Distance Learning – Journey to Enlightenment

Like many teachers who found out they were going to be implementing distance learning for the foreseeable future, I felt apprehensive about the changes ahead. Teaching was going to be different, but at least there was a firm plan in place. All I needed to do was become proficient in using Microsoft Teams (never even heard of it), seamlessly integrate Flipgrid and Polly into my lessons (nope, not a clue) and film myself teaching every day (literally my worst nightmare). All this while ensuring that my lessons were engaging enough so that students would feel compelled to complete all work to the best of their ability without the teacher presence they would have in the classroom. What could possibly go wrong?

Well…pretty much everything.

First of all, I hadn’t anticipated how much the students would write in the group chat due to their excitement at the prospect of social interaction with their peers. On top of this, I learned the hard way that sharing a file for the class through Teams meant that anyone could edit it – my carefully planned PowerPoint ended up with scribbles all over it and slides being deleted so that no one could access the work. Sharing lessons in the Assignments tab didn’t make life much easier. Although this meant that students could upload photos of their work, offering them feedback on this presented a challenge in itself – some photos were upside down, some were too far away to read the handwriting clearly and some, well, simply weren’t handed in.

The amount of failure I experienced in the first week of distance learning brought back very vivid memories of my NQT year. I wanted to somehow emulate the classroom experience for students, yet to do so required keeping an eye on how all the students were getting on with the work while offering support to those who were struggling and challenge to those who needed it. All while we were sitting in twenty different houses dotted around the city.

My epiphany moment came in Week 3. OneDrive. If I could create an individual folder for each student on OneDrive then it could work in the same way as the exercise book does in the classroom. This would allow me to check how the students are getting on with the work in real time and also mean that students could see me logged into their PowerPoints online, offering the much needed teacher presence that my previous online lessons were missing.

This required a whole new approach to planning; my resources needed to promote independent learning like never before. While some students could happily work through questions online with little guidance, others missed the gentle encouragement of the teacher to boost their confidence. Consequently, a new routine was created. One Drive allowed me to dip in and out of each student’s work and make note of who was thriving during distance learning and who needed further support. Classes could then be split up into three groups in a lesson; those who were ready to work on a challenge task, those who could continue the learning independently and those who would benefit from working with the teacher to talk through their ideas.

We soon settled into our new routine. Each class would come together at the start of the lesson with a critical thinking question that we would discuss through Teams. I could then explain to students the groups they were working in and the tasks they were expected complete before they checked in with me at the end of the lesson. This meant I could stay on the call with a small group who could benefit from more personalised teacher support and questioning. All students were aware that I could see exactly how they were getting on and they knew that I stayed on the call for the entire lesson in case of any problems or questions for me.

Although this learning cannot fully replicate the traditional classroom experience, as I know for a fact the students miss seeing their friends at school every day, I feel much more confident that they will continue to make progress in their learning. And the students aren’t the only ones learning – Flipgrid and Polly are now firmly in my teaching arsenal!


Ms Emma Sanderson
Head of EnglishEmma Sanderson is the Head of English at Hartland International School. After graduating from The University of York, she completed her teacher training in the UK through the Teach First graduate scheme. Emma has vast experience in curriculum design and was instrumental in the implementation and subsequent embedding of the English curriculum in her previous school. She prides herself on her holistic model of teaching and ensures that her lessons are engaging, challenging and personalised, with a real-life application. Emma completed her NPQSL last year and continues to use educational literature to inform her teaching and leadership in school.