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Blended learning for Special Schools

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Serving the city of Salford, Springwood Primary School provides specialist education for children aged 2 to 11. Teacher Catherine Garratt shares how the recently upgraded Discovery Education Espresso is helping the school team to deliver personalised blended learning, during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Espresso has always been a favourite resource at Springwood Primary School. We’ve used the platform to support our teaching for over 20 years. The digital resources are very engaging and accessible for learners with special needs. Our children like the videos and games and the fact that it’s continually updated.

As a special school, for us blended learning is about providing bespoke learning. All of our children have individual needs, so a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t really work. Delivering home learning that can meet those needs —while catering for the majority of pupils who are still in school —has been our challenge. Discovery Education Espresso helps us to do this.

Having moved to the upgraded version of Espresso earlier this year, we’re now using it to deliver blended learning. Espresso gives us a single platform to share content in a clear and meaningful way and this has been huge for us. Instead of sending emails with lots of different attachments, our parents can access content through a single portal.

At Springwood our children follow 3 learning pathways : pre-formal, semi-formal and formal, and within this there are many different levels of working. Espresso gives us individual pupil logins which allow us to personalise learning for every child. This has been powerful during lockdown because we can see what pupils are accessing at home.

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Upgraded Espresso has a brilliant feature called Studio which lets us create boards to share with the children. We can pin different resources to the boards —almost like a collage of learning activities —and assign these to each child individually. Studio is easy to use and ideal for supporting pupils who are learning at home. We create weekly boards for English, Maths and themed learning, plus PDF files for PE and our ‘Weekly Challenge.’

Our English Studio boards include a story, a comprehension activity, a poem and a game. We take some resources from Espresso and others from elsewhere and personalise each Studio board to meet the needs of different learners. If a child really likes superheroes for example, we can add fun superhero content to boost their engagement. We use a programme called Boardmaker to symbolate text for the children. We also add sensory activities for families to enjoy.

We upload work for every child on a weekly basis and keep the submission date flexible. We know that families and children work in different ways and that learning at home can be difficult. Our aim is to support everybody and make the learning as accessible and motivating as possible. Espresso helps us to do this and the fact that it allows us to bring in other resources works very well.

The themed boards we’re creating within Studio are helping us to build a central bank of resources that are well targeted at different levels of working. Our staff can dip in and out of these to find lesson content. We’re also using the boards as homework for the children who are currently in school. It’s a great way of extending learning. And if pupils need to self-isolate in the future, we’ll have work that’s ready to share.

Using a single platform brings clarity to our blended learning. When parents and pupils log in to Espresso, they can immediately see their allocated work. And because it’s online, they can repeat activities and games that they enjoy. This is far better than printed worksheets which can only be used once. After the first lockdown we’re more aware of the need to make home learning sustainable for families. Espresso means we don’t have to ask parents to do lots of paperwork or printing. The feedback we’re getting from them is very positive.

One of the best things about Espresso is that it is interactive. Once a child has completed their work if they have something they want to research —perhaps they’ve seen a bird in the garden that they want to know more about —Espresso is a really safe space where they can explore different topics and themes. The fact that Espresso is there in the background is wonderful. We can set assigned activities and extend the children’s learning within one platform.

As a school we’ve been very impressed with Discovery Education. The customer support has been phenomenal. We always get a very quick response and we’ve been made to feel that our feedback is really important, which is amazing.

Maintaining a connection with our pupils and families throughout the pandemic has been very important to us. Home learning doesn’t just happen —family input is key. We’ve worked hard to make sure that parents know we are here to support them. Delivering personalised learning is part of this and Espresso makes this happen. It helps us to assign learning that’s motivating and accessible for every child.

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