Remote Teaching: Some tips

As we are once again in lockdown and doing remote teaching I thought I would share some tips and things which have worked for me.

Big pointer

It a simple thing, but resizing your pointer makes it easier for students to see what you are pointing to.   Simply type Mouse Pointer Size in the search bar in Windows 10 and you will then get the ability to make your mouse pointer as big as you would like.

Lesson Holding Card

I now start the video feed on lessons just before the allocated time, using a holding card to display some basic info about the lesson.    The holding card is created in PowerPoint and I have set PowerPoint to display the slideshow in a window, which allows me to have the holding card on screen while also having other things on screen at the same time as I prepare for the lesson.

I note I could also use this holding card to list a starter activity for students to do; This is something I will be experimenting with over the coming weeks.    This just makes the lesson start that little bit more polished and controlled.

Thanks to @HecticTeacher for this suggestion.

@Forms; Quick Learning Polls in Teams

Thanks to @IanStuart66 for this one.    In Teams it is easy to quickly create a poll for students to answer.   This is really useful for a quick learning check at the end of lessons.

Simply type @Forms ? , , ……. Into the Posts within the channel you wish the poll to appear.   A poll will then appear under your message with a summary of the results showing under this.

So, for example, I might use the below:

@forms Are you able to add formula to a spreadsheet? Very Confident, Confident, Not Confident

Students can then respond in MS Teams with an instant summary display of the results also showing up in Teams.

Stream; Creating pre-recorded content

I strongly believe that when teaching online, it is best to mix synchronous and asynchronous methods.   For the asynchronous and for pre-recording lesson content or support materials my current go to app is Microsoft Stream.   I particularly love the ability to record picture in picture meaning I can demonstrate something on screen or go through a presentation, but with the students able to see me.   I think the ability to see me as the students teacher makes the content feel that bit more personal when compared with simply recording a narration over the top of screen recorded content.

Stream also makes it easy to control permissions so you can make it available to all students in a class or just some students in a class, or to the whole school, as needed.

The one additional point I will make in relation to stream, but also in relation to any pre-recorded video content, is to simply get it done.   Initially I found myself re-recording the content again and again to try and get it perfect, leading to a 5 min piece of video taking hours to produce.   I quickly realised this was unsustainable and that, like in lessons where we make mistakes or say “erm” too often, I am human so there is no harm in these things being included in the videos.  The videos simply need to be good enough for the purpose for which they have been created.


The above are 4 reasonably simple ideas which I have found to be quite useful in my teaching over the last couple of weeks. I hope that you find them useful or at least they provide you with another couple of items for your teaching toolbox.


My teacher fail.


Read loads of Teacher Fails posted on Staffrm over the last few days, many of which I can identify with. The burst pen which you then unwittingly use to colour your face or colour the whole pocket side of your shirt along with the inside of your best suit. The mismatching shoes. I even split my trousers once when interviewing for a middle management position. I got the job as it happens although this may have been the result of the interview panel showing pity on me, but I digress.

The recent discussions make me reflect on a particular teacher fail from my teaching career. The lesson in question was being specially delivered for a lesson observation. Note that this was during the period when lesson observations where generally considered the best method for assessing teaching ability and therefore held some importance.

I had planned to push the boat out a little with a Computing class and get them examining how we might handle arrays of data through actually jumping around in a giant array grid I had taped to the floor before they arrived.

The idea was sound. The learning should have been engaging.

I failed to consider a couple of things. The first thing was that I hadn’t had this particular class for long and therefore they hadn’t fully became used to my active teaching style instead being more used to a passive almost lecture style approach. I also failed to consider that a senior school leader sat at the back of the classroom with a clipboard was a significant variable impacting on the potential success of the lesson.

When it came time for the students to get “engaged” they didn’t. Their nervousness at departing from the norm in terms of both being active and also in terms of such energetic behavior in front of a senior staff member, overcame any enthusiasm and excitement that might have otherwise existed. Despite my best efforts to encourage the students and drum up some excitement the lesson ended up being flat. It failed to live up my expectations.

The lesson learned from this is that it is all well and good having the best intentions regarding an active and participatory lesson however we need to give some consideration to the current norms. If students are used to being sat passive it is unlikely they will be able to directly progress to a lesson filled with student directed activities and groupwork. This particular lesson served me very well when I moved to work in the UAE where initially at least I found students very reluctant to express personal beliefs, views and feelings. There however, having learned my lesson, I went about encouraging and developing this in a more gradual way of a period of time.

On reflection it wasn’t a lesson fail, more a case of Not Yet the lesson I have hoped it would be.

Photo, Fail, by Amboo Who on Flickr

Meeting Ex-Students


Firstly I would like to thank @mrlockyer for providing a list of ideas which ultimately led to this post.

Up until recently I had been out of the UK for a number of years only returning to the UK and to the area within which I taught for a number of years, recently.   As such I haven’t had the opportunity to bump into ex-students or at least the likelihood was very small indeed.

Being back in the UK the Christmas period brought me back to the area where I once taught, and into a local pub with my son for a few festive beers.    It was after a short while that a young man who apparently knew and worked with my son came over and introduced himself as one of my students from around 11 or 12 years ago.   He remembered me and our lessons together with some detail.   He said very positive things about how I had helped him and had an impact on his life.

I consider the fact that a student would remember me after 11 or 12 years as a very positive factor.   The fact that in addition to this they would feel the need to come and speak to me as their ex-teacher.   Also the fact they would be so positive about their experiences in my class.

We all hope to have an impact on the students which we teach however to hear it from an ex-student is an amazing feeling.    At least with this student I can feel I have been successful.

This is one of the reasons we teach!  To have a positive impact on the students which we teach.

[Note: I do acknowledge the conversation mentioned above happened in a pub over the festive season so their may have been an element of the beer speaking, however I hope that wasn’t the predominant factor in the discussion]

Reporting and feedback.


We are currently in the process of finalizing the half term reports ready to get these sent out to parents very soon.   The purpose of the reports is to provide parents with a view of the areas of strength, areas for improvement and suggested actions which their children should undertake to achieve their potential.   The reports are also aimed at providing the students with the same information so that they can act accordingly.

Basically parental reports amount to student feedback albeit with parents also receiving the feedback for their children.

When looking at feedback in a more general way, as it is used with the normal teaching and learning, teachers have very much started to make use of technology.    This includes electronic submission of work and then electronic feedback.    The reason for the application of technology within this area being that technology facilitates quicker feedback and this, the time between the activity and feedback being received, has been identified as an important factor in the success of feedback.   Students can receive feedback without waiting for the next Math lesson for example and therefore act on it sooner.   As such by using technology teacher feedback can be more effective.

Technology also allows us to vary the format of feedback.   Some students may be happy to receive annotations on their work while other students want verbal feedback.   Some students will benefit from verbal feedback plus a video of a worked example while other teachers would prefer a video of their teacher annotating their work and narrating their feedback.    Technology allows for a variety of different formats of feedback plus even for mixed media feedback to be provided.

Technology allows for feedback to be provided as and when required as opposed to being a fixed points within the year.     A teacher can monitor student work via Google drive or one drive, providing feedback on the work as it develops instead of waiting until it is submitted.   This saves time as feedback is timely and therefore prevents students going too far off courses and requiring significant rework to be undertaken.

In summary, technology:

  • Allows for quicker more responsive feedback
  • Allows for varied forms of feedback.
  • Allows for more dynamic feedback to be issue on an “on-demand” basis.

Despite the above advances of feedback in the classroom we still insist in writing and sending home termly reports.     Isn’t it about time we started using the same technology we use in our feedback within our progress reporting?

Photo courtesy of Amboo213 on Flickr

Teaching Internationally

Back in April @teachertoolkit posted with regards teacher stress levels in the UK making mention of the number of staff in the UK who are now considering teaching internationally rather than remaining in the UK.    He also made reference to the fact that teaching internationally is not stress free however the demands and therefore causes of stress may be different.  You can read his full post here.

Having been involved in education within the UK and then within the middle east for the past seven years I thought I might share my viewpoint with regards this.

Firstly let me outline some of the causes of stress which I have experienced which differ from my experiences teaching with the UK.   Firstly language can be a difficulty in that both students and parents of some students may have limited abilities in English and I am afraid that even after my seven years year my understanding of Arabic is still at a basic level at best.    My inability to pick up more than basic Arabic is one regret I have from my experience here in the UAE.   Now I know that there are schools in the UK where significant numbers of students are second language learners of English however I have had limited exposure to such schools.

A second issue can be expectations of parents.   Within the UAE the expectations are that students should achieve very high grades, with 90% to 100% scores being common in some schools.   This has been the way that the education system has worked in the past with students getting marks just for attending, homework, etc leading to overall high grades.    As such teachers assessing students as not reaching these standards and therefore providing them lower grades may come in for unhappy feedback from parents and also from school leaders eager to please parents.

Within the UAE there a significant number of private schools and it is within these that most UK based teachers will find themselves although some may enter into public education schools such as those in Abu Dhabi.   Within private schools a key factor is one of finances with some school owners being more eager than others to make profit from their school.   As such teachers may have variable access to resources plus variable expectations in terms of their workload dependent on the owners of the school within which they work.

Further to finance, the fees levels within UAE schools cover a wide range of fees with high performing schools or widely recognised school brands being able to command higher fee levels.  These fee levels often translate to higher staff wages in a bid to recruit a higher calibre of staff however with these higher wages come significant higher expectations of teachers, in line with or in some cases exceeding expectations in the UK.   Where staff do not meet the expectations they can expect their initial contact not to be renewed.    This contract renewal which usually occurs every two years can be a significant stress where a teacher has relocated with their full family and where not being renewed would require the finding of a new job plus potentially the relocation of the full family.

Contact renewals or the lack of renewal also has a secondary impact in that it can mean that staff turnover in some schools can be quite high.   This frequent change of staff can cause significant stress.    This can be even more evident where the turnover relates to school leaders as this can result in a variety of initiatives being instigated under one leader who does not have their contract renewed followed by a new set of initiatives being implemented under the next leader.

In conclusion on the causes of stress I would suggest that teaching is a stressful job at times no matter where you undertake it with competing requirements of governments, inspection regimes, school owners, school leaders, parents, local community, students, etc.   I do not believe that teaching internationally offers any real reduction in causes of the stress, it is only that the causes are different than those that exist within the UK.

desert_small2 desert_small  pool_small

The key thing however, in my belief, is the lifestyle.    In the UAE I found myself driving to work admiring the scenery as the sun comes up over the desert.   The view can only be described as breath taking.   This is in stark contract to driving through the cold, winter dark, wet weather in the UK.    At the weekend, in the UAE winter, I found myself sat in the sun by the pool.   Not something you could do in the UK sadly.    The UAE is also ultra safe so I could be out with my family and our youngest who is now 9 without concerns for who he might be talking to or for his safety.   I can walk around in the centre of town at night without ever having to worry about who might be behind me.    This additional piece of mind seems like a minor issue however it helps to balance out the stress and make it bearable.    There are also plenty of things to do both yourself and with family although some activities can become quite expensive.   You can go on a track day if you are interested in cars and racing, Ferrari world, Al Ain Zoo, pool parties, Wadi Adventure water park, go-karting, sky diving, swimming with dolphins, jet skiing, dune bashing, to name but a few activities.  The availability of warm weather all year round makes these things possible and provides more opportunities than I experienced when teaching in the North West of England.   In the summer months it must be noted, outdoor activities become a little more difficult as the temperature soars up to around 50 degrees.

In summary I would say that working internationally is not for everyone.   It involves different cultures, expectations, norms, etc.   It also involves leaving family, friends and the familiar behind but if you are open minded it can be a great experience, and for me has been.   I may even blog further with regards some of my experiences as a fair few of them have, in hindsight been amusing or on occasions hilarious.    I had hoped for quite some time wanted to continue the experience for some time however I now my find myself back in the UK and to be honest although I enjoyed my years in the Middle East I am glad to be back in the UK!!

Time Lapse video and Lesson Observations

It has been a while since I last blogged, a fact which has found me disappointed in myself however more on that in a future post.   For the moment I find myself returning to blogging as a result of a recent tweet which introduced me to the LapseIT app.

Today I found myself, having been introduced to the app, deciding to try it out so, much to my wife’s bemusement, this afternoon I bluetak’d my mobile phone to a window to time lapse video the sun going down over the land and housing to the rear of where I live.  The results were a little disappointing due to the fact the app sucked the battery life from my phone resulting in just over 1 ½ hours worth of real life being compressed into 10 seconds or just over 140 frames.  But I digress….

The video despite being disappointing got me quite enthusiastic about the app and the ability to compress time.   This idea of viewing the sum of the events which occurred across 1 ½ hours within a 10 second video got me thinking.   An initial idea was to time lapse video a professional development session and then to replay it at the end of the session as a brief way to recount the activities of the session.   Then it hit me:  The parallels between time lapse videoing and lesson observation as a method to judge teacher quality.

Across the educational world, teachers still often have their ability judged based on a handful of “formal” lesson observations of maybe up to an hour in length.   So that’s four hours of teaching if they are observed four times.   Using the timelapse video analogy that would be a four hour video to watch.    In terms of real time if we consider that a teacher may teach 5 hours per day (and this is a very rough estimate so apologies to the many teachers who teach more than this) over around 180 days (again another rough figure) that equates to a real time period of 900 hours.   So using the time lapse video analogy we get a ratio of 1:225 meaning that for every single hour of formal lesson observation undertaken a teacher teaches another 224 hours which are not observed and are not counted.   This clearly seems to illustrate the flaw in reliance on “formal” lesson observations for judging the quality of teaching.     Judgements of teacher quality therefore need to involve data gathered from a number of sources beyond just these “formal” observations.   Now this need for other data to be considered has been discussed by a number of others in their blogs such as the discussions of @teachertoolkit (read two of his posts here: The role of lesson observations and Can observers spot good teaching ) and as such I will not repeat what others have already covered.    I will leave this post here.   If lesson observation is akin to time lapse video then we are cramming one years work of teaching into four hours!!!    How can we consider this to be an acceptable method to judge the quality of teachers?

Learning styles……yes please.

vak2Learning styles has become a little bit of a discussion area as of late, including on twitter, with research showing that the assessment of students to identify their learning styles and then the use of this data to inform teaching has little or no value.   Meanwhile a number of trainers and training organisations still seem to be providing training and professional development either on learning styles or at least including reference to it.

So here I am wading into the discussion.

Firstly let me be clear that I am not about to enter into the discussion in terms of which of the two viewpoints mentioned above is correct and which is incorrect as I believe another option is possible.   I also see little value in an “I’m right, you’re wrong”  discussion (This is the title of a De Bono book looking into the tendency for discussions to be grounded in black and white or right and wrong as opposed to considering alternative viewpoints and ideas, in case you haven’t read it.   It is a personal favourite of mine).   This is about my viewpoint, based on my experience and the context within which I work and have worked.

For me the key question is what is the purpose of learning styles as a concept?   My answer to this is that the concept of learning styles is to highlight the fact that students learn in different ways such as through visual, auditory and kinaesthetic stimuli (I am using the VAK model of learning styles as this is the one which was originally introduced to me some many years ago as opposed to the later VARK model which I never really identified with).      An aspect of this may be the use of a questionnaire which shows students that they have differing tendencies, as part of a programme of developing students understanding of how they learn.    So for a teacher, and a student, it is about the fact we learn in different ways, and I would also add that these ways change depending on what we are learning and the context within which we are learning.

Just to be clear, I believe the use of a questionnaire to develop data on learning styles, which is then used to inform teaching is of little value as the learning style preferred by students will be affected by the intended learning, the activities designed to promote this learning and also other contextual variables.   In addition to this the divisions of VAK are artificial and only put in place in order to help or ease our understanding of the concept.   It amounts to classification of students into either 3, for VAK, or 4 if using VARK, arbitrary groups.   The use of this kind of approach at a time when there is continual discussion about students’ individual needs is very poor in my opinion.   It reminds me of a scene from a Monty Python movie where a man addresses a gathered crowd telling them that they should not follow him as they are all individuals to which the crowd chants back, “We are all individuals”.

That said learning Styles, as a concept, is useful in that it serves to identify that we all have styles of learning.    As such a teacher that uses a single approach is unlikely to cater for the needs of all students within their class and as such they must look to a variety of approaches and, increasingly, to making learning student centred where the students decide their approach to the learning, such that it suits their style in the given learning situation.   So learning styles is of value, as a concept, however learning styles, in terms of VAK and questionnaires to identify which students are visual learners, etc. is not.   Not sure where that puts me in the discussion I mentioned at the start, however that’s for you to determine.

One size fits all.

answers_smI recently worked with some teachers looking at how ICT could be integrated into lessons and how they might support this process.   During the course of the session I made the point that the approaches which work best are likely to be different for different teachers.   I also raised the fact that the context within which they operate may also impact on which techniques and approaches work.      An approach that might work in an inner city boys primary school may not work in a rural girls secondary school.    As such teachers need to be searching for ideas, experimenting and generally being proactive in their approach.   They cannot afford to wait for a professional development session to deliver all the answers.

This got me thinking about the theories and models which we use in education, as well as about some posts I have read recently.     I previously blogged about how a few people had raised issues with De Bonos thinking hats ( .    Now personally I like De Bonos thinking hats in terms of a teaching tool which, in certain situations, can be very useful, however equally I can see that in other situations it may be inappropriate.    I can also see that for some teachers it may not suit their teaching style however this does not mean that the tool is lacking in value.     Equally where De Bonos thinking hats is useful, I do not see this is adding to its value.    It is a tool and its usefulness or lack thereof depends on the context within which it is used and the purpose for which it is used.

Thinking about this further, I considered Blooms taxonomy which generally I have found to be treated as fact.    An earlier discussion with a colleague, who introduced me to the SOLO taxonomy ( , led me to question this.    Both Blooms and SOLO are just 2 of a number of models or tools which we can use to help us in our teaching.    They may be appropriate in certain circumstances and inappropriate in others.

So to my point: We as teachers need to be open to new ideas and to listen to others suggestions.    It may be that we disregard these new ideas as inappropriate however we need to remember that this is based on our personal preferences and on the context within which we operate.    The idea itself cannot be considered as appropriate or inappropriate when devoid of context.    Equally we need to apply different models at different times rather than relying on a single “correct” model.    Teaching is a complex task, so the more tools and ideas we have available to us, the more effective our teaching is likely to be.   Personal Learning Networks are a key part of this.


bulbThe other day I was reintroduced to something I had seen a while back but forgotten about; the five minute lesson plan (   An excellent resource for planning lessons that is quick, focussed and clear yet effective.    I then came across a mention of the 5 minute lesson review (, which is equally quick and focussed.

This reminded me of De Bono’s book, simplicity.   As a fan of some of De Bono’s books, I can’t say I found simplicity to be one of his better works however in this case it got me thinking. I remember starting teaching with lessons plans listing the objectives, time, student activities and teacher activities.   Not long later I remember being told to add differentiation as a section to my plan.  This was to improve my plan by making sure I referenced how my lesson was to include differentiation.   A little bit further into my teaching career and SEN students and G&T students were added as boxes to fill in.   The lesson plan was 2 pages by this point.   Again, a little further on in my career and yet more columns, rows and boxes were added in order to further “improve” the lesson planning process.  References to blooms taxonomy, learning styles, etc. had to be included.   The process of planning a lesson by writing a plan now took time I didn’t have plus was a complex process, having become so in the quest for improvement.

But what is the core point of planning?   To me its the quest for outstanding lessons where learning takes place for all students.   Does the filling in of 100 different boxes help?   I don’t think so and those adopting the 5 minutes lesson plan seem to agree.

If we can over complicate something as simple as the lesson plan,  what else have we overcomplicated in the sphere of education?

ICT in lessons across the school

roadHaving spent some time today in a school discussing various aspects of ICT use in lessons across the school, including school policies, software tools as well as hardware configuration, I found myself presented with a period of quiet thinking time; namely a 1 hour drive home.

As I drove the long, relatively straight and fairly unpopulated road, I sat thinking about my post from yesterday, the day I had spent discussing ICT in schools and also the whole issue of encouraging the use of ICT in lessons across a school. The word “school” in the phrase “ICT use in lessons across the school” stuck in my head and I couldn’t work out why. As such I gave some thought to what it meant I arrived at the fact that it referred to the use of ICT by all teachers in the school. The word “school” was being used as a general term to cover all those involved in teaching.

So all teachers should use ICT, but are teachers not each individual’s with individual skills and experience? Is the job of the teacher not to provide students with the best learning experiences possible, even if that may not involve ICT?

As a teacher said to me, some staff have very basic ICT skills and are not that motivated towards the use of ICT. If they provide high quality learning experiences, should this matter?

This brought me back to the term “school”. It was being used as a general term to mean all teachers as the school is the sum of all teachers efforts, among other things. But what if what “school” should mean, is that across the school there should be SOME evidence of ICT use in lessons? It would then be for school leaders to decide what “Some” means in terms of how often, how many teachers, etc, and this decision could be justified based on knowledge of the staff, equipment available, etc.

We often refer to the need to use ICT in lessons because our students live in a technological world and have been brought up with this level of technology however how often do we consider that some teachers were not brought up in this world, barely engage in the digital world in their daily lives and are not motivated towards it. We don’t consider it fair to drag students back, but have no concerns about pulling ALL teachers forward, despite the fact that there are those that neither have the skills, experience or the motivation.

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