Switching to remote learning: examples of core principles in action

As remote learning becomes the ‘new normal’, more and more examples of great practice are emerging from schools. We’ve collected some highlights here, organised around some of the core principles of remote learning we’ve identified in our work with schools at this time. 

We first presented this work at the recent More than Robots online event on remote learning, with thanks to Cliff Manning for hosting and Jason Ramasami, visual scribe, for the visual summary.

Core principle: Belonging

Seeing their teachers and adults from the school community is important for children’s sense of belonging, community and wellbeing. It is also highlighted in the DfE’s most recent guidance for schools on adapting to remote learning, in the wellbeing section:

“Encouraging and enabling interaction between pupils, parents, carers and staff can help them to feel like they’re a part of a community.”

 In addition to using assemblies, singing assemblies and morning messages from teachers to promote a sense of community, many schools have created whole school community videos showing all the adults in lockdown, such as this dancetastic example from Hitherfield

Headteachers are also using video messages to share information with children and parents in a more personal way than a newsletter. Here’s Hanover primary headteacher’s message to year 6 about not doing SATs, and Kate Atkins, headteacher at Rosendale, explained school closure and shared her thoughts on the challenges for reopening to children via YouTube. Padlets can also be an effective way of enabling children to share what they’ve been doing and get a sense of what their classmates are up to in a safe way (check out our guide to using Padlet for tips).

Virtual postcards from schools to families have also been used effectively. 

Teacher presence

Since 2000, the Canadian academics, Terry Anderson and DR Garrison, together with others, have established and refined the concept of ‘teaching presence’ in the context of remote learning, as Tony McAleavy, from the Education Development Trust (EDT, which manages London CLC) explains in EDT’s recent report on Best practice in pedagogy for remote teaching:

“The work of Anderson, Garrison and their colleagues developed out of innovation  and research into university-level distance learning and the transferability of their ideas to the school sector must therefore be given careful consideration. While accepting this caveat, much of their thinking does appear relevant to conceptualising remote teaching at school level. Anderson and Garrison proposed that good remote learning needs to be understood as a social phenomenon and not an exercise in supported self-study. Aspects of social interaction which can be taken for granted in face-to-face teaching situations need to be explicitly built into the design of remote teaching approaches in a highly intentional way for them to be effective. They have promoted the concept of ‘teaching presence’: the level of engagement and visibility of the teacher in the academic life of the remote student. The concept of teaching presence proved highly influential in higher education discourse about remote teaching. 

Advocates of the importance of teaching presence believe that the remote teacher starts at a disadvantage in terms of social interaction and must, therefore, strive deliberately to remedy this, making students aware of their teaching presence in many different forms of dialogue with remote students: instructing, guiding, questioning, listening, assessing, advising, admonishing and reassuring as appropriate. To succeed, students must have a strong sense of the teacher’s virtual presence.”

A key element is student-teacher dialogue. We’ve seen an example of a year 6 teacher producing how to guides embedded on a specific class website (to accompany their Google Classroom) with screenshots that include very specific details, such as the teacher’s name, and all files accompanied by video explanation in familiar teacher style. When setting tasks, instructions incorporate warm references to the class-specific context, such as displays done previously. This is alongside providing materials that can be reviewed many times if need be and offering reassuring reminders that pupils can email within the school G-suite setup, and useful information for parents.

Reay Primary uses Twitter for communication between children/parents and teachers while other schools use YouTube to Explain daily tasks and provide feedback on tasks completed. We’ve also seen an example of a teacher using Loom video (which is easy to email to families) to teach phonics. 

Crown Lane reception teachers are using Padlet walls to share prompt questions which children can answer either on paper or as a comment, perhaps with the assistance of a parent. A teacher explains why it makes a difference to children when they can see your face – connections are enhanced when they can hear your voice and see your expressions, and describes how she uses video or gives screencasts with Loom or Flipgrid. 

Community of inquiry

An effective community of inquiry depends upon teaching presence, but also on ‘social presence’ and ‘cognitive presence’.

Social presence is the extent to which the learner has a developed sense of belonging to a collective group or community with fellow students on the same course. In the context of a transition from face-to-face to remote learning, the challenge is, of course, maintaining rather than establishing the sense of community. The effective remote teacher must intentionally promote this sense of community.

Cognitive presence relates to the extent to which students are personally engaged with their learning, undertaking a well-designed sequence of learning that enables them to acquire new knowledge and understanding while working remotely. 

This is a great explanation to parents from a headteacher about how the remote learning work is being adapted to make it simpler for families, such as through clearer tasks, tasks that can engage children of different ages and the timing of when work is set.

Engagement of peers

Engaging with peers is a vital part of learning and, arguably, the core principle that is hardest to follow remotely. It also requires engagement with parents and carers.  How are schools managing it? 

Loom has been used to good effect by this school, where year 9 students used it to produce their presentation about world music for their final music assessment. We also enjoyed this 

egg drop challenge video, which shared learning from home. 

This is a lovely example of Instagram being used for family to family comments about home learning. 

Finally, how about extending the weekly achievements letter so that instead of it being teacher nominations, parents can nominate children and send in photos to share?

  • We’d really like to capture more examples of great practice around the core principles of remote learning – please do share in the comments below or email us at [email protected]

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Summer primary school computing conference
Summer primary school computing conference

This event will build upon the Autumn computing conference by inviting subject leaders to reflect on their year in the role, sharing their successes and challenges. It will also introduce new ideas, tools and approaches through talks and practical activities led by members of the CLC team, with opportunities for attendees to share their own expertise and experience. Over the course of the conference activities will touch on the three main areas of the computing curriculum: computer science, digital literacy and information technology. We will also feature advice and examples illustrating the use of technology to support blended learning.

- 15:30
Computing subject leaders, Teachers...
Creative Arts, Digital and children – CLC meets More Than Robots online
Creative Arts, Digital and children - CLC meets More Than Robots online

Combining forces for the first time, the Connected Learning Centre and More Than Robots have created a session for teachers, youth organisations, researchers and policymakers interested in the digital provision of creative arts for primary aged pupils.


The Play Observatory - Prof. John Potter

“In their own words”: Westminster Abbey & CLC digital projects - Sian Shaw

Building (and maintaining) a city-wide primary arts curriculum to raise attainment - Kate Fellows

More to be added soon

This interactive and inclusive meet up will include inspiring examples of how technology can be used to support learning in music, visual art and drama in person and online at home drawing on our experiences as Tate Exchange associates and our partnership work with a range of cultural institutions.

This informal event is an opportunity to discuss real examples of what does/doesn’t work, meet colleagues from other sectors working on similar challenges and share useful research, news or updates

The morning will include case study presentations (details below) followed by a Q&A. There will also be an opportunity for a rapid sharing round for launches, project updates or requests for help and a short break to avoid zoom brain drain.

- 11:30
KS1, KS2
Subject leaders, Teachers...

Upcoming Special projects

The News Project
- 14:25

Special project in collaboration with First News Education

For a third year, building on two successful previous projects, we are once again partnering with the children’s newspaper First News, fellow member of the national Making Sense of Media and News Literacy networks. This special project with a literacy, PSHE and citizenship, as well as computing focus, highlights our specialist interest in this important aspect of digital and critical literacy.

The News Project will enable participating classes from year 5 to immerse themselves in news and current affairs using First News and the Bett award-winning First News iHUB, which will be provided free of charge during the school-based part of the project over a six week period. Under the guidance of their teacher, pupils will be supported in their development as a community of fully informed news readers. Classes will test their new critical skills and knowledge in the culminating virtual celebration event which will include a news competition and team-based critical literacy and editorial activities. After the event, schools will be able to use the resources from the day in their school.

The project will launch with an introductory CPD session for teachers to set the context, demonstrate resources and to plan for the school-based activities. 

Initial CPD session - Thursday 21st October 4pm-5.00pm. 

Project work undertaken in school - October and November.

Special event - Thursday 25th November 9.30am-2.45pm.

The Garden Museum

The CLC is once again partnering with the Garden Museum to offer a partnership project for KS1 pupils (primarily suited to Yr2). Located next to Lambeth Palace on the bank of the Thames, the museum has an inspiring collection that provides the ideal stimulus for young learners to explore the world around them.

Pupils will use technology alongside the museum’s collection to explore the wonderful world of seeds.

  • How are they planted?
  • How do they spread?
  • What is inside them?

 The Garden Museum has a large collection of seeds and tools that pupils will engage with.

These half-day sessions will take place at the Garden Museum.

There is a limited number of dates available, so please book early to avoid disappointment.

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