Strategies and tools for classroom teaching from two metres away

During the Covid-19 pandemic, teaching across bubbles means we must stay two metres away from our students. I would normally circulate constantly while students are working on tasks so that I can glance at the quantity and quality of their work. Now, I need to check their understanding at a distance.

When we can’t get close enough to our students to read their work or answer their individual questions, we need to reflect on the way we present information, the questions we ask and the way we collect students’ responses. We also need to consider what tools are available to help us.

Enable students to work independently

To reduce the degree of support students need during tasks, we can increase the difficulty incrementally, with practice between tasks to secure their knowledge. To ensure students can work independently we need to model problems first and create or adapt resources for this purpose.

I am considering support videos to help students, for example when drawing graphs or doing practical work. My students have devices so they could watch the video, pausing it at each stage to copy what I do. But I have found that just showing students a video before they start a task can help them follow instructions better.

A photo of a teacher in front of a class of young students with their arms raised and tablet computers

Source: © Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images

What are your options when teaching from a distance?

Easy ways to check understanding 

Collecting responses from as many students as possible is important to identify students who have misconceptions. Hand signals are one way of doing this, thumbs up/down for true/false or holding up a certain number of fingers for multiple choice. Mini whiteboards are an excellent resource when whole class questioning, but their use can be problematic. Equipment must either stay within the bubble or be quarantined for three days before being used again. I would suggest restricting their use to one bubble, preferably the one you see most often. As well as allowing all students to show an answer during questioning, unconfident students can do their work on a whiteboard and show it to you at a distance.

Asking multiple choice questions where all students must respond is a good way of assessing your class’s understanding. Using diagnostic questions (pdf) gives an insight into any misconceptions held by the group so that you can frame a more effective explanation. Responses can be collected by hand gestures, cards or Plickers.

Work through a problem on the board, bringing students closer, but not too close!

Plickers is a useful tool that involves holding a QR code at a certain orientation to indicate the answer to a multiple choice question. A quick scan over the class with a tablet/smart phone with the app collects the students’ responses. If the students have access to devices Socrative is a useful application, allowing you to see their responses to multiple choice questions in real time.

As during lockdown, technology allows us to see students complete their work in real time but at a distance. Students can work on a shared electronic document using Microsoft Word or Google Docs. Padlet, Nearpod and Classkick are other applications that allow live collection of work.

Approaches to hands-free assessment

Developing an environment of honesty and self-assessment is important. Give students time to complete tasks and provide them with the answers to self-assess at strategic points as they work. This will allow those who have not succeeded with the initial set of questions to seek support. It should be possible to work through a problem on the board, bringing these students closer, but not too close! But students need to feel they can ask for support.

Marking books after the lesson is another tricky proposition. Policy varies between schools and can include washing hands and quarantining work before and after marking. Self-marking quizzes have become an important feature of my teaching since lockdown. They are a useful homework as I can see how students have done and adapt the next lesson accordingly. Websites like Kerboodle and Seneca provide self-marking tasks so you don’t need to create your own.

Living in a pandemic means we have had to accept changes to many aspects of our lives. With a little creativity, using the tools available, you can still teach effectively even from two metres away.