Adjusting to Online Teaching

Following the first week back teaching remotely, it has been noticeable how full edu-social media has been with teachers sharing tips and ideas on how to use a range of different technology for ‘live teaching’ – it’s brilliant! Technical barriers aside, there have also been adjustments to make in the delivery and execution of the lesson itself.

  • The start of the lesson – students arriving on time, how to check prior knowledge of all students, how to engage all students with you and not home distractions.
  • New content – how to continue to maintain engagement, how to ensure students access, understand and progress with their learning.
  • Checking understanding – How to check understanding efficiently when you haven’t been able to circulate during the lesson, and, without needing to read/mark every single page uploaded from home.

The start of the lesson (first 15 minutes): There is no universal bell ringing in every house to signal lesson starts/change overs – the impact? Students arriving across a wider time frame. What would usually be 5 minutes to settle and complete a recall quiz at the start of the lesson to check understanding becomes a mixture of some students present and engaged for 10 minutes to some just arriving: “Sorry I was late, what are we doing?” The time frame for all students to arrive and be ready is closer to 10 minutes (hopefully less over time if students are challenged to improve time-keeping and their competency with technology!)

To adjust effectively, consider the purpose of the starting phase of a lesson; it is to achieve two things: Settle and engage students in the lesson, and crucially to recall and check prior knowledge before delivering new content.

Both of these aims can be achieved using virtual mini whiteboards such as Student responses can be seen in real time. The task that would be used face-to-face does not necessarily need to be adjusted – plan for the ‘5 minute recall’ as normal, but in addition be prepared with a ‘5 minute extension’ which can be delivered verbally to ‘fast finishers’. It may be helpful to use the extension to start students’ thinking about the new content which will be modelled to students in the next phase of learning.

After the 10 minute period that has allowed you to welcome students, ensure their engagement and complete the recall task; the next step is to provide whole class feedback, be responsive and ready with a virtual whiteboard (e.g. or Google Jamboard).

Finally, introduce the Learning Journey to students – make sure they know how the previous knowledge that they have been recalling links to today, what the learning goal is today, and how this will link to future learning.

New Content (30-35 minutes): The next challenge exists both in the classroom and remotely – how to best impart new knowledge and understanding to students. However, remotely there are some additional challenges: the loss of non-verbal communication (the ‘confused’ look), the ability to circulate and see students work ‘live’, and ensuring engagement is maintained has additional challenges (are they checking their phone?!)

This section of the lesson now requires additional care in planning to overcome the extra challenges. The sequence of Direct Instruction > Guided Practice > Independent Practice is essential in succeeding here. Some quick and helpful references to these ideas: The researchED Guide to Explicit & Direct Instruction by Adam Boxer and Tom Bennett, and ‘Walk Thrus’ by Tom Sherrington and Oliver Caviglioli are both excellent guides and easily adapted to the virtual classroom.

Be prepared at this point to also build in time for students – it takes time to write the date and title, to present work neatly, and to think, synthesise and write an answer (remember ‘wait time’ evidence Stahl 1994 shows it’s easy to rush verbal questioning in class; letting students work independently also takes time, and time definitely seems to go slowly when you are waiting!) Ask students to tell you they are done or use the ‘raise hand’ function on Google Meet so that you are not guessing work rate; this also allows you to move individuals on to extend their understanding.

Checking understanding (10-15 minutes): It is likely from the last section of the lesson that you are feeling a bit ‘blind’ to how your class have been progressing – the usual ability to circulate and observe progress is lost. It is now important to conclude the lesson in a way that ensures you gain this oversight to check understanding and help you set a baseline for next lesson – but also be time efficient too!

A useful way to do this is ask your students to upload their work to Google Classroom – through uploading photographs of handwritten work or electronic copies they have worked on. When setting an assignment, attaching a Google doc/slides and creating a ‘copy for each student’, so they can work directly on it, removes the need for uploads; students simply open and edit the file, and turn in the assignment.

This is also where tools such as a Google Forms can be your best friend – an exit ticket constructed of 5 careful multiple choice questions that self-marks, will allow you to check understanding quickly and inform planning. Perhaps add one free response for marking (don’t add lots, keep workload manageable!) Alternatively, make use of the question and private message functions on GC to set a question that students respond to and allows you to provide feedback on. Remember feedback does not mean a personal comment to each student – it could be reading responses and presenting whole class next lesson! Feedback – Not Marking! (I’m looking forward to reading M. Chiles new book the Feedback Pendulum, it’s on the way!)


Overall, when applying this model of delivery to students, the first 30ish minutes the teacher is very involved and active with the students – welcoming, ensuring engagement, providing feedback, sharing new knowledge and guiding practice. However after this point, students enter independent practice (including submission of work). From experience it is helpful to stay on the Google Meet in the second half of the lesson as a quick question can be easily answered or explained verbally to move the student on instantly, and messages that require typed responses become far less frequent and time is gained outside of the timetabled lesson.

  • Timing an online lesson is different to a f2f lesson
  • Skillful Direct Instruction and Guided Practice is essential
  • Independent practice may need additional scaffolding
  • Give time for students to upload their work
  • Use efficient feedback strategies

This summary also only introduces some examples of technology that can be used to support lesson delivery, however there are loads of others too – check out Tom Sherrington’s newest post where he has crowd sourced resources to support efficient feedback on students’ writing and just generally browse twitter for some great ideas!

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