“I’m a Year 11/13 teacher in a Covid-classroom, get me out of here!!”…

How can we prepare students for their GCSEs and A Levels in a time of remote learning and teaching from the front? – PART TWO

Alex Fairlamb (@LambHeartTea) from HA Secondary Committee continues with part two of her blogpost focused on teaching exam-classes in Covid world. Once again, Alex has consulted colleagues around the country and we are really grateful to everyone whose helped with these blogposts – great #OBHD effort!

March 2020 saw a new era in teaching dawn – the rise of blended learning/remote learning and ‘teaching from the front’.  Before March 2020, remote learning was a foreign concept to me and one that I had limited experience of.  I don’t think that I am alone in that. However, there are some institutions and practitioners who well prepared for remote learning, and that’s why I think it’s interesting to look at the wide range of tips from various practitioners in this blog, each with their own unique contexts and varying levels of expertise.

The first blog was dedicated to remote learning. This second blog is focused on teaching from the front and how we can use formative assessment effectively to help strengthen prior learning, plan for pupil progress and spot misconceptions. The intention is that both of these aspects will support you in teaching students both in and out of the classroom, as we enter a context of varying tiers at different times.  With children in their GCSE and A Level years, I hope that this will be useful in helping to ensure that they can map, master and move forward successfully towards their examinations. Underpinning all of this, you will notice that I use positive language – this is key for students.  We don’t want them to think that they have ‘gaps’ or need to ‘repair’ learning.  What they need to do is identify areas to be strengthened, and go on to do that.

Motivatonal language

‘Teaching from the Front’

With ‘teaching from the front’ there has been a positive shift towards a greater amount of formative feedback.

Formative assessment and self assessment will be vital to us during the period when we will be deep marking just key tasks and avoiding taking books in to mark.  

EEF report A marked improvement and the subsequent Independent Teacher Workload Review Group’s Eliminating Unnecessary Workload around Marking highlights how reams of endless written feedback has no impact on student learning.  Instead, limited but high quality written feedback is better – it’s all about the QUALITY of the feedback.

The quality of the formative assessment and the feedback needs to be high and it needs to be effective, for us to be able to:

  • Accurately monitor pupil progress
  • Plan for students accordingly (differentiation)
  • Address misconceptions/re-teach aspects
  • Know when to move the pupils forward
  • Determine students that require in class intervention

Gauging Pupil Progress during a lesson

Taken from Tom Sherrington @teacherhead

Cold Calling – pose a question, allowing for thinking time, then cold call.  No-opt out policy.  If a student gets it wrong, correct it as a teacher or ask a peer to then revisit that same question and answer with the student who got it wrong.

Mini whiteboards (backs of their planner) – pose a question and they all have to hold up answer – good for think, pair, share, retrieval quizzes, true/false, multiple choice questions.

Hinge questions – key questions which students have to respond to verbally or on whiteboards at key points of the lesson before moving on.  You can share these at the start so that students know what they are building towards answering.

Because, but, so – give students a sentence to expand upon which the next student has to extend further…

  • Student 1 – “Because……”
  • Student 2 – “…So…..”
  • Student 3 – “…..Therefore…”

Verbal planning – plan a response as a class, each adding parts with the teacher building it up on the board – you can gauge success by the contributions they suggest/provide. 

Model answer marking – using a success criteria to discuss the answer – students state where they can see success and why.

Spot the misconception  – misconceptions on the board, students have to identify which is the misconception and explain why.

Say it again, better– accept student’s first response but help them to reframe a better, more complete response.

Short writing loops. Breaking down a task into a series of smaller tasks which allow for learn > apply > feedback loop. Format:

  • Chunk of content
  • Practice together
  • Produce independently
  • Feedback and self-assessment. 
  • Move onto the next part of the task.  
  • Means frequent feedback in short bursts.


  • Live modelling on the board.  if delivering a lesson where it is livestreamed to some students at home too, this could be done on an interactive whiteboard using platforms such as Jamboree, which will also share to your PowerPoint on your desktop
  • Scaffolding supports e.g. sentence starters which reduce over time
  • Worked Examples – examples of success, model answers
  • Self-Assessment – display correct answers or build up answers live whilst they mark.  This can also include model answers.
  • Feedback – a whole class feedback sheet
  • Guided reading – displaying information on the interactive whiteboard whilst students have a paper copy and reading it aloud (teacher or student can) and pausing to ask questions during the reading of it. See@SPBeale guidance on this at https://mrthorntonteach.com/howto/ 


The below on visualisers is taken directly from @mrthorntonteach How to sheet+video here: https://mrthorntonteach.com/howto/

  • Live modelling – Write a worked example under the visualiser whilst talking through it
  • Feedback – Live Marking. Grab a students book during the lesson, class feedback under the visualiser
  • Comparative – Annotate a top level answer whilst students compare and annotate their own before redrafting 
  • Polaroid – Spot & share greatness!
  • Walking Talking Mock – Do a live mock under your visualiser.
  • Microplanning – Annotate an exam paper, modelling ‘microplanning’ with only 60 seconds per question. 
  • Beat the Teacher – Teacher and students write a model answer, comparatively mark together
  • Collaboration – As a class analyse a source/text/diagram with you modelling the first stages of this. 


This will require consistency of application and frequent practice, in order to embed it successfully.

  • Success criteria – tick lists that they can use to mark answer
  • Pupil friendly mark schemes and/or examiner reports
  • Model Answers/worked examples at varying grade levels.  Deconstruct this as a class and determine the features of excellence and areas to improve
  • Retrieval tasks including retrieve and apply, then correct using cold calling to do this
  • PLCs 
  • Plenary / Exit knowledge tasks


What are practitioners around the country doing?

Rachel Ball, Assistant Vice Principal (@MrsBallAP)

Preparing for GCSE’s 2020-21 (Covid-19 Coping)

Teaching Year 11 at the moment is a very tricky balance. One the one hand many are feeling worried and overwhelmed by the lack of control over their situation, many forced to isolate already, and so confidence building is necessary. On the other hand, many need motivating and a bit of pressure to put on to ensure they approach this year seriously. Mark Enser gave some brilliant advice in his 3rd July TES blog much of which we have implemented.

First, retrieval is crucial. We don’t have time to reteach topics from lockdown, so it’s important to use retrieval to find out where the gaps and misconceptions are. We use retrieval practice every single lesson and homework in varied forms. Students also know why we do this and how they can do this independently.

Second, we are putting a lot of work into explaining things really well and teaching generative learning methods such as Cornell notes for students to record their knowledge in an accessible way, which also aids retrieval.

Thirdly, we are using lots and lots of live modelling for exam questions using our visualisers as students are often out of practice with exam questions which were hard to teach well over lockdown. We have visualisers in every room and we use MEOLS Cops ‘I do, We do, You do’ approach, gradually removing scaffolds over time. We are teaching in unusual and constantly changing times and there are no gimmicks or quick fixes. We believe the more that we can do to simply build students confidence and implement good routines with learning the better.

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