Can features of remote learning help our Students of Determination now we’re back in school?

Emily Ellington, Head of Inclusion, examines what schools have learned from Covid’s impact on teaching and asks what can we expect schools to bring back to on-site education for the benefit of Students of Determination?  

Students of Determination are often plagued by low expectations and so it was perhaps unsurprising that much of the narrative surrounding the transition to remote-learning feared the worse for this cohort of students. Whilst many concerns were valid and almost all were well-meaning, yet again these students have proved people wrong.
A testament to their title as the ‘determined ones’, a significant proportion of Students of Determination have thrived during remote learning.

Such a dramatic shift in educational practice ignited researchers across the world. Publications on the impact of remote learning have already begun to emerge. As this research remains in its relative infancy, teachers are consolidating their own evidence from first-hand experiences of educating children through this unusual model of remote learning.

We’ve heard about the good, the bad, the hilarious and the unforgettable – but what have we learned from this period and what can we expect schools to bring back to on-site education for the benefit of Students of Determination?  

  • A greater acceptance of environmental adaptations and self-regulation strategies

Remote learning has enabled students to control the environment in which they learn, minimising or even eliminating many of the factors they may find challenging in school. The fluorescent glare of classroom lights has been replaced by natural sunlight. Icy air-conditioning has been turned up or down in line with personal preference. Background noise has either been completely cut-out or introduced in a way that makes the student feel most comfortable. And when we are comfortable – we learn best. As our students return to the school site, it is important we remember the impact of sensory sensitives on many Students of Determination and recognise the benefits gained from students learning within an environment that suits their needs. We should now look more attentively for opportunities to make reasonable adjustments.

If we find ourselves in an environment in which we are not able to make adaptations, we may instead employ an arsenal of self-regulation strategies to manage our attention, concentration or anxiety.  As anyone who has spent more than 10 minutes in a meeting with me will know, I’m a fiddler. And a doodler. And a chewer. Luckily as an employed adult – no one challenges me on these things. No one stops a meeting to insist I cease chewing on my lip, or twiddling my pen and I don’t have any colleagues who ask me to stop jotting flowers in the comer of papers whilst we brainstorm. Yet for many Students of Determination, their self-regulation strategies are often chastised. It can be seen as disruptive when a child kicks their legs below their desk, or hums quietly to themselves. It can be seen as defiant when a child insists on sitting with their back to the window, or won’t take off a comforting scarf. Throughout this period of remote learning – students have been able to use all of these unique self-regulation techniques without challenge. I hope we may now see many more schools encouraging and enabling individual regulation strategies to support student engagement.

  • An increased use of educational technology

Could such a sophisticated approach to remote learning have taken place 40, even 20 years ago? It’s highly unlikely. As we’ve flipped between multiple platforms and streamed at a rate of thousands of megabytes per second, the jewel in the crown of remote learning has unquestionably been technology. Students have revelled in having an upper hand with some teachers – “Miss, you press the icon to the left of the screen…” and for once, many of us over 30 have been playing catch up.

For Students of Determination, educational technology has provided another mode of engagement, representation and expression. Asynchronous learning has allowed students to pause, replay and reconsider content at their own pace without the pressure of instruction moving on. Coupled with some snazzy tools that allow font to be enlarged, segmented and voice-narrated, the central use of technology through remote learning has greatly supported curricular access for many students with additional needs. It is my sincere hope that teachers won’t leave these tools behind as we move back to physical classrooms.

  • A continued focus on emotional well-being

When the world ‘locked-down’, the emotional well-being of the entire population was questioned as the impact of social isolation, familial separation, extended home-working and general uncertainty unfolded. Add in safeguarding concerns about children unseen for extended periods and it is no wonder schools significantly enhanced their focus on the mental health of students through remote learning.

Well-being check-ins were introduced, mindfulness activities were integrated, timetables were balanced with ‘down-time’, mentors were recruited and counselling services were extended. Teachers became more conscious of the need to monitor the well-being of their students and a greater sense of ‘looking out’ for one another surrounded school communities.

It is recognised that Students of Determination are more likely to suffer with mental health difficulties and often, we are too reactive in our approach, waiting for outbursts of anger or unhappiness before exploring how well they are coping with learning. Many of the initiatives introduced through remote learning have acted to maintain and improve the emotional well-being of students, as opposed to intervening once problems or difficulties emerge. We cannot let this focus wane as we return to our physical classrooms. Continuing such a proactive approach will ensure the core conditions for optimum learning are fostered.

There has been a ripple of unintended consequences across the world of education as a result of remote learning and some things we will be pleased to see the back of. But whether you’re a champion for remote learning, school site or waving the flag for blended programmes, I believe a number of the changes we’ve seen in teaching and learning are likely to become incorporated in schools across the world. In a (hopefully) beneficial shift for Students of Determination, this evolution to a more individualised practice will gift a lasting positive nod to the year we all stayed at home.