Making the Most of Recorded Lessons

This blog series is aimed at helping educators in a time of challenge and opportunity.

Are you suddenly tasked with recording lessons that you have normally taught in front of your students? Recorded lessons are a whole new ballgame; with no teacher-student interaction and a lack of formative assessments, teachers aren’t able to notice when the cognitive responsibility begins to shift. You can’t gauge how well you’re teaching a concept when you can’t see your students’ reactions or ask them questions to check for understanding. You may finish uploading a recorded lesson and be left wondering if it’s enough for your students to independently (or at least mostly) complete their practice at home. Focused Instruction is key to ensuring your students internalize the concepts and skills necessary for independent practice, especially now in this virtual learning world. This blog aims to unpack the Focused Instruction strategy so you can make the most of your recorded lessons.

Focused Instruction is the phase of learning that provides scholars with information about how to process new content through the thinking of an expert and is part of the “I do” phase of the gradual release framework.  Typically it’s done with the whole class and usually lasts 15 minutes or less (age + two minutes) and uses a combination of modeling, explanation, and/or a Think Aloud to process new learning. (,-or-Not-Learning,-in-School.aspx.)

Let’s talk about ways to set your students up for success quickly and successfully.

  1. Look at the objective for what you are teaching and either the exit ticket or aligned assessment item so that you know the level of rigor and how students will be assessed.
  2. Craft your purpose for why students should pay attention to this lesson. “There is a deep well of research backing up the fact that when the learning target is clear, the learner is more likely to successfully achieve it (Fisher & Frey, p. 23).” A strong purpose leads to greater motivation for students – something that will be even more critical with this new virtual learning platform. Check out this example of Focused Instruction here.
  3. Think about, and tell your students, how the content you are teaching is relevant to them to get into their hearing, build relationships, and make your lessons culturally relevant. (Sample video.)
  4. Craft your key points and how you will explain versus tell. You will need three to five key points to build background knowledge, teach academic vocabulary, and provide necessary information for mastering the objective. Create an anchor chart if needed. What’s the difference between explain versus tell? Glad you asked. Explaining means you are sharing your thinking and metacognitive thinking. Answer the following questions for your students:
    1. What is it?
    2. How do I use it?
    3. When and where do I use it?
    4. How do I know if I used it correctly? When explaining, use “I” language because you are modeling your thinking as an expert. Your students think you magically know the content and that they don’t. When you use “I” language to explain, students are able to access the “I” language they heard modeled for them when they apply the information on their own. Check out an explain versus tell example in this video. If you want to check to make sure you are thinking through how you will explain versus tell, think about:
      • What are your thinking processes for each step? (Use “I” statements.)
      • What are you thinking and doing? Why are you doing it?
      • What mistakes will you make and when (to show scholars typical mistakes and what to do)?
      • What analogies will you use?
  5. Want to take it to the next level? Check for understanding at the end of your focused instruction to make sure that not only did you teach it, but MORE importantly, students learned it. This not only ensures learning, but it also builds relationships because it demonstrates your commitment to make sure every student is learning. Ask yourself:
    1. How will I know students understand the key points of the Focused Instruction lesson? What can I ask? What is an exemplar response?
    2. How will I check? Cold Call? Think-Pair-Share? 60-second check in? This can be tricky in the virtual space, especially if it isn’t a live lesson. Maybe students need to send you a response to a check for understanding questions via a Google Form?
    3. Check out this example of a strong Check for Understanding.

Let us know when you try any of these tips with your recorded lessons and please let us know how it went.

Need more support? Please reach out to Heidi for more assistance planning effective recorded lessons.

By Jackie Surratt & Heidi Towne, Associates, CT3


Our suites of pedagogical strategies provide the strategic framework, and Real Time Teacher Coaching supports school leaders and teachers at every step. Find out more about CT3 Education programs such as No-Nonsense Nurturer, Real Time Teacher Coaching, and Real Time Leadership Coaching to find out more about Professional Development for Teachers and Leaders, classroom management strategies, and building relationships with students and their families.
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