08 Apr 2022By Kate Bibby
While blended learning has always been part of any curriculum that includes homework, learning that takes place completely remotely has been something teachers, learners and parents/guardians have had to adjust to, and quickly, since early 2020.
With remote learning having obvious and insurmountable differences from class-based learning for which teachers are trained, it can be difficult to know the best ways to keep learners focused and engaged with their learning.
But it can be achieved – here are our 13 top tips on how to engage students with remote learning.
Remote learning in one-to-one contact time
1. Make individual contact
Regular one-to-one contact, at least once a week, with a known teacher ensures learners continue to feel cared about, and like they are a valued part of the school community. It also enables you as a teacher to identify and quickly act on any concerns.
2. Empathise with them
When you speak to learners individually, start by asking how they are. However successful your school’s remote learning strategy is overall, and whatever the circumstances that have led to learners being remote, individuals may be struggling with difficulties such as sharing a device, internet connectivity, finding a quiet and comfortable place to study or fitting in around a family schedule – quite apart from any challenges with their actual learning.
Make sure they know you understand and acknowledge any obstacles they may face before you discuss any learning - it might be that the support they need is about these challenges at home, not the work they have been set.
3. Create a daily structure
As far as possible, the remote learning timetable should replicate the timetable learners would experience at school. One-to-one catch ups should be scheduled for a designated time so learners can plan their day around them.
4. Plenty of praise and encouragement
Learning pace and progress are highest when learners are emotionally committed to their work – and without the physical presence of you or their peers to motivate them, learners’ intrinsic motivation is more important than ever.
Encourage them to see their physical independence as empowering – a chance to take ownership of their learning and feel pride in their achievements.
5. Encourage flexibility and ownership
While online lessons obviously have to take place within a set timetable, you could encourage students to take ownership of their subsequent tasks either by allowing them to choose which assignment they take on or setting them a longer research project with a longer lead time.
If learners feel they can shape and own their learning, they are likely to feel more engaged, and self-directed learning is a skill that will help them in the next stage of their education.
Remote learning in online lessons
1. Simplify your teaching
Don’t make things more stressful for everyone than they need to be. Make what you teach, how you teach it and how you evaluate your learners’ progress as simple as possible. Identify the core concepts from your curriculum and the skills your learners need to master, then chunk them up into bite-sized activities with a clear objective.
2. Plan online activities with participation in mind
Teachers and students alike are used to being in a physical environment together, where it’s relatively easy to participate. Online, however, it’s harder to read cues and know the best time to speak – potentially leaving some reluctant to do so. One way to overcome this is to build lessons that have participation as a central component, allowing everyone the chance to contribute at a set time. This also has the knock-on benefit of enabling you to check all students’ levels of engagement and understanding and adjust your approach accordingly, ensuring no one gets left behind.
A BDA approach – referencing what you want students to be able to do Before online lessons, During and After – is one way to achieve this. For example, you could set students questions to answer independently before a lesson, then as a starting point for the lesson ask them to share these responses, and then set some follow-up work relating to the responses.
3. Use small groups/breakout rooms
Even with participation strategies, some learners may still find it intimidating to contribute in an online session with a whole class – whether because they’re naturally introverted or lack confidence in the subject or task. To overcome this, you could start a lesson with the whole cohort but then split it into a physical classroom.
Encouraging learners to interact with each other and in smaller groups will ensure all learners participate in the lesson (and help combat individual feelings of isolation), as well as helping you identify any learners who are struggling.
4. Ask for feedback
It’s harder to read the engagement and understanding on your students’ faces online than in the classroom.
To get feedback on whether they’re grasping what you’re teaching, you could use instant messaging tech such as Google Chat for them to give real-time feedback, such as a thumbs-up emoji or a Y/N. As there’s peer anonymity, this is more successful than a physical classroom in giving a “safe space” for stating that they don’t understand a concept. You can then immediately adjust your teaching to recap concepts that many are struggling with, and use individual feedback to follow up on a personal basis afterwards if needed.
5. Include social online activities
Remember that, as well as being physically isolated from you, learners will also be isolated from their peers. To keep up a feeling of being an actual class, rather than just a group of individuals, you could start some lessons with a group activity that even the shiest feels comfortable joining in.
For younger children, this could be submitting jokes to be told to the whole class. For older children, maybe you could ask for contributions to a 'true or false' quiz, and have the class participate. You could even award a nominal prize as an incentive. An activity such as this each week will help to combat feelings of isolation.
6. Embrace edtech
Edtech tools pair educational methodology with technology and are perfectly suited to remote and blended learning. As well as saving you marking time, edtech tools such as Bedrock Learning can be used in the classroom and at home. This allows learners to improve their vocabulary without the intervention of teachers or parents.
As well as this, if remote learning is temporary, solutions such as Bedrock Learning ensure that whether a learner is remote or not, teaching is consistent. In fact, were circumstances to require remote learning again in the future, you would be ready equipped to provide consistent literacy teaching regardless of your learners' location.