Remote Learning at Rendcomb College
Over the last twelve months education across the board has been revolutionised. Overnight in March 2020 schools were shut, teachers turned to technology and classrooms came to terms with a new way of working due to the pandemic. Whilst Rendcomb College was unable to carry out our esteemed educational program face to face, we were in a prime position to persevere and provide a new way of teaching that continues to be of a high standard and highly regarded by parents and students alike. Head of Teaching and Learning Natalie Johnston reflects on its success.
Driving forward the digital learning was very much my remit. As school leaders we had prioritised this in September 2019, so going into the first lockdown in March we were in a good position. Our decision early on as a college was to use Microsoft Office 365 Education and the use of Microsoft Teams which allowed us to initially explore and trail its potential which was a great solution to support remote learning from the start. We asked that all students had a laptop, therefore we knew that every child had a device up to a particular standard and specification. Plus, Rendcomb College spent a significant amount of time and resources by upgrading the wi-fi system, Internet access and overall infrastructure to ensure that we could teach remotely and on site.
Leading from The Front
From a teacher’s perspective technology has enable us to teach the exact live lesson we would do in a classroom environment virtually. From science to mathematics, PE, music and modern foreign languages, our daily timetable still runs like clockwork and we have adapted each lesson accordingly. All elements of the classroom ensure good practice. From putting your hand up to branching out in groups, writing on the whiteboard, etc, have all been transformed digitally which is accessed with dedicated school email addresses.
The reliance on online learning has been an experimental process for all. We are fortunate our students have been open to embracing new technologies and are willing to push themselves outside of their comfort zones academically. This is really indicative of that safe online learning environment, that comes from working at home. We have a school full of very active learners, that want to be there and are engaged.
Having a deep understanding of how the technology works, empowers our teachers to really challenge our students. Every online lesson has a live element, because it’s not productive just to use Powerpoint or a ‘chalk and talk’ lecture style of learning in schools. Many now work independently and collaborative, and there is a lot of meaningful student to teacher interactions that allows time for formative assessment.
Technology and the Teaching Environment
Using Breakout Rooms on Teams has been innovative because it allows significant group work and I can pop in and out to monitor their progress - just as I would do in the classroom. We’ve also combined Teams with teaching on OneNote which gives each pupil their own individual exercise book. This is a really powerful way of continuing that cycle of teaching and learning, especially for feedback and assessments.
Also, Microsoft Forms gives us the ability to carry out quizzes in what we call retrieval practise or deliberate practice. These are instantly marked which means the student is getting rapid feedback on how well they are doing - instead of waiting for a teacher to call out the answers. As a teacher I have the ability to track their progress live. It also comments on incorrect answers to enhance their learning to say why it was wrong and help them understand better and improve their learning. It’s all part of our cycle of learning.
A Positive Response from Parents
The feedback we’ve received from parents has been “outstanding ” with our adaption to online learning exceeding all expectations. This reputation has also led to potential new pupils and parents wanting to find out more about the college.
Rendcomb prides itself on being a holistic educational journey for each individual. If a student is finding something challenging there are means to help them, even in this remote learning environment where we can support further. Their mental health during this difficult time is also at the forefront of what we deliver. This gives both the student and parents confidence and reassurance that their education can continue as normal.
We know that this isn’t going to be forever, but we understand this is going to be a fixed period of time until we return back to college. All of the Rendcomb teachers have been amazing at embracing remote learning. The idea of sharing things professionally has come to the forefront and the collaboration of staff has really come through during this time. One benefit has been personalised real-time feedback and giving pupils choices through polls in the Teams chat to truly tailor their blended learning.
The Future of Remote Learning at Rendcomb College
The last 12 months have emphasised the importance of integrated technology to enhance learning and online education. Students will continue to bring laptops into school once lockdown is over. These new digital education platforms can be really embedded in learning instead of being a bolt on. We are conscious that students still have to take formal written exams which is a skill that still needs to be practised. But day to day, they can work in a way that best suits them. Whether that’s written, typed or with a stylus, there is a choice. It makes students reflect on their own learning and that self-awareness and self-regulation of which method works best for them. That is what’s unique about Rendcomb. Really catering for those individual circumstances, enhance professional development and personalise our learning for children and young people.