Access to Education from Home or Hospital Bed: A Conversation with WSAPC
Posted by: Amanda Zeligs
Here at Edmodo, we understand the power of connecting students–especially in unexpected ways–to the resources and people that help them reach their full potential. We are thrilled to speak with Liz Jones, Blended Learning Teacher from West Sussex Alternative Provision College (WSAPC), who shared her team’s unique use of Edmodo and how the platform provides education for students who, for medical reasons, are unable to attend conventional school.
Tell us a little about your school and your role?
I work for the West Sussex Alternative Provision College (WSAPC) as part of the Blended Learning Team. We provide education for pupils from 5 to 16-years-old in West Sussex who are unable to attend mainstream education for medical reasons. There are currently 60 children in our provision, although these numbers fluctuate weekly as we are referred new pupils and others return to school. At our peak last year we were providing education for 90 pupils.
We work in the pupils’ homes and they each receive two or three visits a week from a mentor. As soon as a student joins Blended Learning, they are set up with an Edmodo account and assigned a mentor who supports their work in person and provides additional resources. Pupils are offered an interactive session via Edmodo once a week where they can receive additional guidance and encouragement from their mentor. This helps keep them on track with their work in between home visits. We also have a team of teachers who are always on duty on Edmodo throughout the school day, responding to messages and questions from the pupils.
I am one of the Blended Learning teachers with responsibility for overseeing the running of Edmodo along with planning and teaching pupils in their homes. The team is made up of 9 members of staff, led by Shaun Jarvis.
What led you to Edmodo?
We learned about Edmodo nearly two years ago from a teacher who had links to schools in America. They were using Edmodo successfully and she thought it could be just what we were looking for.
At the time we were considering different options to help us adapt our provision to ensure that we were providing “suitable full time education or as much education as the child’s health condition allows.”
Edmodo seemed like the perfect solution. Pupils could access their education full time instead of only when their teacher was visiting them. We could provide support throughout the school day and continue to visit pupils in their home a few times a week to teach and support them. Pupils could also access their work whether they were at home, hospital or transitioning back to school. They would be able to complete their work when they felt physically able to, without the constraints of a set timetable.
In May 2014 I was given a huge folder which contained all the help guides and asked to set up Edmodo! It was a steep learning curve but I really enjoyed the challenge and quickly learned about the various features that could support our teaching. We launched the new program in September 2014 and haven’t looked back.
What is the nature of the illnesses that students have?
Around half of our pupils are struggling with mental health issues–school phobia, severe anxiety or agoraphobia. For students with anxiety, Edmodo has had a huge impact on their ability to access education and meet their full potential. Many of these children are quite bright, but their grades have often dropped before coming to our service because of their lack of attendance at school. Without the pressure of going into school and the anxiety surrounding this, they are able to excel. The other half of our pupils will be cancer patients–leukemia, brain tumors or have other serious illnesses that prevent them from attending mainstream school at this time.
We are an interim provision with most pupils referred to us for an initial 60 days. In reality, most need to stay longer but our aim is always to reintegrate pupils back into school once they are medically fit to do so. Given the fluctuating nature of our service Edmodo has been brilliant for enabling us to set pupils up with suitable work quickly and efficiently. We no longer need to wait days or weeks for the pupil’s school to send us work. Instead they can join their relevant classes on Edmodo and receive excellent lesson plans and support from specialist teachers from day one.
What opportunities does using Edmodo open up for these students that weren’t previously accessible?
In our first year of using Edmodo we were able offer KS4 (14-16 year olds) pupils the opportunity to pursue relevant courses to achieve GCSE’s (General Certificate of Secondary Education) in the core subjects. Using Edmodo enabled us to share excellent lessons written by specialist teachers and prepare them successfully for their exams. The assignment feature allows us to give instant feedback to help them improve their work.
For KS2 and 3 pupils (8-13 year olds) Edmodo has allowed us to provide a tailored, personalized program of study to help meet the needs of each pupil to enable them to progress in line with national expectations. The interactive features ensure that pupils are engaged and interested with their learning.
Edmodo has also helped us create a community for our pupils who can often feel very isolated. The feedback we received from our recent pupil voice questionnaires was that pupils feel safe on Edmodo and many feel they can talk to members of the Blended Learning Team if they need help. It is so encouraging when we see pupils talking to each other or replying to a teacher’s comment. For our anxious pupils this is a huge step and hopefully makes them feel less alone.
Many of our pupils went on to college this summer. We work with career advisors, who meet with the pupil in the home to talk about post-16 options, such as university and apprenticeships. This year we have been sharing about college open days and other post-16 opportunities in our Community class on Edmodo.
For our younger pupils, once they are well enough to return to school we transition them at a pace that suits their needs. Today, I’ve been with a child who hasn’t been in school in two years because he is severely anxious. We knew he wouldn’t be able to go back into the classroom straight away, so we are continuing to use Edmodo but in a room at school. The familiarity of Edmodo helped him settle quickly, despite the surroundings being different.
One of the great things about Edmodo is that students can access their work when they are physically able. Even if they go into the hospital for chemo, they can bring their laptop and continue accessing their lessons and support from teachers. If they have chronic fatigue, they can do an hour, rest for a few hours, and then do another hour. Conventional school doesn’t allow for that kind of flexibility
How do you see your use of Edmodo evolving?
Since September, WSAPC has been developing the use of Edmodo in all their centers, of which there are 8. I have been helping to train “Edmodo Champions” for each center. The Champions have done a brilliant job supporting staff in their center, showing them how to use Edmodo and connecting them with other teachers in our organization.
Our centres are spread across the whole of West Sussex and previously many of the teachers only had a chance to meet other specialist teachers a few times a year. Now teachers can link up on Edmodo and share resources, lesson plans and work samples. It’s brilliant to see teachers using Edmodo and sharing the most up to date developments in their subjects. From January, we are going to hold many of our subject meetings via Edmodo. Teachers will be able to moderate work from other centers and share best practices. In 2016 we also plan to set up every pupil in WSAPC with Edmodo. We will look at ways each center can use this platform to suit the needs of their pupils. We are confident that the success we have experienced using Edmodo within the Blended Learning Team will continue throughout WSAPC.
Do you have a favorite story to share?
There is one pupil that I taught last year that stays in my mind. He was eight years old, and he had leukemia. He was our youngest pupil to use Edmodo but he loved it! With the support of his mum, he logged into Edmodo everyday, talked to his teachers, and accessed all his lessons which included videos, quizzes and instructional resources. Although the work is on the computer, we still did all sorts of practical experiments and activities during my visits. He regularly had to spend days in hospital but would simply take his laptop with him and continue with his work. When he was well enough to return to school his parents wrote on their blog what an amazing experience Blended Learning had been, both online and in person.