Emma Crampton and Isla Billett look at the benefits of tech-enabled learning
A digital divide
While the pandemic has challenged most school-age children, it has presented especially tough, unique challenges to SEN pupils, their parents and carers. Though everyone’s experiences in the past year have differed, the pandemic has ultimately exposed a ‘digital divide’, showing how a whole-community approach is needed to support online learning. This is especially true where supplementary SEN-focused devices, software and support are integral to the learning process.
Responses to lockdown have also brought out the potential, and capacity, for technology to support flexible learning in and out of the classroom; something that hasn’t always been possible for SEN pupils until now. Pearson’s recent survey of over 6,800 educators highlighted that digital skills among teachers and students in the UK have soared during the pandemic (81% and 64% respectively). Similarly, 90% of UK learners in Pearson’s Global Learner Survey felt that online learning would be a part of children’s education experience moving forward.
So how can we build on this momentum? As schools undertake a return to life in the classroom, it’s an opportune time to reflect on what we’ve learned about tech-enabled learning this past year. Bolstered by these lessons, we can explore how to harness technology and its advances, not only to support educational progress for every child, but to pave the way for a more permanently inclusive society, post-pandemic.
As a starting point, below is a collection of tips, ideas and practical advice we’ve gathered through our research in recent months. The aim: to support you in your reflections and explorations of continuing to create safe, supportive digital experiences for SEN pupils.
The power of collaboration
The benefits of collaborative learning are well established – from building key listening, teamwork and conflict-resolution skills, to improving self-esteem, confidence and motivation (Johnson et al, 2009).
With the shift to online classrooms, many tools and platforms have emerged to enable joint creation and shared understanding.
If your pupils are receptive to collaborative learning and the technology, here’s what SEN educators have told us they’ve found helpful this year:
- Emphasising the familiar – for some SEN learners, teamwork (including remote teamwork) can lead to a certain level of disruption and anxiety. Keeping online schedules similar to those at school can help. Where pupils may use special equipment at school, for instance – certain pencil toppers, perhaps, or weighted blankets – can these be incorporated into the home setting?
- Exploring new technology – as digital learning continues to flourish, the availability of tools and software continues to increase, making it easier to adapt your style and pace to suit individuals.
- Sharing the learning – as well as driving remote collaboration between different groups of learners, the pandemic has opened up ways for SENCOs and teachers to collaborate nationwide. Many hubs offer online advice and resources, such as NASEN, National Star’s EdTech SEND Support Hub and Chatterpack.
Supporting pupil development with strong feedback
From what we’ve seen over the past year, every online interaction becomes increasingly important when a teacher or pupil cannot be physically present in the classroom. This is especially true of feedback, and its role in engaging and motivating pupils.SEN educators have shared with us that, when it comes to giving effective feedback, remote responses should stick closely to what already works well in the classroom:
- be timely and thorough
- focus on the task and specifics of pupils’ work, not pupils themselves
- include targeted information on how to improve, and areas of strength
- avoid any presentation formats that could lead to cognitive overload (e.g. multi-coloured, small font, lack of contrast)As part of this, you can also collaborate with families to ensure that sound and screen settings are doing the very best for the pupil, and get feedback on what’s working well. Once you develop a routine that works, keep it up!
Engaging to achieve
When we picture a SEN classroom at ease, we most likely visualise a room brimming with engagement and curiosity. It’s a joy to be a part of and is no doubt what brings learning to life and encourages pupils to tune in and learn.
For times when that vibrancy of the classroom is replaced with learning-from-home – or when you’re incorporating more technology in your lessons – the following suggestions may help maintain engagement levels:
- Link to pupils’ own lives in the projects you set them – making a sibling or pet a character in their homework, for example
- Split full online lessons into small, manageable chunks
- Openly and calmly acknowledge when times are tough and suggest breaks when you notice any precursors to rising anxiety
- Check that your instructions have been clear and understood – and that learners have a straight-forward recourse to signal when they’re not
- Encourage families to display their child’s best work, though not in areas where this might distract them
- Ensure that helpful learning tools – such as screen magnifiers, speech recognition, captions or live captions and BSL video assistance – are readily available where required. Materials can also be shared for pupils to go through at their own pace and with any assistive technology they need.
- Create variety by switching between project-types – from on-screen to off-screen; collaborative to independent, and so on.
Encouraging pupil-led learning
Feedback we received from teachers in February revealed that the past year has improved independent learning skills, with digital tools now offering myriad opportunities to facilitate pupil-led tasks.
How best to do this in digital settings or utilising more technology in the classroom? Again, the SEN educators we work with advise building on previous successes in the classroom, with:
- Scaffolding – initially guiding pupils, then gradually removing that guidance
- Modelling – fostering a digital environment in which pupils can observe the behaviour of their teacher, peers, or other important role models
- Reflecting – building in opportunities for pupils to reflect on their achievements.To support pupils with engaging online independently, you can encourage them and their families to keep journals, or find other creative ways to reflect on their learning. In addition, online feedback polls can be helpful indicators of individual progress, highlighting possible areas for change.
Empowering parents and carers
Lastly for now, but by no means least, the success of online learning (as with all learning) can be only amplified when it’s paired with support from parents and carers.
The shift to tech-enabled learning is something all educators, pupils and families alike have been forced to adapt to. While this has been a steep learning curve, the move online has also created new ways for schools and their communities to cooperate.
Some top tips that teachers have shared with us to further boost home engagement include:
- Providing tech tips and support – when technology and software are being introduced, or pupil access is mediated by a parent or carer, supplying online help and FAQs can help families get to grips with updated systems.
- Considering what’s at home – for example, families with slow Wi-Fi connections may need alternative texts that minimise what’s being downloaded.
- Offering print-out versions of your lessons – essential for any pupil who does not have easy laptop access.
- Planning and facilitating screen breaks, which are key for pupils, families, and educators alike. (To help, you can encourage some positive wellbeing practices where possible – to reduce stress and anxiety, and boost endorphins).
- Sharing links to specific support for parents and carers engaging with lockdown learning, such as guides from Pearson, NASEN and the NSPCC.
The rise of digital learning through lockdown has the potential to become one of education’s great levellers. Imagine: large- scale access to diverse resources, educators and interactive lessons; classrooms that come to pupils, rather than the reverse; the removal of boundaries and borders to connect globally; plus programmes that can be tailor-made for every child’s specific needs, pacing and styles. All of these, and more, are at our fingertips.
As we navigate the ongoing impact of Covid-19, it’s important to pause and notice that the digital landscape is one we can still shape and strengthen for all. Digital learning has so much to offer this generation of pupils, but it’s the people who deliver it and support it – educators and wider learning communities – who hold the keys for driving that positive change.
To learn more about digital learning and innovation at Pearson, visit: go.pearson.com/digitallearning