At a virtual school, lessons are delivered in line with each person’s personalised curriculum. Exactly as you would expect in a physical school space, pupils are taught how to interact with teachers, their peers and lesson content using whiteboard technology, quizzes, voice and video as well as receiving and sending assignment tasks. How should you introduce yourself to a new class, if you are meeting them online for the first time? If we consider how teachers deliver excellent classroom teaching practice in a physical space, how they prepare should not be approached any differently in an online environment, the Guardian reports.
“Flipped learning” is a term used to describe how teachers can provide material for pupils to learn outside of the classroom. Although this is traditionally considered homework or coursework and typically completed without the teacher, increasingly this approach to enhance learning outside of the classroom has been set and completed online. During lockdown, teachers will be focusing on core curriculum content, meeting the needs of vulnerable pupils as well as enhancing student engagement, mixing between activities, types of assignments and differentiation techniques to support a range of pupils. One factor that must be considered for teachers who are working remotely, is how they can mix online teaching and learning with traditional methods that would be used in the physical classroom. A good tip for teachers working online, especially from home, is to have a simple whiteboard behind the camera and teach just as you would in a physical classroom space. Doing this over a sustained period of time will definitely present a new challenge, but it’s possible with well-thought-out curriculum plans, and a simple range of equipment.
Blended learning, first developed in the 1960s, was a method of instruction using technology-mediated methods. With flipped learning being the norm during lockdown, what can teachers learn from other educators who are already working in blended learning environments – teachers working in virtual schools, or online tutors?
If we look towards Barak Rosenshine’s 17 recommendations for effective teaching, these can quite easily be reapplied to online teaching, delivered through (at least) video conferencing. At the start of every lesson, review the last lesson with a simple retrieval exercise. This supports long-term retention, can easily be deployed with a simple quiz or competition and is a guaranteed way to get a lesson off to a flying start.
When presenting new material, successful teachers teach by giving a series of short presentations using many examples. Teachers should also provide guided practice by modelling various techniques. Where teachers present too much material at once, this will confuse pupils. Working online without sufficient verbal and non-verbal cues, means it will be critical for teachers to regularly check student responses.
One way that teachers can do this is to ask a large number of questions. Feedback can be provided by giving prompts, modelling and guiding pupils as they develop independent practice and asking simple questions such as “who, where, why and how” to help shape pupils’ thinking. When teachers check frequently to see if all students are learning, this processes information into long-term memory, developing schematic concepts to support retention. Teaching remotely, whether using Microsoft Teams, Google Suite or other platforms, gives teachers a significant array of strategies to deploy at this interesting time.
Finally, research recommends that teachers should try “scaffold learning”, helping pupils to problem-solve by thinking out loud and providing cognitive support. This can be achieved by completing the work alongside pupils; doing this online may require teachers to use “breakout spaces” by waiting to provide individual feedback in live video conferencing lessons.
Flexibility and personalisation
Every student should be treated as an individual online as all teachers would in a physical space, and with teachers working remotely, they will need to learn how to use technology as well as adapt content to meet individual needs. If you are meeting your pupils for the first time, I would recommend sending them a survey, asking them to complete simple questions so that you can elicit initial information about their interests, abilities and hopes. You can then start to plan which interventions you will use in your lesson planning and delivery.
To help support increased teacher workload, my key recommendation would be that if teachers are able to connect with the pupils online, it is important to allow students to engage in a weekly and monthly review of their learning to support long-term memory. Often this manifests itself when a pupil says: “We’ve done this before!” But effective teachers will remind pupils that this is a retrieval practice exercise to assist with long-term retention.
Safeguarding and security
If you are joining a virtual school, then I would assume the various safeguarding procedures are already in place. However, if you now find yourself teaching pupils online for the first time, having never met them physically, you should double-check to ensure that your new school has considered data protection, child protection, internet security and the various online safeguarding procedures for teachers and pupils.
When teaching from your own home environment, it is worth reflecting on your own safeguarding procedures. For example, if you have not yet physically reached your new school, have you received any induction, or has the designated safeguarding officer spoken with you about induction procedures? Of the students in your register, which have specific learning needs that require initial conversations with your special needs coordinator or associated form tutors? All these balances and checks would be done physically on entry to a new school; just because you are doing this remotely, doesn’t mean that they should not happen.
Creating a supportive, online environment
What should teachers consider when meeting their pupils online? Many schools will assign home-learning tasks through software or an online curriculum portal, which parents can access. Other schools will have their teachers and pupils log on to a secure platform, to complete assignments, submit work and interact with the teacher through voice or text. Some schools will be offering live video lessons with pupils, teaching from the home environment or from their school classrooms.
If we look towards countries such as South Korea and Singapore, where teachers have an almost celebrity-like online presence, it’s common to find them sharing videos, teaching lessons through YouTube or having millions of viewers on Instagram.