Blended Learning for SEN Learners
To celebrate the launch of the Oak National Academy’s new specialist curriculum provision our #SENexchange discussion on the 23rd September was on blended learning. The following post is a summary of the discussion by collaborators. This has been edited for readability but I have tried to quote where possible.
What have your experiences of blended / online learning been?
There has been a more positive response to the challenge of blended learning than a previous #SENexchange would have suggested. There was a feeling that this style of education really suits a number of learners with additional needs. The importance of tailoring the approach to individuals was raised. Anne Heavey of Whole School SEND said that, “no resource (online or otherwise) will work for all children “off the shelf” – open dialogue around what’s working and what’s not essential!”. It is important that blended learning is done with, not done to, parents and learners.It is important that blended learning is done with, not done to, parents and learners. Click To Tweet
Headteacher Gary Coffey raises the point that SEND learners are too often an afterthought in educational provision. “Often it can seem as though this amazing group of individuals can be ‘forgotten’ in the mire of policy and directives. We need to be the champions for them and do what’s right for them. Both now and planning for the uncertain future ahead!”. The Oak National Specialist Curriculum has the potential to become a beacon of good practice in this area.
Embrace the Possibilities of Blended Learning.
A number of schools and families have really embraced the possiblities of blended learning Scatti “Staff have risen to the challenge and our SLD/PMLD Learners and families have found a rhythm- engaging and reciprocating learning. We’ve used various methods and live/prerecorded.”. We can develop new routines and the feedback from a lot of people has been the reduction in the access barrier of transitioning into school for some.
Matt Jones, principal of St Giles Retford stated that, “#blendedlearning has been a game-changer for @StGilesRetford. We’ve seen many pupils thrive at home. Those for whom anxiety was a barrier have made tremendous progress at home. Parents of CYP with PMLD have been brave & ambitious without the Health &Safety constraints of school”.
Online education is something that some families of children with school anxiety have asked for in the past. The success of blended learning may start to reduce pressure on some children to be physically in the building for their education.
What challenges have you faced with remote/online learning?
There have been a number of challenges both technological and pedagogically during the shift to blended learning. Oak National themselves have faced copyright issues with some of the earlier content. Schools have had to undertake a dramatic shift in curriculum delivery and teachers have had to change their entire teaching style. This innovation and creativity is seen by sports development coach Mark Bullock as a positive. He does state that these need to be person centered. Potentially this means an increase in workload for teachers or those children needing adaptions missing out.
Teachers have been able to resolve some of the teething problems from early lockdown. Some schools had demanded too much from parents and pupils. With full timetables of lessons falling on parents to deliver and evidence.
Parents experience often differed between schools. Karin stated that her children’s experience was very different with no contact. This led to a real impact on the relationships and strength of the home school bond. It was also interpreted as showing gaps in the school’s knowledge of that child.
One of the challenges was down to the unexpected nature of the change to online learning. Schools did not have the time to consult on what parents needed before the full impact of lockdown was felt. This also came at a time when everyone was experiencing high levels of anxiety. People had lost work, support networks and routines. A representative from the North Lancashire Directions Group a parent/carer forum explained the challenges faced by parents by these new pressures from schools. This includes the need to learn new apps and nuances of video calls.
How can we ensure online learning is accessible to all learners?
Teacher and Oak National contributor picked up on the benefit of being able to pause and rewind video lessons. Ian Armstrong, Deputy Headteacher of a special school reflects that “The important aspect we have had to consider is who is the session aimed at. I.e. if a child had MSI then an online session needs to act as a support session for the present/carer.”.
Start with the student at the centre of what we do! Work with them, their family and key workers who understand how they learn – plan from this. What do they need to access this? AAC, high or low tech? Shivaun Moriarty, Headteacher of Sherbourne Fields Specialist School puts forward the need for absolute knowledge of the families circumstance in advance of setting tasks. It is crucial to allow for a tailored approach. She found celebrating the range of approaches (our families have been amazingly creative)so families can feel validated that their involvement is so rich and vital.
Gary Aubin SEND leader at a MAT and host of SEND Matters says we make blended learning accessible through excellent, inclusive teaching. Recap of previous learning; pre-teach key vocab; make it interactive wherever possible; don’t go into lecture mode; use breakout rooms for TAs to work with small groups at some point in the lesson. Check misconceptions & give feedback.
Mr Higgins a PE teacher set up a Youtube channel with inclusive sport ideas. To make them accessible he used a range of equipment such as balloons and milk bottles that people were likely to have in their houses. It was a recurring theme that many parents were able to focus on life skills, or due to needs found that practical activities suited home learning. I myself made a couple of life skills sensory stories with what we had in the house. We broke down the skills the pupils needed and thought about how we could provide activities to meet those.
Many planned to the resources they had rather than what was needed. In the future we need to plan for the pupils needs not what we can rustle up quickly. SEND learners cannot access worksheets and their value is questionable.
How can Oak National best support students, families and schools moving forward?
Karin Crimmins, an SEN TA, highlights an issue often faced by SEN learners; not address each class by Year Name. Our child was in mainstream Yr5. Yr 1 was the right stage but she didn’t need to be addressed at Year 1 constantly. The Oak National team have addressed this removing year groups to allow stage specific content to be used regardless of chronological age.
A lot of schools have used Oak National lessons as training and to give their teams an insight into how they can create online content. “We used a video with teachers today to show how they can structure their own pre-recorded learning for families as well as use the videos to supplement their home learning tasks.”
One suggestion was to link the online with the physical learning opportunities. Resource packs that we can print and ‘doorstep’ to families (esp if they are shielding), easy to access shopping lists, simple ideas for sensory stories etc as well as online content.
What is the future of blended learning?
Nicole Dempsey reflected on how the situation has resulted in a shift of perspective on both fronts “how we value home learning opportunities and how we value having the kids in front of us. “. I think this highlights how we will embrace blended learning going forward. Teachers will get more confident, schools will work with the community to make it work and children will start to see blended learning as part of their provision. However this comes with a warning; that the option of blended learning doesn’t make families vulnerable to not having an appropriate school place being found even more vulnerable if remote is seen as an option.
Getting it up and running now will be really positive long term as we can use it for students who are absent for long periods of time due to hospitalisation or poor health, so we can expand our offer to reach our children when they cannot access the school site. Helen points out here are many children with medical needs who would have flourished from blended learning a long time ago but it was only possible once it impacted *all* children. I now hope for more open minds .