Ten ways teachers are bringing the blended learning experience back into school

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

We asked teachers what discoveries they’d made during the blended teaching of the past 10 weeks, which for most schools has been very different to the first lockdown a year ago, that they would seek to continue in the classroom. Here’s what they told us.

1. Using the platforms

Virtual learning environments, from Teams and G Suite to SeeSaw and ClassDojo, have been used like never before. Even where these platforms were already part of school life, the intensive use demanded by remote teaching meant that teachers discovered new time-saving features or other enhancements.  

For example, Shavington High School has reduced teachers’ marking workload without lowering the quality of the feedback through a technology-enabled marking policy to help make the process as efficient as possible. Marking requirements are limited to specific assignments and can take the form most suitable to the subject and assignment in question, often including the use of the rubric function in Teams. Features such as comment banks allow teachers to get the right messages to the right pupils, without requiring them to duplicate work.

2. Sharing knowledge

Teachers have been on an incredibly steep learning curve, individually and collectively. CPD has been essential and teachers have really supported and helped each other. There’s a strong desire in many of the schools we’ve spoken with to continue the open culture of sharing and learning that’s been vital over the last year. 

Laura Smith, assistant curriculum leader for English from Sandbach High School has found scheduling in time to talk to colleagues about what’s worked (and hasn’t!) each week to share ideas and resources has been invaluable.

Here’s Shavington High School again with Alexander Cooke, English teacher and remote learning lead, explaining how one of the most useful lessons his school has learnt during the pandemic is that not only is it okay to make mistakes, it’s often actively helpful as long as there is a culture of learning and openness among staff. Giving teachers the chance to share and discuss what has gone wrong, as well as what is working, can make staff feel more confident to try new things without fear of failure, and perhaps to steer clear of certain approaches that might not be as successful.

3. Broadening out feedback

Digital tools have opened up many new ways of giving feedback and comments. This can take the form of teacher comment on a collaborative document before, during and after peer-review, perhaps subsequently using this as an example at the start of a subsequent lesson. Or it could be live modelling on screen during a lesson, for mini or full plenaries, or a lesson starter. Or exemplar work in progress being brought to the attention of multiple students. Addressing specific students within a shared collaborative document could be a great time saver for teachers, but relies on a positive classroom ethos where students are comfortable with seeing and perhaps learning from each others’ feedback.

We spoke to a headteacher this week who talked about how teachers in his schools have a sharpened focus on how they give feedback since the periods of remote learning, taking teacher feedback to a different level and changing how teachers sequence learning.

4. Kick off polls

Starting lessons with a poll has been a popular way of engaging students in remote learning and it’s a useful tool that can easily be continued face to face.

5. Keeping quizzing

Similarly, many teachers found that low-stake quizzes were easy to create and worked well when used at the start of lessons, helping to ensure that all students have contributed to the lesson and giving teachers a clearer understanding of where students are at.

Lucy Huelin, classics teacher at Bootham School,  recommends using Google Forms if your school uses Google Classroom. She creates vocab quizzes with multiple choice answers. The students get an immediate mark and she gets a snapshot of where they are and how they are doing: “the self marking feature is amazing!”. She also finds it brilliant for tracking progress when she marks essays or longer answers to questions as she can type in more detailed feedback than she can scribbling comments on paper, the student can go back to the same document to edit and improve and she can see all the versions. 

6. Making the most of the materials

There’s been an invaluable amount of learning materials created during this period and schools are looking at how to make best use of it. Teaching videos could be accessed via the VLE for homework or during holidays and to continue to strengthen knowledge. There is real sustainable power in this content if it continues to be developed consistently over time. 

7. Encouraging extra-curricular online groups

Mark Martin (@Urban_Teacher) suggests that where students were using and enjoying groups arranged for non-lesson purposes such as extra-curricular activities (and this could be extended to enrichment or pastoral support), these could continue to be developed – perhaps by connecting with industry providers for short videos about job roles in industry to help to tackle lack of guest speakers at the moment.

8. Continuing the dialogue with parents 

Lockdown learning has seen parents and teachers engage with each other to an unprecedented extent as parents get insights – often for the first time – into the daily shape of the school day and their children’s learning. Can that fruitful dialogue continue digitally? 

Janneke Moeleker and Bram von Mil, teachers at Snijders School, Rijswijk, the Netherlands

use an online learning portfolio, Bordfolio. Having used the digital portfolio for several years in the classroom, teachers in the school extended its use for young distance learning from home. They find that using the portfolio with young children in this way has supported relationships with families. Parents have gained an insight into approaches to teaching and learning and teachers have learned more about children’s lives and learning at home. Parents are more involved in their children’s learning and communicate with teachers via the portfolio about the assignments. The process has strengthened understanding and mutual respect. 

Similarly, Lauren Carter and Louise Peplow, teachers at Hitherfield Primary, describe how SeeSaw has been a “game changer” for them. As well as using it for remote learning they also use it in school as a way of evidencing work, being able to upload activities rather than taking pictures and sticking them in books so that parents can see what the children are doing. It opens up a nice route of contact, it’s much more personal than email and is great for blended learning when children are off.

9. Understanding the digital divide

Schools now have a much better understanding of the barriers individual children and families may be experience with regard to access to devices, data and connectivity. Where children have been provided with devices there is now an opportunity, if those families are allowed to keep them to continue a process of closing that gap beyond the lockdown situation.

10. Normalising the experience

For Mark Martin (@Urban_Teacher), it is critical that what comes out of the experience of the last 10 weeks is a normalising of the experience of remote learning: that learning doesn’t just take place in one space but can be online or offline, there are multiple options. Students should feel comfortable that they will receive content both in lessons and over the VLE and it’s a smooth transition between the two.

Finally, for school leaders: reflecting on the experience

But for this to happen, teachers need time and space to reflect on and capture the learning, to share and retain good practice. School leaders need to think about how to encourage and sustain the blend.

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