What is a ‘blended learning’ approach?

Posted on 21st Oct 2020 in School News, Hong Kong, Online Learning, Curriculum

Naima Charlier, Director of Teaching and Learning at Nord Anglia International School Hong Kong, explains virtual delivery of the curriculum

We believe that many elements blend together to make up a successful virtual school experience. The balance of the learning day will differ to the pattern of the physical school but, depending on the age and stage of your child, a blended approach ensures that maximum learning is achieved through the delivery of a holistic education. This means the whole child is nurtured and education goes beyond the traditional model. All areas of the curriculum are covered from maths to music, history to art, and assemblies to sports.

School time is a mixture of synchronous, where teachers are online at the same time as the students, and asynchronous , where teachers have crafted learning experiences that pupils can access at their own time and pace. We make sure that the curriculum is delivered across these key elements. Each student has a timetable to help them understand what type of learning is taking place and show their parents how they can best support them.

Synchronous Learning includes:

Live Time – this is when teachers use a video conferencing platform to create a virtual classroom where pupils can interact with their teachers and other pupils live. Teachers model new learning, deliver sequences of learning and give pupils opportunities to practice and collaborate in small groups and individually.

Discussion Time – collaboration and critical thinking are really important skills for the 21st Century. We ensure that our pupils have multiple opportunities to interact with each other virtually. Teachers can set prompts and then act as a guide as pupils develop their critical thinking skills by listening and acting on the feedback received from their peers and their teachers. Discussions happen in real time and over time, in writing and via video.

Feedback and Improvement – feedback is crucial for learning and so it is a constant element across all areas of the virtual school. Teachers give individual feedback by leaving voice notes on work, sending little ‘how to’ videos when children are finding things tricky or arranging small calls to talk through their work. Most importantly, the pupils then act upon this feedback, so their learning improves. Another really powerful element of this is pupils giving feedback to each other.

Educational Tools – There are a vast array of powerful education platforms which NAE schools utilise to support learning in the virtual school. Pupils can log on and use these to practise the skills they have learnt with their teacher. They range from gamification platforms where pupils can have fun while they learn, to AI powered learning materials that pupils can use to support their learning in ways that suits them and at times that work well. Teachers can then see the results and adapt to provide challenge and support as needed.

Asynchronous learning includes:

Record and Celebrate – This element is about celebrating and valuing the learning our pupils complete as well as reflecting on learning as it takes place. Our teachers support pupils to use the appropriate method to organise their learning, refer to previous knowledge and skills, and build on them as they progress with the curriculum. As with the physical school, we celebrate and share learning via virtual shows, performances and assemblies.

Pupil Choice – An influential factor that improves learning outcomes is the choice over what, how and when learning takes place. We provide opportunities throughout the Virtual School Experience for pupils to have control and ownership over their learning. This supports well-being and increases their engagement and motivation.

Project Time – This is when pupils get to take part in various learning opportunities set by their teachers, usually through learning videos our teachers have recorded for them. There is a huge array of projects available, from those set by our world-leading university partners at The Juilliard School, renowned for training the worlds best in performing arts, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, famed for its technological research and innovation, to those made by the pupils themselves’. By giving pupils access to the materials and clear instructions to follow, children can take part in the learning and follow their own interests. Feedback from the teacher keeps the learning on track. As we are just as concerned with the process as the outcome, we then celebrate both the failures and the successes as learning comes from both.

Screen-free time – Our teachers are mindful of the impact of screen use and ensure that asynchronous learning opportunities, that don’t require any screen use, are an important part of the VSE. These are carefully balanced throughout the day and are adjusted to cater for the age and needs of each child and family.

As you can see, every element of our model is interwoven so that a child’s daily experience is a blend of each element and appropriate to their individual needs. Pastoral support is included throughout to ensure that students are cared for and nurtured by our teachers and that opportunities for interaction, socialising and fun are planned into the VSE. From virtual extra-curricular activities to bake-offs; from class quizzes to MIT Fireside chats, our days are as varied and challenging in the virtual world as they would be in the physical.

This article first appeared in John Catt's Guide to International Schools 2020/21, which you can view in full here: