Creating A Supportive, Online Environment For Pupils

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Teaching Online


Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
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How can teachers create a safe and secure, online learning environment?

Today, every teacher across the world will be teaching pupils online rather than in the classroom; the challenge for even the most tech-savvy will be how we can recreate classroom conditions that enable all pupils to thrive…

Good teaching is also good, online teaching

No matter which differentiation strategies you decide to use, to provide quality first teaching online is a challenge for the best of us. Although this should not be used as an excuse to avoid using the technology, we should work hard to understand the safeguarding risks as well as the technology and their security settings. I’ve been thinking about how I would approach this myself if I was faced with 30 pupils for an hour, and how I would approach their range of needs and online behaviours versus my current sphere of work with teachers, operating in the same capacity remotely.

There are some similarities. I would argue that good teaching is good teaching in whatever capacity, yet using online technology to communicate with pupils over a sustained period of time is definitely a new challenge. However, there are many people who have been teaching pupils online for decades. It’s been happening for more than 20 years in moocs within further and higher education. Plus more and more high-school pupils are learning remotely as their careers in sport or drama, for example, take them around the world at school age.

Developing subject knowledge, online

Here are my recommendations for how teachers can approach the new digital epoch to help create a supportive and inclusive classroom environment for all students, regardless of ability and background. Ask yourself the following questions to ensure you are including techniques in your planning to allow all students to access subject knowledge, online:

  1. How do you support your students to make links and build on previous learning and experiences?
  2. How do you model and encourage resilience, online? Are errors still seen as a natural part of learning?
  3. Memory and schematic maps: What online retrieval exercises do you plan to support long-term retention?
  4. Do you provide thinking and rehearsal time before students speak up in front of the class?
  5. Do you monitor student understanding and allow for individual explanation? How does this look online?
  6. What technology are you using to survey the pupils’ opinions and answers?
  7. Do you use visuals and identify keywords for clarity in your lessons? Do you clarify keywords, provide synonyms, and rephrase key content in a variety of ways?
  8. Do you explicitly teach subject-specific vocabulary? How do you do this via Google Classroom or Microsoft Teams?
  9. How do you use group work (online) for students to complete purposeful, cognitively demanding tasks?
  10. Do you create opportunities to engage with EAL students or students with SEND?
  11. Do you consciously interact with learners who do not speak English in your classroom? How does this scenario work online? If receiving EAL/SEND specialist support, do you plan your teaching tasks collaboratively?
  12. And if you have a teaching assistant, are they actively engaged in target setting for targeted EAL/SEND students? And is this information shared with you prior to the lesson?

Going with the flow…

Here are my top tips for ‘going with the flow’ whilst teaching online.

  1. Before you can ‘go with the learning’, you must first be clear about the knowledge and skills you want students to learn and take away from the (online) lesson. In your lesson planning, make sure you shift your focus away from the activities you want students to complete and instead think about what you want students to learn and why.
  2. Ensure you have a secure overview of the starting points, progress and context of every student you are teaching. This will help you adapt your lesson plans on the spot to meet the specific needs of the students in your class. Try my data CPD exercise and test your knowledge.
  3. When students are completing an online task, how can you plan to interact with each student privately, working with them closely. Listen, rather than talk. That way, you will be able to spot the students who are progressing and those who may need a helping hand, so you can decide where your lesson needs to go next to maximise learning.
  4. Assess work ‘live’ in lesson time, with the students to see immediately how your students are progressing and which specific areas they need to improve. You will then know whether you can move on to the next phase of learning or whether there are any particular aspects you need to re-teach.
  5. Use questioning regularly in your lessons to check whether learning has stuck and if not, adjust your lesson plan accordingly.

Stockpile resources and activities that you can pull out of a hat to help you recap on and reinforce the key learning if you sense that something just hasn’t stuck.

It’s certainly not an easy challenge for teachers, but there will be some teachers who are thriving in this online world. The question is, ‘what are they doing and how can you adopt these techniques so that pupils are not disadvantaged?’

2 thoughts on “Creating A Supportive, Online Environment For Pupils

  1. A really thought provoking article! I’ve recently completed two weeks of online teaching and found the most important thing I had to do was spend more time scripting my questions to get to the desired end result for pupil learning. Often I take for granted what non/verbal queues can do to allow students to grasp key concepts – I found online o had to spend more time thinking about the learning so it’s such a relief to see that highlighted in this article!

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