Despite the recent return to the classroom, many experts believe blended learning is here to stay. Jade Pearce provides an invaluable guide to what we know about effective remote learning practice.
Effective Remote Teaching and Learning
With individual pupils, classes and even whole year groups having to self-isolate, remote learning continues to be crucial and is likely to be part of the way we teach for some time. This article will look at the evidence surrounding remote learning and how we can ensure that our remote teaching is as effective as possible.
Should lessons be synchronous or asynchronous?
The first question asked with regards to remote learning is whether lessons have to be ‘live’. Live lessons (often held over Microsoft Teams or Google Classroom) lead to synchronous learning – where all learners are learning together at the same time. In contrast, asynchronous learning involves learners working through materials at their own pace and not at a set time. This may include watching a pre-recorded video explaining new content and working through tasks independently. Interestingly, research has shown that the method used in remote learning (synchronous or asynchronous) makes less difference to learning and progress than the quality of the teaching (EEF, Best Evidence in Supporting Students Remotely). In short, high quality asynchronous lessons are likely to be more effective than low quality synchronous lessons, and vice versa. The best method will therefore depend on your context and most likely, pupil and teacher access to technology.
Effective remote learning
This article will now address how we can ensure that any remote teaching and learning is therefore, as high quality as possible. This includes the following aspects:
- Clear explanations
- Peer interaction
- Interaction between teachers and pupils
Clear explanations are crucial to enable pupils to understand new content and the instruction for tasks. They can be given ‘live’ or on pre-recorded videos. Tips for making sure explanations are clear include:
Plan your explanations in advance
Make sure they are clear and concise—stick to the main message/core material. Introduce new material in small chunks.
If doing ‘live’ lessons, ask pupils questions to check for attention and understanding.
Make sure any supporting resources (such as presentations or handouts) are concise and remove any unnecessary material.
If doing asynchronous (non-live) learning, the use of pre-recorded videos (such as on Loom) or high quality externally produced videos (such as by Oak Academy or GCSEpod) help to aid clear explanations of new content.
This is crucial to give additional guidance and ensure that all pupils can access tasks. This may include:
- Worked examples – This involves modelling the full process that students are to undertake to solve a problem or complete a task. This should be done step-by-step. Students can then be asked to complete examples on their own (see calculating profit example above).
- Modelling – this includes how to complete tasks and how to produce written work. The teacher can complete an example or part of the task first, explaining their thinking as they do so. You should also provide examples of excellence.
- Giving structure for the completion of written tasks or exam questions by stating what pupils should include in their written work.
- Key phrases/key words list.
- Sentence starters/writing frames
- Checklists which pupils use to check what should be included in their work.
Feedback should still be given on work that pupils complete remotely, wherever possible. This may include:
Whole-class verbal feedback on work completed previously. Here, pupils should submit work electronically. The teacher then reads all pupils’ work, noting down common misconceptions, common SPAG errors, main areas to improve, main things pupils are doing well and any good examples of work to share with the class. This can be rough notes or you can use a whole-class verbal feedback sheet. This information is then shared with the class. This could be through typed notes or verbally sharing your written notes in a live lesson or pre-recorded video. You should also share examples of good work to show pupils how to improve their own work. Pupils should then improve their work.
‘Live’ writing—this is when the teacher completes a written task ‘live’ for the class, outlining their thinking as they do so. This can be done in a lesson or pre-recorded video.
Deconstruction of model work—this is when examples of work (either from the teacher or pupils in the class) are discussed and evaluated by pupils. This can done before pupils complete the task themselves or after they have submitted work. Here, they can then use this to improve their own work.
Feedback on knowledge checks/retrieval practice— This can be achieved through a class discussion of answers (if in a live lesson), through providing the correct answers to pupils or through pupils self-checking using their notes or textbook/revision guide.
Research has demonstrated the positive impact on remote learning of peer interaction, especially on older pupils. This can include:
- Sharing examples of good work that has been produced by pupils.
- Live class discussions.
- Peer assessment—this may be set as a homework task with pupils preparing feedback to share with their peer.
- Collaboration on tasks (where possible).
It is still crucial to assess learning and the progress made by pupils. This should drive future instruction, for example through the re-teaching of any topics that pupils have struggled with or when assessment demonstrates considerable gaps in learning. This may include:
- Knowledge checks
- Retrieval practice – see my retrieval practice guide for methods to assess pupils’ long-term learning of previously covered material.
- Written work
- Use of online quizzes such as Microsoft Forms or externally provided quizzes (for example through quiz.com).
Interaction between teachers and pupils
This is crucial for pupils’ continued motivation and engagement. Live lessons can be used to ensure interaction between teachers and pupils, including class discussions. This can be used to introduce new content or to discuss content and tasks that pupils have completed asynchronously. If live lessons are not possible (for example because only a small number of pupils are isolating) interaction can be achieved through electronic communication and feedback.
Effective Blended Learning
There are aspects and strategies of remote learning that can be effective when pupils are not learning remotely. This includes:
- Online quizzing—Online quizzes such as ‘Quizz’, Microsoft Forms or Google Forms can be used as homework to assess pupils’ learning on a topic or as a way of completing spaced retrieval practice. These give pupils immediate feedback on correct/incorrect answers and give teachers feedback on the areas that they may need to re-visit.
- Digital textbooks—Can be used to give pupils access to textbooks easily at home. This can be used to set pre-reading, when pupils are completing independent study or for pupils to self-check their work.
- Pre-recorded explanations of content can be used in flipped learning. Pupils watch the video before the lesson, taking notes. In the lesson this can be checked quickly before moving onto more complex tasks.
- Pre-recorded videos can be used to model how to answer exam questions or complete written work. This can include live writing and deconstructing model answers. Pupils can then watch this before attempting a similar task themselves for homework.
- Homework can be set through a pre-recorded video. This can include verbal instructions and modelling of how to complete the homework task. This gives both parents and pupils access to high quality instruction.
- Homework can be set electronically including all of the necessary resources and the materials from the lesson. Homework can also be submitted and feedback can be given electronically.
Jade Pearce leads on Teaching & Learning as an Assistant Headteacher at Walton High School in Stafford. She is also an Evidence Lead in Education (ELE) for Staffordshire Research Schools. You can follow her and her work at @PearceMrs.
EEF—Best Evidence in Supporting Students Remotely (https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/news/eef-publishes-new-review-of-evidence-on-remote-learning/)