselves in actually what educators have been crying out for? less arbitrary accountability, more space for creative and meaningful learning as well as greater engagement from parents. In essence, teachers have got what they’ve asked for - but as many stories about wishes coming true, the reality isn’t quite what was hoped for. 

So, how do teachers make the most of this situation, and see it as the great opportunity that it undoubtedly is? As part of Twinkl’s innovation team, we realised there was a need that had to be supported quickly. Last week, I delivered two ‘Live Maths Lessons’, aimed at the new educator market (parents) as well as creating a template for others to follow. Here’s what we learnt from delivering lessons remotely. 

1) Embrace the environment

Topic choice is a tricky one. Even focusing on a class that you’ve been teaching for over half a year, you realise how much environment plays a part in what you teach as well as how. Taking in new learning is so dependent on the individual and their motivation, that trying to combine that with a new way of learning is going to be a hard ask. 

Remote learning is where the true value of mastery comes in. With children placed right in the middle of real-world context, it makes sense to utilise that as much as possible. I quickly found that worksheets were the scaffold, the safety net for learners to reaffirm a technique, enabling them to approach a challenge assured in their understanding. 

2) Think about the parents

Empowerment is key to remote learning. What you are offering to your learner, and maybe even more so, to the parent, is the sense that you’re unlocking an opportunity that they wouldn’t previously have had access to. For parents, I found this came in two flavours; for some it was reassurance that their child could be left to work independently, safe in the knowledge they were engaged in a meaningful activity (well, engaged in an activity that would occupy them for a predetermined amount of time). 

The other more compelling value for parents to obtain from remote learning is the realisation that they too are capable of delivering learning to their children. I chose to do this by introducing learning into household activities: cooking and measuring. Making the learning explicit in these everyday activities will hopefully breed the confidence in parents that these activities are part of their children’s education. 

Oh, and if you’re using the activities to give permission for children to do something they want to do, then even better; I went for redesigning their bedroom into the perfect lockdown den. 

3) Embrace the presenter within

In fact, engagement was the biggest learning curve for me teaching in this new environment. I approached my first session as I would normally deliver a classroom session - what I hadn’t appreciated was the number of latecomers to the party. That, and how little engagement there was with what felt like an awful lot of talking from me. That led me to take inspiration from Jamie Oliver and Generation Youtube. 

In my second effort, I consciously addressed the learning objective and the value of learning so far in the session every five minutes or so. I was channelling my inner influencer and drawing on reserves of youthful enthusiasm I didn’t realise I had. It was exhausting. 

What felt like a lifetime turned out to be around 15 minutes of actual screentime. Much like working remotely, you don’t appreciate just how much of a lesson is spent having the odd conversation, even just moving around the room. I quickly learned that there’s little value to being on screen whilst expecting children to do a sustained piece of work - live lessons are more about teeing them up and then letting them loose! 

4) Clarify learning outcomes 

The next challenge was assessing how valuable the learning in the session had been. I first thought the way forward here was cheating outcomes children (and parents) would want to share… uploading pictures of work completed was the way forward, or so I thought. But it’s a faff. I found I had more engagement with an online test we made (a simple Google form) - as the expectation was clear and had been created for them, it had a much higher response rate. Now, due to the nature of my lessons, I didn’t have much success with differentiation, as I was having to leave it up to those tuning in to choose the most appropriate activity (which all too often is ‘none’ when given that choice). I think that if you can present any differentiated work in isolation, so learners don’t feel there is an option or alternative, then you’ll achieve the most success. 

5) Don’t stress about the tech

I’ve deliberately not spoken of the technicalities and technologies of delivering the session because like all teaching if you know how and what to teach, you will be able to find a method that fits best (Google is your best friend here). It could be email, or recorded video or a live session over Zoom. And don’t be afraid if parents prefer to do it themselves. They have every right, and you have the responsibility to support them with that. You’re not making yourself obsolete, as teaching your own children is not the same as a class-full. 

 

Remember, these are the changes educators have been hoping for - feel inspired, lead the way - basically, keep on teaching! 


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