The five levels of engagement in remote learning

How online learning will leave an important legacy

Tom Cragg

Principal, Nishkam School, West London

During the first 2 months of school closure from March to May 2020, teachers had free reign to set pupils a range of tasks and deliver them however they saw fit. This gave us a chance to look at how pupils were engaging with the various styles of activities set.

Through anecdotal feedback gathered from our fortnightly 1-2-1 conversations with pupils, coupled with our analysis of rates of work return per teacher, it was becoming increasingly apparent that pupils showed the highest levels of engagement when there was some kind of personal input from the teacher, particularly in video format. Indeed, the highest level of engagement and therefore highest quality work, came in the subject where full video lessons were being produced from the outset. In addition, some of our SEN pupils have found that tasks are more accessible when they are explained both in writing and verbally.

Our survey results

To put our theory to the test, we conducted a pupil survey towards the end of Summer 1 and unsurprisingly, the pupils fed back very clearly that their preference was to see their teachers and feel like they were having some kind of interaction with them.

The results of our pupil survey coincided with the government announcement that Key Stage 3 pupils would not be returning to school until September at the earliest, so at this point we decided to up our game and make it an expectation of staff that they include in all their lessons from Summer 2 onwards at least one of levels 1-4 from the ‘5 levels of engagement’. The reason for offering some flexibility is that we recognise different colleagues have different home situations, which could at times make it difficult for some teachers to record extensive video content in their home setting. The 5 levels are as follows:

Level 1 – audio only

The teacher simply records their voice into a sound file, explaining what the main task of the lesson is.

Level 2 – Power Point voiceovers

A sound file of the teacher’s voice is inserted into each Power Point slide in the form of an explanation or commentary, for example.

Level 3 – Brief video overview of the lesson

A short video of the teacher is embedded into the opening page or slide of the lesson, outlining the objective and key task(s).

Level 4 – Full lesson content on video

A full lesson’s worth of material is provided in video format by the teacher so that they are visible against the backdrop of what is usually a supporting PPT presentation. At various points, pupils may pause the video in order to complete a task. This is advantageous, as they can complete the task at their own pace. Other media such as video clips and pictures of other pupils’ work from previous lessons are used to vary the style of delivery.

Level 5 – Live online sessions

The nearest that pupils can come to experiencing a lesson without physically being in school. The lesson is delivered through a video-conferencing tool such as Microsoft Teams or Zoom and live feedback can be given on pupils’ work. It is our ultimate goal to get as close as possible to ‘Level 5 delivery’ from all our teachers.

Remote learning champions

A separate group of colleagues was formed. This group consists of teachers who have taken it upon themselves to really explore the possibilities presented by remote learning over the past two months.

Next Steps During Lockdown

Level 5 is currently being rolled out over the course of Summer 2. From week 2 onwards, it will be compulsory for one weekly remote tutor session to take place in Years 7 and 8. In addition, the Maths team are trialing ‘closing the gap’ lessons with Key Stage 3 classes from week 1, so lessons learned from this experience will be shared with other staff in the phase as we move gradually up to level 5. There is also a live food lesson planned to talk pupils through a recipe together.

Increasing the levels of engagement up to level 5 where possible will be an important part of our strategy to maintain the bond between pupils and school at this time of closure for the vast majority and will provide us with a blueprint for remote learning that we will most likely need next year as social distancing rules remain in place.

The Longer Term

The rapid upskilling of staff in the use of technology has left us in a position where we are suddenly working in some of the progressive ways that we had probably wanted to for quite a while, but time and other overriding priorities have stood in our way. The school closure has now forced our development in this area and leaves us with some excellent opportunities to change the way we work for the better.

With the extensive bank of video lessons that has been created, pupils will be able to revisit lessons at their own pace, which is particularly powerful in terms of differentiation and ideal for revision. 

The way we are delivering content could transform students’ experience of cover lessons. Even when the teacher is physically absent, with pre-recorded content, they can still be present.  

If any student is absent for an extended period of time, they will still be able to access their work and experience some level of interaction with their teacher.  

Running holiday or weekend revision classes for key exam classes will no longer necessitate a potentially time-consuming trip to and from school, as these activities can also run remotely and of course be recorded and sent to students for them to re-cap their knowledge.  

The way we engage in CPD could well change forever: 

The vast majority of external CPD can be run through webinars or live sessions at times that do not impact lessons (or budgets). 

An unexpected spin-off of recording video content is that we have had to engage in one of the most uncomfortable of activities – watching ourselves on camera. This is already proving to be a powerful source of self-reflection and therefore development for colleagues and is bringing to light some of our ‘blind spots’.

So out of a time of much anxiety and significant disruption to our students’ education can come an exciting new way of working that has huge long-term benefits for staff and students alike. The cloud we have been using more than ever certainly does seem to have a silver lining.

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