Blended learning: the picture in schools

Schools must still provide immediate remote learning to pupils who need to self-isolate, although typically on a smaller scale than during the strictest periods of lockdown. Stephanie Glenister from The Key explains how schools across the country are nailing this

While fewer pupils nationally need to learn from home these days, remote learning requirements are much stricter than this time last year. For example, current guidance states that schools must provide immediate remote education for any pupils who need to learn from home for coronavirus-related reasons. This should be a minimum of three hours per day, on average, for KS1, four hours for KS2 and five hours for KS3 and KS4. It should include recorded or live direct teaching time, as well as independent tasks.
Schools are also expected to use a digital platform, for which you can get help from the DfE’s support programme.
With the basic requirements sorted, here are some tips, shared with The Key by schools across the country, that will help you make your blend of remote and in-classroom provision as effective as possible.

Your classroom set-up can make or break remote engagement in live lessons

Once your tech is set up, it’s crucial that your classroom is too. This approach to delivering a live lesson where some pupils are learning at home can reduce teacher workload and promote pupil engagement.
Set up a laptop with the camera on as close to you (the teacher) as possible, so that pupils at home can hear you and you can interact with them. For the rest of the lesson, share your laptop screen with the pupils at home, so that they can see what’s on your digital board. (If you don’t have a digital board, point your webcam at the whiteboard.)
Direct some questions at remote pupils throughout but remember that they won’t reply as quickly as a child in class, as they’ll need time to unmute themselves.

 Make sure the pupils in the classroom are aware of what’s happening, so they can allow their remote classmates the silence and space they need to participate in the lesson.  

Tried and tested tricks to check understanding during live lessons

Teachers can’t just walk around the room to see how pupils at home are doing mid-lesson, so they’ve had to find alternative approaches. It has also been important to come up with regular, accurate formative assessment methods that inform whether and how teachers need to adapt their approach to these newer ways of working.
Quick-quizzing platforms have proved popular as an engaging way to do knowledge retrieval at the start and end of lessons. Teachers can also save time by using these for end-of-unit assessments. For example, if they base each lesson in a unit around a question they want pupils to be able to answer by the end of it, they can then simply load these questions into an end-of-unit quiz.
It’s not just about what type of formative assessment you’re using, it’s about when you’re using it, too. A number of schools are mixing and matching their approach, to make it most effective: for example, by using quick quizzes at the start of a lesson, integrated polling tools (in their digital platform) in the middle, and word cloud-generating platforms at the end to visualise new knowledge.  

Giving low-effort, high-impact remote feedback – in just seconds

Schools have found that responding to pupils’ needs ‘in the moment’ during live lessons saves time and is more engaging than giving written feedback later. One way to do this is to watch pupils as they work on collaborative platforms and provide personalised verbal feedback directly. Some teachers create breakout groups via their digital platform, and listen for common misconceptions that they can address when the class comes back together.
These approaches work even if you only have a handful of pupils learning from home – in fact, this will make them even more effective. We’ve all been in a situation this year where we’ve felt inhibited by the number of people on a video call; pupils are no different. Having designated small-group feedback sessions makes for a more candid and productive discussion with individual pupils about their learning.
Schools also overwhelmingly rate using voice-note comments as a quicker, more personal alternative to written marking. As well as being more accessible for younger learners or those with limited language skills, this feedback method sometimes lets teachers see when pupils have opened it, which can help with monitoring engagement.   

Tips for getting parents on side

From the over-involved to the overwhelmed, schools have dealt with the entire spectrum of parents’ engagement with children’s remote learning.
Head off both of these extremes with a clear communication plan. Upload short videos to your school’s website, explaining key features of your home-school agreement; these will be easier to understand for parents with limited time or language skills.
Let keen parents get involved – up to a point. To help these parents channel their enthusiasm, teachers can pre-record key explanations and concepts, so parents can pause and replay them for their child as many times as they need.
Also let parents come along to their child’s feedback sessions, if this is mutually agreeable. This will discourage them from doing the work themselves, as they’ll feel they have their own part to play in their child’s learning journey.
If parents are struggling to support their child’s learning, highlight top-priority tasks to help them concentrate on quality over quantity. Focus on the child’s wellbeing and remind them and their parents that it’s okay if not everything gets done today.
Consider, also, whether your school’s digital platform is easy enough to understand, or whether some families (for example those with English as an additional language) might benefit from a tutorial or the option to email their child’s work to the school instead of uploading it to a specific place.

In some cases, tech is even becoming the preferred option where pupils aren’t learning remotely

Schools haven’t thrown the baby out with the bathwater now that most pupils are back in school.
Platforms such as Oak National Academy give schools a wider range of engaging homework activities to choose from. Teachers can lean on these resources for quick-win homework and knowledge retrieval activities. When they want all pupils to come to a lesson refreshed on last year’s lesson on, for example, the Romans, they can ask pupils to watch a lesson online rather than expecting them to remember it or look back at old notes.    
These platforms also ease the headache of cover lessons. Cover teachers, who may not be experts in the subject they’re covering, can in many cases defer to the experts readily available on Oak.  
In terms of engaging with families, virtual parents’ evenings have also proved a resounding success, breaking down common barriers for parents such as having limited time and feeling anxious about going into the school building.
With all of this tech at schools’ disposal, it’s unlikely they’ll ever need to be ‘closed’ again – is the era of ‘snow days’ already behind us?  

Stephanie Glenister is a Specialist Content Editor at The Key, a provider of up-to-the-minute sector intelligence and resources that empower education leaders with the knowledge to act. The advice in this article is taken from various resources in the ‘Remote and blended learning’ section of The Key’s COVID-19 resource hub.