Applying cutting edge pedagogy to remote learning: retrieval, hook, knowledge, application and review

First posted on the Herts & Bucks TSA blog on 20 March 2020.

In September 2018 my colleague Martyn Essery (@MrEssery) and I launched something we called ‘The Reach Teach Toolkit,’ which was created to give teachers access to cutting edge teaching strategies centred on evidenced-based research. Essentially, the Toolkit is based on five essential stages of learning, including retrieval practice, hooks (into learning), knowledge transmission, deliberate practice/application and review. In school we have set up working groups to research, trial and share ideas associated with each identified stage of learning; this has resulted in files full of shared resources (hence the ‘Toolkit’) as well as popular share fairs and mini-TeachMeets in our INSETs. The Toolkit has also been positively commented on by external reviewers, including Ofsted and Challenge Partners.

Screen Shot 2018-09-07 at 18.26.19
Symbol credit: © Oliver Caviglioli

It is important to state here that the Toolkit is based on the best type plagiarism – adapting evidenced informed best practice to the context of our school. The Toolkit is underpinned by the ideas in Barak Rosenshine’s paper ‘Principles of Instruction’ , which is an excellent starting point for evidence-based practice, as well as Shaun Allison and Andy Tharby’s Making Every Lesson Count, which gives an overview of the whole process of teaching for durable learning. The Toolkit was also inspired by the work of Doug LemovOliver Caviglioli, Peps MccreaDaisy Christodoulou and the authors of Make It Stick as well as many more excellent teacher researchers, thinkers and bloggers.

However, since our schools were closed on 20th March, we have been developing strategies in which to adapt our pedagogical modus operandi to remote learning. Below is an exposition of our approach, which we hope will be of use to colleagues elsewhere, including those using different technology to support their pupils’ remote learning. Moreover, this blog, which is based on a presentation by Martyn Essery, was inspired by Making Every Distance Lesson Count, where Shaun Allison et al. apply the principles from their excellent book to distance learning.

It is assumed that most schools will be using technology similar to Google Classroom or a virtual learning environment (VLE) that facilitate presentations, videos and comments or questioning via streams/feeds of information.

Preparing for remote learning

Obviously, before applying the ideas of the five stages of learning outlined above to remote learning, there are some general housekeeping rules that should be abided by in order to facilitate good ‘remote learning practice’. For instance, we should endeavour to:

  • create a supportive atmosphere in all our tasks and communications with pupils – remote learning is new for them, and it will take time for them to adapt;
  • be aware that adaptation will be helped by routines – consistency in the way in which we present work on Google Slides or Microsoft PowerPoint, and how our lessons are planned;
  • accept that any virtual learning environment, Google Classroom, VLE or other application is our virtual classroom – explain our expectations with regard to layout of work, conduct on our comments stream/feed;
  • be realistic about what we want pupils to achieve – consider the differing abilities in our classes or pupils’ access to resources at home;
  • use praise to motivate – in public on our videos and stream/feed for the whole class, and in private comments on Classroom/VLE for individuals;
  • consider those in our classes who are disadvantaged – not everyone will have a printer or all the stationery you might expect them to have.


Retrieval practice includes strategies that encourage recall of previously taught information. There are now countless studies that demonstrate retrieval practice’s role in enhancing and boosting learning. In terms of remote learning, we should:

  • start each lesson with a recap of the prior lesson – this could be an explanation on a video you record, or a task based on what pupils completed last time;
  • continue to abide by the principles of spaced practice and repetition – ask questions about topics from a few weeks and months ago;
  • think about easy wins to get pupils feeling confident about their learning – remind them of things they did well, and consider making the start of your lessons deliberately straightforward too.


With pupils sitting at home it is questionable whether they will engage with the material set. However, it is incumbent upon us to try and engineer some form of engagement with the material in our online lessons. Here, simple and quick ‘hook’ activities should be planned to engage pupils with remote learning. This could include:

  • ensuring that pupils are very clear on what and why they are learning is even more important when we don’t have them in front of us;
  • thinking of the initial hook as a way to explain how their learning fits into the big picture of what we are teaching;
  • using appropriate media, such as pictures, music or clips that entrance pupils;
  • sharing examples of excellent work/expected outcomes if possible;
  • picking the best diagram/image/description to show what we are teaching about, and then reuse it in future tasks/lessons.


Teaching subject knowledge remotely is a complex issue that involves understanding key underlying issues such as how pupils learn and the way teachers’ knowledge is put into action by pupils at home. Of course, we may question how we actually ‘teach’ remotely, but it is worth remembering that we are still planning a sequence of tasks that should help pupils understand subject knowledge; this is still teaching. Here, we should:

  • think of our screens as our whiteboard – only show what we absolutely need to in order to reduce cognitive overload;
  • introduce one concept at a time and have short tasks to embed them;
  • link new concepts to what pupils already know – building their schema;
  • make sure our instructions and slides are ultra-clear – we can’t ‘read the room’ as we do when in the classroom;;
  • remain conscious that without our intervention we run the risk of misconceptions being embedded – address common mistakes up front;
  • use Screencastify or Loom to explain concepts and allow for re-watching;
  • offer stretch and challenge tasks with further explanations – look for relevant videos and other information on YouTube, TED or elsewhere.


It is one thing to try and teach and embed knowledge remotely, however, we then need to ensure pupils’ use this knowledge in a way that fosters further understanding and, importantly, aids the retention of the knowledge covered in online lessons. Here, practising makes permanent and pupils should be encouraged to remember what they have learnt through activities that get them to apply the knowledge taught, such as completing practice questions or doing some extended writing. In order to facilitate these type of activities at distance, we should:

  • consider how we can model expectations for a task;
  • use a visualiser, or turn our phones into visualisers using ‘screen record’, in order to demonstrate what we would like pupils to do;
  • if we can’t record ourselves working through a model example, share a completed example of what we expect pupils to do, or make this very clear in our instructions;
  • be ultra-clear in the expectations we have for a task;
  • provide guidance for what pupils should do if they get stuck – further reading/guidance or how to ask for help;
  • consider how pupils might use the work they complete next lesson and further into the future.


In any observed lesson, I would be interested in how my colleague checks understanding and identifies areas for review and re-teaching. This would include many strategies from questioning and low stakes testing to feedback and marking. However, how do we check learning remotely? There are number ways to do this, including:

  • using the ‘Questions’ function on Google Classroom (or similar VLE application) to set a separate task where pupils can engage with a specific question, and one another;
  • via the above function, we can @ pupils in the comments on a task to create an online version of Cold Call’ – target them with specific questions to which they need to respond;
  • whole class feedback still works remotely – share a whole class feedback sheet with clear explanations of what we have found and perhaps a video of ourselves explaining our feedback;
  • pupils can still use purple pens/typing to improve their work (work in books can be photographed and uploaded);
  • flicking through individual work from pupils on a given assignment (via the technology you are using) and giving individual feedback.

We feel that our colleagues can use these pointers to develop effective online resources and sequences of activities that will go some way to making up for lost time in the classroom. We do not want to jettison all our hard work incorporating evidence informed practice by simply posting reading material and questions online that do not aid pupils learning in any meaningful way.

Recommended resources and reading

Picture credit: (used under a Creative Commons Licence)

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