The Olympus Academy Trust approach to blended learning can be defined by six core principles that have been research-informed and aim to recognise the five losses referred to by Prof Barry Carpenter of routine, structure, friendship, opportunity and freedom.
- Accessible for all
- Building a sense of belonging
- Promoting purposeful learner and teacher dialogue
- Connecting the school community
- Capturing the curriculum and beyond
- Sequencing and scaffolding our approach to learning
1. Accessible for All
At the Olympus Academy Trust, we believe that our remote learning package should be accessible to all learners. We realise that not all families have access to technology (digital inequality) and we should, therefore, provide a range of ways for families to access school and learning. Our preferred way of sharing learning will be through a platform called Seesaw ©. We will also work closely with families and parents to provide work in other forms if technology is not easily available in the family home.
“Ensuring access to technology is key, particularly for disadvantaged learners. Almost all remote learning uses digital technology, typically requiring access to both computers and the internet. Many reviews identify lack of technology as a barrier to successful remote instruction. It is important that support is provided to ensure that disadvantaged learners – who are more likely to face these barriers – have access to technology.”EEF Rapid evidence assessment Distance learning, 2020
The EEF suggest that to make learning accessible for all, the quality of teaching is key. We will therefore ensure that the work provided is clear and explanations and feedback is specific. We recognise that as in the classroom, blended and remote learning needs to meet the needs of all learners and will be scaffolded appropriately.
Using the research from Daniel Stanford, we will ensure that when technology is the preferred medium to share work, then a range of low bandwidth activities will be set to enable families accessing home learning on mobile phones, using mobile data, to do so in an equitable way.
Pre-recorded videos that can be shared on a variety of platforms e.g. website, email, Facebook, can ensure that lessons are inclusive as there is no reliance on video or audio conferencing Apps. Challenges (Olympus terminology for a menu of remote learning) will be available in PDF, as this is easier to download and read on all devices.
Moving forwards, Olympus Academy Trust staff will be trained to use Seesaw © as our blended learning platform to ensure it is used effectively for all learners.
2. Building a sense of belonging
At Olympus, we recognise the importance of developing Social and Emotional skills within our blended learning approach. It is well researched that a child’s ability to learn is directly influenced by their social and emotional state of being. It is for this reason that we have prioritised the importance of a learner’s sense of belonging through developing: self-awareness, self-regulation, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision-making.
“These social and emotional skills are essential for children’s development, support effective learning, and are linked to positive outcomes in later life.”Sir Kevan Collins, Education Endowment Foundation, SEL,2020
Whilst in ‘usual’ teaching situations we would teach explicit social and emotional skills as well as indirectly modelling through everyday teaching. This becomes more challenging in blended learning.
Aspects of social and emotional skills, which can be taken for granted in face-to-face teaching situations, need to be explicitly built into the design of remote teaching approaches in a highly intentional way for them to be effective. It makes a difference to children when they can see their teacher’s face, hear their voice and read expressions. This is important in maintaining strong relationships and establishing a sense of well-being, especially in adverse circumstances. When children feel valued, safe and secure they are in a good place to learn and children need to know that the adults with which they have so much daily contact, are still there and available to help them despite a lack of physical presence. There are many ways in which this can be achieved successfully through remote learning: morning video messages, weekly phone calls to speak with children and parents, teacher video demonstrations, personalised phone calls or the teacher simply recording themselves reading a story for their class. Recorded assemblies and whole staff presentations, also foster and promote connections between school and the community.
In addition to this, we also recognise that some children are more vulnerable and will need a higher and more frequent level of contact and support. Each school will have a designated Pastoral Lead and a SENDCo to offer another level of communication and reassurance for both children and parents. Regular opportunities to discuss experiences, emotions and any difficulties play an important role in these conversations and remind our community that we care about them and that we are still available.
3. Promoting purposeful learner and teacher dialogue
As a Trust, we believe that the teacher must strive to promote excellent and varied communication with their class. This may include: instructing, guiding, questioning, listening, assessing, advising, reassuring children and providing constructive feedback. To succeed, children must have a strong sense of their teacher’s virtual presence.
We recognise that feedback is important in every classroom, but when teaching online, it’s another way to establish a personal connection with your learners. Offering constructive feedback regularly helps learners quickly identify behaviours or skills they need to improve and makes them feel like they are part of the learning community. Motivating the learner to persevere and to strive to complete work to a high standard.
“While nothing can replace the individual relationships between a teacher and their learners in the classroom, our evidence review shows that are some key steps that schools can make to make the most of the opportunity for online learning and the support the government is providing. One effective strategy is to encourage peer interaction between learners. Another focuses on getting learners to reflect on their learning and the progress they’re making.”Education Endowment Foundation review, 2020
It is even more important that learners who are taught remotely, feel connected to the class, the teacher, and their peers – not just to learn, but to enjoy the experience. Through online platforms such as Seesaw ©, the whole class can be part of the learning experience and observe their peers’ contributions. Seesaw © creates a powerful learning connection between learners, teachers, and their families. When reviewing the learners’ work, which has been completed, teachers can understand the learners’
thinking and progress – enabling them to better meet their needs. The learners’ portfolios of work on Seesaw © make it easy to give them choices, empower reflection on learning over time and help learners create something they are proud to share with others.
4. Connecting the school community
At Olympus Academy Trust, we greatly value the relationships that we have developed in our schools to establish a strong sense of belonging in our school community. We have regular daily contact with our families and have an ‘open door policy’ in order to facilitate this. During remote learning, we recognise the need to ensure that staff maintain high levels of engagement with our families when face to face contact is not possible. It is important, therefore, to consider ways in which we can maintain these relationships during remote/blended learning.
Seeing their teachers and adults from the school community is important for children’s sense of belonging, community and well-being. This is highlighted in the Department of Education’s most recent guidance for schools on adapting to remote learning.
Encouraging and enabling interaction between learners, parents, carers and staff can help them to feel like they’re a part of a community.Department for Education, 2020
With the advent of remote learning, we want to ensure that our staff are available for our families when face to face contact is not possible. Through the use of online platforms, such as Seesaw © and Zoom ©, we are able to facilitate online meetings, workshops and discussions for all stakeholders, allowing our Academy Trust to continue to provide high quality contact in the most adverse of circumstances.
Throughout term time, we endeavour to ensure regular contact is maintained with all our learners in, and out of school. Through the use of regular written or video messages, introducing home learning, reading stories and announcing whole school events, our learners can stay in touch with familiar adults from across the school. Many of our schools promote a sense of community through the creation of whole school community videos showing all the adults in lockdown, such as lip sync or dance recordings.
Engaging with peers is a vital part of learning and, arguably, the core principle that is hardest to follow remotely. It also requires engagement with parents and carers. Using Seesaw ©, we are able to facilitate peer to peer contact via the blog. Our learners can offer feedback on the work of their peers as well as participate in class challenges related to the wider curriculum. Our online platform allows our schools to maintain many of the events that are part of our Trust Pledge. Events such as a Virtual Sports Day and online assemblies ensure our children continue to access a high quality, broad and balanced curriculum.
5. Capturing the Curriculum and Beyond
As a Trust, we believe that remote or blended learning should be formed by a range of open-ended, investigative-type activities; finding the learning opportunities in everyday activities, e.g. maths and reading when cooking from a recipe, science when gardening, non-screen activities to do while out on daily exercise walks, learning through play etc. The tasks are not worksheets that need to be ‘completed’, but learning oriented around activity, discussion and cognitive experience. Learning is not a task-oriented or box-ticking process, but a meaningful and developmental journey with endless possible and valuable divergent paths. (Holt, 1982)
Learning from home provides a unique opportunity for learners to discover more about, and from, their local environment. Where appropriate, activities are created that require learners to go outside and engage with the natural or ‘built’ features of their local area and can use, but are not reliant on, parental/carer knowledge and skills, as Forster argues.
The families engaged most fully with tasks that involved an activity… and were open-ended and invited them to think.Forster, 2011
Although not essential, family members may provide learners with advice, guidance, resources, suggestions, ideas, or creative solutions that facilitate learning. They may have strengths to share in an area or may enlist other adults better placed to support.
Olympus’ remote blended learning is accessible to all, allowing older and younger siblings to work together, whilst gaining knowledge, experience and challenge at their own levels e.g. a shared writing stimulus that allows siblings to share and discuss ideas together.
Blended learning stimulates good discussions at home that extend the learner’s thinking and understanding, whilst enabling parents/carers to feel that they understood more about their child’s learning, and how to support them, thus enhancing relationships within the home.
6. Sequencing and scaffolded approach to learning
At Olympus Academy Trust, blended learning aims to mirror our pedagogical approach of ‘high quality classroom practice’. Learning will be sequential, building upon prior learning in order for learners to have the opportunity to apply skills and embed their understanding. We recognise that learners need to see their remote learning as part of a journey and make links with previously learnt skills and knowledge in order to maximise engagement and understanding.
Our rationale is supported by a recent report from the Education Endowment foundation (EEF) which states.
…. the quality of remote teaching is more important than how lessons are delivered. For example, teachers might explain a new idea live or in a pre-recorded video. But what matters most is whether the explanation builds clearly on learners’ prior learning.Education Endowment Foundation: 2020
We recognise that learners have different needs and one size does not fit all through blended learning. At Olympus, we believe that remote learning should include a range of elements of effective teaching, for example, clear explanation and modelling and scaffolding with supplementary resources where appropriate, to meet the needs of all children.
At Olympus, blended learning aims to avoid off the cuff activity giving, but instead allow learners to move through the gears of learning from novice to expert in a way that is familiar to their usual school setting. Teachers will provide modelled examples to set expectations and facilitate opportunities for learners to process ideas or ask questions through platforms such as Seesaw ©. Only when this sequential approach has been followed, will learners be expected to apply their skills.
Learners will be given time to reflect on their work following feedback and make improvements where necessary to complete the learning journey.