VIEWS & OPINION Maintaining the gains made during lockdown Comment by HELEN NEWIES, director of operations at GCSEPod

I’ve spent the past few months talking to schools to understand the way they have managed a remote, blended approach to learning and how classroom learning experiences connect with the way students learn at home. The first benefit of remote

learning became apparent when we looked at a map of students’ engagement with digital technology to see how it changed pre and post lockdown. Looking at their usage of GCSEPod against time, it’s clear to see that pre-lockdown, the majority of students were fitting their study in and around their school day, often working at night. We wanted to understand if working at this time, after dinner when they are tired from their long school day, was their choice. When we looked at their usage pre-lockdown, it became evident they were having to carve out time for learning around their busy school schedules during the day. If we then look at the same map post-lockdown, we can see that

with the autonomy of a blended approach to learning, students prefer to study between mid-morning and mid-afternoon when they are most engaged. As Matthew Pullen, senior lecturer at the University of South Wales

said of this finding, “students are directors of their own time.” James McAleese, head of secondary at GEMS Winchester school in

Fujairah, UAE said that for teachers it’s about identifying relevant, quality learning materials and then leaving more lesson time for the students to deepen their own learning. His teachers create a playlist of Pods relevant to the topic they are teaching and then ask students to watch them before the Microsoft Teams lesson. From the potentially disastrous impact of school closures I have seen

so many incredibly positive responses from schools. In fact, in a survey where we asked 800 schools about how happy they would be seeing blended learning as a permanent fixture in their classrooms, 85 per cent felt this was something they would be comfortable with. However, despite all the positive feedback we received, only 36 per

cent of the 800 schools we surveyed felt that blended learning is here to stay; believing that things will revert back to the traditional way of teaching. Their justification was that there just isn’t enough space for blended learning in the busy school day. So, if we value the benefits, how can we find space to maintain the benefits of a blended approach to learning?

Reduce cognitive load by consolidating The first step is to consolidate the numerous platforms used in your school down to two or three effective systems that cover a broad range of subjects with testing and assessment. With fewer systems, both students and teachers will feel more confident in using them remotely. Normalise blended learning in the classroom

The key to successful blended learning is to ensure that you embed your online resources into daily teaching. By emulating the procedures in class, students will feel more comfortable doing the same at home. For example, by getting students to watch videos, make notes and

answer questions as part of a normal lesson, this not only becomes the norm when working at home but also valuable practice for their future working lives.

Look for strong technology AND pedagogy The Education Endowment Fund stated that “students can learn

through remote teaching. Ensuring the elements of effective teaching are present, for example clear explanations, scaffolding and feedback, is more important than how or when they are provided.” Good learning content should offer a springboard to transfer their knowledge into something new, deeper and creative.

Encourage uptake with reduced workload When done properly blended learning should reduce teacher workload. Rather than working in silos and duplicating lesson planning, schools should establish a structured repository for teachers to collaborate and share their learning content.

Avoid email. Get creative with training Rather than risk the IT department receiving endless emails from teachers asking how to login to Google Classroom or share a presentation on Microsoft Teams, I recommend using a system such as Screencastify to host short one to two-minute videos to answer these common questions. Over the past few months at GCSEPod we have run more than 100 webinars to help 8000 teachers embed our resource into their remote learning.

These webinars upskill staff quickly, reduce workload, make their

lives easier and in turn, potentially ensure better teacher retention. As our survey highlighted, many schools expect to go back to

normality when they open again in September. However, we can agree lockdown has given us an invaluable opportunity to reassess what aspects of traditional learning are truly effective for teachers and pupils. Now is the time to seriously consider a ‘new normal’ to maintain the gains made during lockdown. In the words of Eve Hedley, deputy head, Monkwearmouth

Academy, “our focus is much more on that virtual world of learning and we are not suddenly going to come back to face to face learning and abandon everything we’re working so hard to achieve. We are going to retain the gains and continue to provide a platform of virtual, high quality learning.”


September 2020

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