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27 May 2021

The Teaching of English During a Global Pandemic

The Teaching of English During a Global Pandemic

Zoom, Teams, Google Classroom, Loom are all systems we have quickly become familiar with and utilised during school closures. But what do we do with them now? As schools have spent time, effort and money on setting up remote learning, how can it be maximised and put to good use?

There are a number of teaching methods used by schools which OFSTED have sought to clarify (Remote education research - GOV.UK ( all of which have their own merits and uses.

Remote Learning

This is defined as ‘any learning that happens outside of the classroom with the teacher not present in the same location as the pupils’. It includes both digital remote learning (see below) and non-digital remote learning. Some examples of this include home learning packs which pupils can take home when not in schools linked to the work being delivered in the classroom but which they can work through with an adult or independently.

Digital remote learning

This is the practice that many schools have undertaken during lockdown and refers to remote learning being ‘delivered through digital technologies’. It is what is referred to as online learning and we have worked with schools on how to adapt their classroom practice to be more suited to an online platform. Examples have included:

  • Developing PowerPoints linked to English objectives and texts which pupils can work through at their own pace.
  • Spelling PowerPoints based on revision of taught rules and patterns, with pupils having the opportunity to practise, apply and reflect on this learning.
  • Phonics videos which stick to the routines and structure of live lessons.

Blended learning

This is the area where we can really look at changing the ways in which we teach English in order to maximise new teaching methods. It involves ‘a mix of face-to-face and remote methods’. OFSTED describe this as a ‘flipped classroom’, allowing for an input which happens remotely with further practise and support happening back in class. There are further areas where this can be developed which would have a great impact on the independent learning of pupils and the power to reach all regardless of ability:

  • Developing a ‘pre-teach’ aspect to lessons – Pupils could access key knowledge or information prior to the lesson, enabling them to then use this effectively in their writing.
  • Differentiation of tasks – Pupils could be extended or supported via pre-recorded videos of key teaching points e.g. modelling of grammar conventions or spelling rules. If they need to re-watch to enable them to complete a task with more independence or at their level, they can access what they need via iPad or laptops.
  • Support during bubble closures or self-isolation – Once the systems are in place, pupils can continue and pick up learning in the event of further disruption to teaching.
  • Effective interventions – Use of staff time and resources can be maximised by allowing support to take place remotely with follow up tasks being provided. This would be particularly useful if support staff were unable to cross bubbles.
  • Homework tasks – Purposeful tasks can be set and accessed remotely. This could again be to gather information prior to learning or to rehearse skills and objectives to reflect on learning.
  • Immersion in a topic to support writing – Platforms and scenes such as those provided by Inspire Education or online videos can be utilised in more depth as a starting point to writing.
  • Summer school/catch-up provision – This time could be made all the more purposeful if blended learning was used, allowing pupils to access content from their teachers which can then be supported by staff running the catch-up provision.

Synchronous learning

This term relates to ‘live’ lessons and how we have historically taught in classrooms. It is not however limited to being in the same location anymore and so can include activities which take place in a live online setting. Many schools chose to continue live learning online and if there is a need for this again in the future, we have some further tips and ideas:

  • Keep listening time to a minimum and break up into short burst tasks and activities e.g engage pupils with vocabulary challenges, handwriting exercises, word building games etc.
  • Model writing as you would do within the classroom. This is key to successful writing and it is so important for pupils to see the writing process in action (even more so if they are not in the same location as the teacher to talk through their ideas and address misconceptions). This can also be recorded for pupils to play back and remind themselves during their own writing tasks about what they need to do.

    When modelling writing remember the following:
    • Elicit your thoughts as a writer, making deliberate mistakes and explaining your writing choices.
    • Make sure the board you are writing on is clearly visible (it may not be obvious how it will look on screen so make sure you check).
    • Ensure that letter formation is also clearly visible to pupils. Make it deliberate and clear so that it shows up on screen.
    • Break down modelling into sections before letting pupils have a go on their own.
  • Choose objectives carefully and consider which can be more accessible when pupils are not in the classroom with you. This may mean rearranging your long-term plans to ensure that pupils are with you when some of the trickier concepts are explored. We work on a mastery approach. This provides pupils with a clear focus on a smaller number of objectives that they can then apply well within a range of shorter writing tasks. This avoids the tendency to try to cram too much into longer, extended pieces.
  • Remember to apply effective systems to support pupils with the planning and editing of their work.

As you can see there are many elements to the systems schools have put in place these last few months. Hopefully you can also see how many of them can cross over and continue to be used successfully to support pupils with their English and how to make the most of each one. If this is our ‘new norm’ then let’s use it to our advantage.

aSian Collinson is a DfE accredited Letters and Sounds trainer and educational consultant with The Literacy Company who provide support, training and resources to schools across the UK. She has many years of teaching experience across the primary age range with a particular focus in KS1 and SEND and a vast range of leadership experience in CLLD, phonics, English interventions and literacy.



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