Exploring successful blended learning practice

Issue: Volume 103, Number 4

Posted: 4 April 2024
Reference #: 1HAftC

Blended learning is changing the face of modern education, offering a seamless integration of in-person, online and remote learning experiences tailored to individual student needs.

Schools across Tāmaki Makaurau are embracing this approach, implementing robust and accessible learning architecture, creating a culture of student agency, and supporting the wellbeing of kaiako, ākonga and their whānau.

Using learning slides to choose tasks at Greenhithe.

Using learning slides to choose tasks at Greenhithe.

Last year, The Pam Fergusson Charitable Trust explored blended learning practices at several Tāmaki Makaurau schools.

Wesley Primary School Te Kura Tuatahi o Wēteri (Wēteri), Tāmaki College, Greenhithe School, and Te Aho o te Kura Pounamu (Te Kura) are among those leading the way.

At its heart, blended (also known as hybrid) learning offers a way of designing for learning that isn’t determined by location in the first instance. The intention is to enable learners to have choice about where and how they participate, and to be able to seamlessly transition between in-person and remote locations as their circumstances or need requires.

As Tāmaki College, deputy principal Russel Dunn says, “We want learning to happen no matter where you are, or when you are!”

When Sophie, 18, started at Te Kura, she only worked when her mum reminded her.

But soon, “I started finding my own way of doing things, having it open and ready, making sure I was doing it not in my bedroom, having an idea of what I was going to do before I started.”

Te Kura student Dylan says their termly Wellbeing Survey pushes him to self-reflect.

Te Kura student Dylan says their termly Wellbeing Survey pushes him to self-reflect.

Her classmate Dylan also had to adjust – he was burning out from trying to do every available option.

“I was going as fast as I could,” he laughs. “But now I can pace myself, go slowly, and pick what I want to learn.”

In Years 5 and 6 at Greenhithe, ākonga choose daily can-do and must-do activities from that week’s set of learning slides.

Year 5 kaiako Adele Chichester says, “All of their learning for the week is in one place for them to access at any point. This means if they are away from school for whatever reason, the learning that’s happening in the class is still accessible.”

Ākonga complete tasks directly in the editable slideshows or follow links to external sites. Since learning slides were introduced, Year 6 kaiako Emma Pierce notes that students seem a lot more confident in themselves.

“[It’s] because they can see that we as teachers have confidence in them, and we trust them to manage themselves. I think that giving them that confidence has made them feel like they can do more, and they push themselves further.”

Tamaki College deputy principal Russel Dunn describes how with a hybrid setup, they can be highly individualised.

“Those who need to go slower can get more support. And at the end of the day everyone’s needs are being met.”

Raising engagement

Wēteri centres its programme around the pedagogy of ‘learn, create, share’.

Ākonga blog to share their learning with whānau and community. They take pride in their blogs and often maintain them over the summer. Seeing this, the school began running optional summer learning opportunities onsite.

Wēteri tumuaki Lou Reddy describes how a strong blended approach empowers ākonga.

Wēteri tumuaki Lou Reddy describes how a strong blended approach empowers ākonga.

Principal Lou Reddy recalls, “Forty-five kids in the school holidays coming in daily to do maths – who would have thought?”

But to the tamariki, it’s not just maths, as Lou explains. “What they’re doing is problem solving with their mates. And it’s gamified, because every time they pitch [a solution] to each other, they get a buzz out of it, they get feedback from each other. They get the questions to go deeper from each other.”

Lou sees this kind of collaborative learning, where multiple perspectives are valued and multiple solutions are possible, as a positive move.

Involving whānau and the wider community in learning is key for Lou. He describes co-designing graduate profiles with whānau and inviting whānau into school for talanoa.

Lou describes ākonga as, “looking out for an island that isn’t on the horizon yet, but you know it’s there, and you know how you’re going to get there.”

He describes the school as the vessel for ākonga along that journey, and explains how their whānau, their culture and their beliefs are behind them too – providing the wind in the sails.

“We are just one foundational piece. They have whānau, early learning, us – we are the third group of significant adults that has anything to do with those children. We have to understand them and know where they have been already, to give them the best that they deserve.”

A central space

Storing all ākonga activities and resources in one central, user-friendly online place is common practice as part of a successful blended learning approach.

At both Wēteri and Greenhithe, ākonga access learning via a weekly Google Slides presentation containing differentiated learning choices and links to external sites and resources.

“It’s essentially just putting activities that you would do in the classroom into a slideshow, so the students can do them independently on their devices,” says Greenhithe kaiako Charlotte Pollard-Brown.

“I make sure all the bases are covered and they’ve got differentiated learning that they can do independently, which has been really big for them.”

Max, in Year 6 at Greenhithe, says, “I like the way learning slides are set up because they’re really easy to access and then you can just scroll down, decide what you want to do and then get on with your work.”

Tāmaki College is a founding member of the Manaiakalani Kāhui Ako. Russel describes how the kāhui ako is “a group of like-minded individuals who wanted to provide communities with skills for a digital world”.

The kāhui ako goal is to raise student outcomes through digital technologies, media, and thoughtful teaching practice, and so they designed a learner management app called Hāpara (meaning dawn), now used in over 40 countries.

Hāpara brings together information from multiple online platforms, shows ākonga a dashboard with assignments from across their subjects, and includes notifications for feedback alerts and due-date reminders. The kaiako dashboard shows each student’s mahi across various apps.

Greenhithe ākonga Reuben, Yanxi and Max confidently self-direct with their learning slides.

Greenhithe ākonga Reuben, Yanxi and Max confidently self-direct with their learning slides.

Collaborative planning

Storing learning materials on central online platforms supports teachers to contribute resources to a shared pool. Charlotte says it takes a lot of the pressure off.

“Planning collaboratively has been massive for my wellbeing. It means I don’t have to spend hours and hours planning each curriculum area. We take one each and plan that for two weeks.

“We plan the in-class learning, the workshop learning, and the learning slides. We’re doing one area comprehensively, making sure the students have access to everything they might need.”

Andy Crowe, assistant principal at Wēteri, says collaborative planning has “changed how the clock works. Staff come in later and leave earlier, we have more time with our own families”.

Storing content online also makes relief teaching easier. Charlotte says, “That has been massive. When I’m away, I know the students are getting quality learning.”

Russel also describes how new kaiako who start mid-year can seamlessly take over since all course content, planning, and in-progress ākonga mahi is online.

Before the school’s resources were cloud-based, “if a teacher left, you lost all the content and knowledge that they had developed. Now when the new teacher rocks up, they just pick up from where you left off”.

At Wēteri, onsite teaching is shared too. Kaiako Sam Bound describes a workshop wall which is a collaborative planning tool between teachers and students.

“We have the focuses up on the workshop wall and the teachers that will be leading them, and the students put their photo up to choose which workshop they’d like to be in.

“It’s been really empowering for them, really mana-enhancing, to have that choice over their learning and which teacher they’re with.”

Digital skills

Self-directed learning isn’t just about motivation and pace. Ākonga also need digital technology skills, says Te Kura kaiāwhina Leilani Kake.

Te Kura kaiāwhina Leilani Kake and Rita Beckmannflay.

Te Kura kaiāwhina Leilani Kake and Rita Beckmannflay.

“It’s funny,” she says. “We older ones think, they’ve got Google, they’ve got iPhones, they’re already clued up in terms of IT stuff. But that’s not true. Even general knowledge – what’s a PDF, what’s a .jpeg, how do you upload something to your Dropbox, how to see your downloads.”

Her colleague Rita Beckmannflay says supporting new ākonga to build these skills is crucial.

“Those sorts of things at the beginning are key. If it’s a disconnect at the beginning, it will be a disconnect all the way through.”

Greenhithe Year 5 ākonga are confident in themselves.

Greenhithe Year 5 ākonga are confident in themselves.

Greenhithe School makes a point of building this digital fluency in Years 3 and 4, so their self-directing Years 5 and 6 ākonga are confident online. Their system is still user-friendly enough, though, for new ākonga to jump right in.

Through the Hāpara tool at Tāmaki College, Russel says they are having more meaningful discussions with parents.

“We are enabling the parents. Now they can access their children’s learning themselves. They can ask, ‘how was that algebra lesson?’ instead of ‘what did you learn today?’ There’s a more powerful conversation in that.”

To train whānau and make sure they are cybersmart, they come into the school and have young people work alongside them. Ākonga are empowered to teach adults about email, device security and more.

Equitable access is a priority. With support from Fusion Network and government funding, Tāmaki College provides free internet for the surrounding neighbourhood. Tāmaki College and Wēteri are both part of the Manaiakalani Education Trust, and in fact, Tāmaki College is a founding member. Through the Trust, they have access to a unique pedagogy which supports all their staff and ākonga across all these areas. 

Similarly, Te Kura provides ākonga in financial need with refurbished devices and subsidised home internet access.

Supporting families

Wēteri and Tāmaki College act as community hubs, providing on-site and outreach services that “anyone in the community can access”, as Andy explains.

Taking a blended learning approach enables this as streamlined planning gives kaiako more time for pastoral support and community initiatives.

Some on-site services at Wēteri include the Kai Hub food bank and the Mana Clinic, a free multilingual clinic for local whānau.

Ākonga at Wēteri get excited about “cool opportunities to do challenges or go outside of school on trips.”

Ākonga at Wēteri get excited about “cool opportunities to do challenges or go outside of school on trips.”

Through a partnership with the Pacific Foundation, Wēteri hosts Home Interaction for Parents and Youngsters (HIPPY), providing home-based tutoring for tamariki aged 3–5 and supporting whānau with the transition into school.

“Our deputy principal Shelley Saunders runs a Talanoa group,” says Andy. “She’s involved parents from Tongan, Sāmoan and Māori whānau to give input.”

“Whānau should be participants,” he says, “not just observers, so we try to include and involve them as much as we can.”

Easy access to Hāpara from home has supported class-structure changes at Tāmaki, starting with a trial where Years 10–13 ākonga spent Mondays learning from home.

“We’ve had positive and honest feedback from the young people,” says Russel.

“Some missed the structure of the school day. Some appreciated the flexibility. We’ve since brought our Year 10s back in, but the seniors continue to work from home on Mondays. Some of them come in to do mentoring with young people.

“Those who work part-time can pick up extra shifts on Mondays. It’s going to prepare them well for study when they are beyond school. This will give them the skills to work in that environment.”

This setup is enabling ākonga to stay in school longer than they used to, with Russel pointing to how much they value family.

“It’s tough … they have to support their family in times of crisis, but they also have this burning desire to be better than before.

“If they can log on anytime instead of being stuck within school hours, that’s how we can help them stay on the journey because at the end of the day we want them to get into higher-paying employment.”

Bridget and Ellie enjoy Year 5 because “we work more independently” and “you rely less on your teachers.

Bridget and Ellie enjoy Year 5 because “we work more independently” and “you rely less on your teachers

Empowering ākonga voice

Wellbeing check-ins and personal reflections are key to a successful blended learning approach.

Built into the Te Kura website, these check-ins support all ākonga to be heard by their kaiako. For those who are socially anxious or just more comfortable posting a comment than talking face-to face, this is a game-changer.

Te Kura student Dylan says their termly Wellbeing Survey pushes him to self-reflect.

“I’m not very good with emotions … filling it out was, I wouldn’t say emotional, but a little eye-opening to who I really was.”

Their most vulnerable ākonga work with kaiāwhina, non-teaching staff whose focus is pastoral support, “but it’s so much more than that”, says kaiāwhina Leilani.

“My personal focus is on trying to grow them as young people in society, become critical thinkers, become responsible … and so we talk about things like gender, racism, all things under the sun. Because if we’re not having a talanoa, a kōrero… where else are they going to find it?”

“Their wellbeing affects everything – their wairua, their tinana, and whānau. Most of all it affects their connection to their turangawaewae.”

Catherine Anthony, who has been managing kaiāwhina since the role was introduced in 2020, says, “we deliberately hired kaiāwhina who had experience at working in a culturally responsive way, with empathy, good people skills and the ability to build relationships and meet students and families where they were at.”

These are just some findings from the Pam Fergusson Charitable Trust project on future-focused education, conducted with support from the Ministry of Education. It includes case studies in English and te reo Māori, a self-led course for school leaders, and a series of podcasts for whānau omgtech.co.nz/future-of-learning(external link).

Hyrbid Learning Guides

The Ministry of Education has several guides to support blended/hybrid learning practice, including te ao Māori and tikanga Māori, online safety and security, maintaining special character, accessibility and inclusion, leadership support, and more.

Visit learningfromhome.govt.nz(external link) to find out more.

Education outside the classroom

Strong blended programmes include hands-on learning, from Wesley Primary School Te Kura Tuatahi o Wēteri utilising a school garden, to Te Kura and Tāmaki College’s emphasis on trades programmes.

17-year-old Te Kura ākonga Sam says, “I’ve been given a lot of support through Te Kura with the career path that I want to do. I’ve done a nine-week work course where I go into a shop once a week for the whole day and help out the mechanics.

“It’s good to see what you might be doing on a day-to-day basis as a mechanic, what your average day might look like… to see the environment, see what I’m heading into. It really did confirm my passion.”

Te Kura encourages “Leaving to Learn,” which is ākonga-led learning that happens outside of the classroom.

Personal projects are documented online and rather than tracking physical presence, they record ‘engagement’ through a range of activities including submitting online work, working offline and uploading evidence, attending a face-to-face event or Huinga Ako (drop-in session) or participating in an external course or programme.

Whether an ākonga is fishing with their koro or taking dance lessons, they can record their progress as they go.

Kaiāwhina Leilani Kake says, “the cool thing about those reflections is you can either post normal text, do a video, do a photo, and it’s another way for the teacher to see what’s going on in the student’s life.”

Senior Te Kura ākonga Sophie, Sam and Miriam appreciate the option to do hands-on courses and work experience placements.

Senior Te Kura ākonga Sophie, Sam and Miriam appreciate the option to do hands-on courses and work experience placements. 

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 11:47 am, 4 April 2024

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