Remote Learning: Live or offline, cover the basic elements.

As schools and colleges return to full-on remote learning, I’ve been asked multiple times to provide suggestions to support teachers in this endeavour and to provide CPD inputs for teachers in various contexts. Of course I don’t have students of my own but I have delivered a lot of online training and gleaned a lot from engaging with people sharing ideas so, for what it is worth, here are my thoughts about what is essential and how to blend live delivery with offline learning.

First of all, here is a link to the previous posts focused on tech solutions for checking students’ writing – this contains links to numerous platforms and suggestions from teachers using them.

As ever much of this lies in the detail of the context you’re in: the age of students, the subject content, student access to technology, their capacity for independent work, the functionality of the core platform. However, as far as a general set of guidance goes, I think there are six areas to think about in every context.

The table below outlines the key ideas for each section of the flow diagram. The formatting works best on a full screen, not a phone. View or download this pdf for a different format.:

Key AreaConsiderations
Plan the Curriculum
What am I teaching?
Big picture: weeks
Small steps: lessons
Make sure that you and students know what is expected over the span of a few weeks:
What am I supposed to know? Give them an overview of the key knowledge content for the unit as a whole.
What am I supposed to have done? Give an idea of the range of tasks that should be completed by a certain date a few weeks in future – or keep a rolling list that they can use to check off against.
This will support teacher and student to check for completion, gaps, next steps and to gauge the intensity needed in any lessons or tasks.
Plan the Inputs.
Live presentation
Recorded presentation
External source
Explaining new content will be a major factor and is likely to best done by combining live and recorded video with written guidance, depending on your context and the level of live engagement you can secure.
Live presentation via zoom or equivalent: great if most students will access – allows for integrated CFEU*, nicely dynamic.
Pre-recorded presentation: allows flexible deployment and access for students; requires CFEU to be planned more deliberately
External sources via e.g. via Oak National, BBC Bitesize etc : excellent in terms of workload, quality, variety. Need to check content alignment with curriculum and plan CFEU alongside.
Paper-based. Relies on students’ capacity to read and follow guidance without support – but offers lots of flexibility. CFEU becomes more complex, the more material is provided at once.

If you get a good blend, you do not need to do all your lessons live. However, it’s not going to be as good for students if you hardly ever make direct contact with them. The weakest students will drift. Find the right balance.
*Check for Engagement and Understanding (CFEU)
Live session Questioning
Chat questions
This is the key to the success of the whole enterprise.
It’s vital to check that all students are engaging: e.g. attending live sessions if/when this is essential; engaging with the system as a whole – following instructions, accessing messages, accessing resources, able to ask questions
At key points, use a simple form (e.g. googleform) with questions every student must answer to show they are present, have accessed materials, received the message.
Use shared documents where students simply write their name to show they are present or reached the end of a set of instructions.

It’s vital to check for understanding – just as in a normal classroom – so that students know what to do in response to the instructional/video inputs. Don’t just assume.
If live, sample students by cold calling (choosing who responds) to make sure students understand instructions, followed the content of any presentation, made sense of key concepts, ideas, procedures, vocabulary.

Use cold calling with students in live sessions – sample the class by name and ask them to respond . Go even further than you would in normal lessons: Jenny, tell me what I’ve asked you do before next lesson; Mo, what was your answer to the question at the end of that video segment. They may be answering verbally or via the chat.
Use chat function or live documents, digital whiteboards and notepads to solicit responses so that students show their understanding – not just saying ‘yes I understand’ and definitely not assuming that silence/no response means they are ok. Remember: you cannot tell if students have understood unless they tell you what they have understood. A screen full of silent faces or an empty chat stream, tells you nothing: ask them.

If you do not do many live sessions – relying mainly on pre-recorded inputs and paper based resources – set up at least some live stock-taking sessions on camera or via shared documents at key points in a series of lessons to run these checking processes. Use questions on forms so all students can demonstrate their understanding prior to devoting time to extended tasks.
Follow up on students who are missing/ not responding.

The more you embed the expectation and routine that you will check that work is being done, that videos are watched, that everyone should listen and respond in live sessions, the more that inclusive accountability reinforces students’ habits: ie they know you will notice; they can’t just opt out unseen.
Plan Student Tasks
Writing activities. Questions
Reading, research
Short-cycle: Live?
Long-cycle:  Independent/offline
Ideally, this will form the bulk of students’ time. After listening to video inputs or reading the set material, they will have tasks to complete. The length of tasks will determine how much feedback you can give dynamically. There are obviously hundreds of options here but a varied diet for students will help keep them motivated and engaged:
Short response tasks: questions and answers to be completed during a lesson or using online question platforms (e.g. in maths)
Short written tasks: to be completed during a lesson – perhaps using shared documents to facilitate dynamic teacher feedback as in the post featured above.
Longer question sets: to be completed offline – either self-checked, returned to teacher or discussed in next live lesson. Give them plenty to do! Shed loads of practice.
Longer written assignments: structured assignments perhaps via booklets/workbooks that may take several hours – for offline completion and submission for feedback. This can still involve using shared documents so teachers can track progress as students work independently.

If student work is largely paper based/hand-written – then expectations about submission via photo upload or in-person hand-in much later in the term must be clear.

Open-ended projects could run in parallel to the online lesson flow. (Universal Project Guide KS2/3)
Assess and Evaluate
Review student questions
Review student writing
Check for problems and omissions
There is a balance to strike along various dimensions:
– Checking all the work versus checking a sample
– Teacher checking versus students checking their own
– Checking live during the task completion or checking later after a completion date.

The more live and dynamic you can make it, the less you get a build-up of work students create without being evaluated. The shorter the pieces of writing, the easier it is to generate a loop of feedback and redrafting for all students. If you are monitoring on the go via shared documents, or focusing on self-assessment tools, you can minimise the reliance on handing in work for teacher assessment. It could even be all done in this way, on-the-go.

It’s important to validate student work completion without falling into the trap of promising to check everything they do – which isn’t sensible or sustainable. At the same time, if they feel their work is never checked, it is demotivating and quality and engagement will drop.

Identify key tasks or question sets that you will focus on for checking: This could be the weekly knowledge check; the extended writing task; specified workbook pages.
Provide Feedback
Whole-class feedback
Comments: live/recorded; written
Selected individuals
As far as possible, keep feedback to the things that are easiest to give to everyone:
Whole class feedback in live lessons or via feedback notes issued to all students
Self-checking quizzes – so students see the correct answers and their errors without teacher marking
Comments generated during the lessons or via shared documents where the teacher can manage their workload, leaving written or voice-note comments in the time they have available.

Try to blend setting some students off to work independently while focusing on small groups or individuals to give feedback. This can be done live: eg call six students to be cameras-on in a live session to discuss their work while others are set an offline task as the live session continues. Or, it could be in lesson slots devoted to individual feedback – eg by appointment on zoom – whilst other students are working independently offline.

Even if it is minimal, there must be some feedback. Students can’t be asked to go off and do a ton of questions or assignment work – if that is never going to be checked in any way.

Use the information from assessment and feedback sessions to stock-take on the long-term curriculum coverage as weeks go by, to adjust the content in terms of pace and coverage for the lessons that week.

I recorded a short video for the recent Chiltern TSA CPD event, talking through the same diagram


  1. I have found this email quite helpful. Nowadays dur to pandemic we are following online synchronous classes with asynchronous blend . I am interested in measuring the motivation of my students in this blend. I am searching for some scale or survey. I was wondering if there was any known motivation measuring scale or tool that is valid enough for primary students that can be used.

    Thanks for your time Lead Pencil


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