Evolution of learning at Blundell’s School during Coronavirus

PUBLISHED: 11:22 12 May 2020 | UPDATED: 11:49 12 May 2020

Blundell's School /  www.blundells.org

Blundell's School / www.blundells.org

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At Blundell’s School we quickly abandoned the concept of sticking to a rigorous timetable

The week preceding the Easter break proved to be an ideal opportunity to experiment with on-line learning. With little time to prepare we, like many other schools, simply needed to get on with remote learning as the term ended so abruptly. In that short space of time we learnt a great deal which allowed us to make the necessary changes to ensure that we had an effective strategy in place for the summer term.

At Blundell’s School we quickly abandoned the concept of sticking to a rigorous timetable. Under normal circumstances a timetable makes good educational sense, but we felt that we needed to challenge our assumptions as we moved to a remote learning programme. There are numerous practical elements that made a regular timetable impractical for many families; variable internet access, limited computers for multiple children, parents’ own working from home requirements, and different time zones for our boarders from abroad all made an alternative schedule desirable. Breaking the day into 45-minute lessons whilst sitting behind a screen engaging in a live lesson through Zoom or Microsoft Teams has limited educational value. For a teacher it is cumbersome to help pupils and for pupils it is easy to become disengaged whilst the teacher is dealing with another pupil. It is also difficult to differentiate or nuance a lesson on-line. A survey to staff, pupils and parents confirmed our instincts that a normal timetable was not sustainable.

Blundell's School /  www.blundells.orgBlundell's School / www.blundells.org

What we have opted for now is that all work for the week is set on Monday. This takes the form of pre-recorded lessons that set pupils off on their learning. Additional resources are distributed using Microsoft Teams and OneNote so that pupils have plenty of material to work from. All teachers are accessible by e-mail or Teams to clarify concepts and to support pupils. On Tuesday and Wednesday pupils work on their studies for the week. They have access to their teachers as on Monday, but they are encouraged to collaborate on tasks with their friends using apps such as Houseparty and the like. Peer encouragement and engagement is a great antidote to feeling isolated and disengaged. On Thursday and Friday pupils are engaged in 15 – 30-minute seminars for each of their subjects with their teacher in small groups of 3 or 4 pupils. It is a chance to check learning and to pick up on any issues – and to offer praise and encouragement. On three days of the week the day begins with a ‘tutor period’, a meeting on Microsoft Teams between a teacher and his or her small group of ‘tutees’ to set the tone for the day and to help pupils plan their schedules.

A comprehensive ‘Engagement and Enrichment’ programme has been developed to encourage pupils to try new things and to be involved in the school community through things like a ‘Recipe of the Week’ and a ‘Grow Your Own’ challenge.

Blundell's Headteacher Bart WielengaBlundell's Headteacher Bart Wielenga

Parents may express a concern that their children will ‘fall behind’ this term. Whilst I am confident that pupils are making excellent progress in their learning, they will not fall behind anyone, because all pupils are in the same position. However, we may look at this generation of pupils as being the ones who will acquire skills that our exam-focused curriculum often does not allow or encourage. Personal initiative, self-motivation and a love of learning for its own sake are all by products of working from home. I suspect that the pupils who take advantage of this moment in time to acquire those skills will be streets ahead of where they would have been without the tragedy of the coronavirus outbreak.

Blundell’s School, Tiverton, Devon, EX16 4DN / 01884 252543 / head@blundells.org / www.blundells.org

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