The buzz around blended learning: What does it mean for us?

What is blended learning?

It’s a new buzzword in Education, but what exactly does it involve and how does it affect us at Oakham School? In a nutshell blended learning is a continuation of the remote teaching we did for an entire term during the Covid 19 lockdown, but it also refers to the new school environment we are trying to adapt to now where the digital classroom meets the physical one. Teaching, schools, classrooms and maybe even teachers themselves are going to be different for the foreseeable future at least. The good news is that Oakham is ahead of the curve; the rapid ‘upskilling’ pupils and staff undertook in March 2020 which saw us all grappling with the Teams learning platform, has paid dividends. Our students, unlike many of their peers nationwide ,continued to learn and progress. The strategies, skills and processes we established during the summer term are good T and L practice whether they take place in the physical or digital classroom.

Blended learning refers to a mixture of asynchronous (pre-recorded or pre-prepared material that pupils are set to work through) and synchronous (‘live’) teaching online or in a classroom. At Oakham the recently introduced self-managed learning lessons are examples of asynchronous learning. Recent studies have suggested that this mixed methods approach is not just beneficial to many pupils but could actually be more effective than traditional 100% ‘live’ teaching. At Oakham blended learning also means catering for students in a range of situations, some of whom are ‘dialling in’ to lessons via Teams because they are in quarantine, isolation or unable to come into school.

In July 2020 Joe Sanders and I each gave an online live presentation to members of the NEU about our experiences of blended learning and shared our recommendations for success. I thought it might be helpful to summarise them here:

How can we achieve successful ‘blended learning’?

  • Take time to train students in the skills we want them to have – the IT skills they need, technology they should use, self-regulation, reflection……
  • We must encourage independence and resilience so that pupils feel able to manage their learning alone
  • We should facilitate student collaboration and peer support whenever possible
  • Be sure to record lessons and upload all materials for maximum accessibility

Collaboration is key

  • This is what pupils have missed most in the last 6 months, and what we need to rekindle if possible
  • Pairs, groups, teams, games. Mix it up. Even online (through channels) or at their desks this is possible with thought and planning.
  • Peer writing and assessment – students should look at each others’ work and offer each other feedback.
  • Most importantly, de-front the classroom (Hattie, 2020): do not lecture and provide opportunities for pupils to be autonomous.
  • Use praise to promote teamwork, leadership, questioning, peer-support – all vital collaborative skills

We must promote student independence

  • Take time to upskill students. Model everything you want them to be able to do and allow them time to practise
  • Flipped learning – what can students read/watch in advance of the lesson?
  • Student responsibility – encourage them to work at their own pace and to take breaks as necessary.
  • BUT teachers are still guides, we are NOT leaving students to it (a common misconception)
  • Using Framework sheets/support sheets. These will help pupils ‘unstick’ themselves.
  • Brain/book/buddy/boss or equivalent as a reminder to pupils what to do if they get stuck.
  • Use FOSIL, the website has excellent resources https://fosil.org.uk/members/

We must think carefully about Assessment & Feedback

  • Assignments in Teams worked well online and can still be used effectively now
  • The power of re-drafting – allow pupils several ‘attempt’s and give them time to act upon feedback
  • Feedback cycle – developing a growth mind-set means each version is better than the last
  • Recording personalised audio/visual feedback on work can save teachers lots of time and provide lots of detail for students
  • Low stakes assessment check-ins are important to assess pupils comprehension and to address misconceptions (quizzes, mini white-boards, kahoot….)

The top 6 things we have learnt about successful blended learning:

  1. Good practice in the CR is good practice on Teams
  2. Teacher is the ‘guide’, but don’t leave them to it
  3. Maintain high expectations
  4. Mix asynchronous and synchronous teaching (and flip learning)
  5. Feedback a lot and promptly
  6. Spend time to teach skills to pupils

JAS 14.09.20