Challenges of remote learning: a tutoring agency’s perspective​

nasen Connect September 2020

A director discusses tutoring under lockdown in an article published in nasen Connect magazine Sep 20.               

John Salmon director

John Salmon

Director John Salmon, M. Ed,  examines how tutoring evolved during lockdown and how tutees responded.

nasen Connect magazine (Sep 20)

John Salmon, director at Bright Heart Education, reflects on how support for tutees had to be adapted during lockdown and how tutees responded to a new way of working. This article was published in the nasen Connect September 2020 edition.

nasen Connect September 2020
nasen Connect is distributed to schools, SENCos and parents across England

Challenges of remote learning: a tutoring agency’s perspective

Unlike schools, tutoring agencies arguably experience closer contact with the everyday reality of many households as they directly partake in both the academic and emotional vicissitudes of families. Our first-hand knowledge has shown that adapting to online schooling has been an onerous challenge for families (as well as schools), but at the same time it has offered a more personalised learning opportunity for many
students, especially those with SEN.

As a tutoring agency that supports many students with SEN, we have naturally been concerned about the emotional and academic impact of lockdown. Lately, we have received a number of calls for help from concerned parents, which shared a common pattern: their child had lost interest in writing, reading and numeracy and no longer tried to fulfil school expectations. Parents reported unattainable assignments
amidst mounting levels of frustration, anxiety and disengagement. The lack of structure left children fending for themselves, with minimal assistance, save for that provided by their parents – who cannot be expected to play the role of trained teachers. Traditionally, our agency had focused on in-person tuition, so we had to transition to online tutoring to adapt to the lockdown.

For some, the physical presence of a facilitator was necessary, but many tutees with SEN embraced online sessions and realised that, with the right guidance and nurturing support, much could be gained. Far from being emotionally affected by the lack of traditional schooling, many felt perfectly at home (no pun intended) with the new situation, as social interaction at school was often a cause of anxiety.

Case study

One such case was a Year 7 tutee with ADHD, who was not affected by feelings of isolation, but by lack of motivation when faced with the sudden prospect of doing all his work without the solid support system provided by school. Worse still, he was being asked to complete assignments using the very electronic devices that distracted him in the first place. Overstimulation led to distraction, which in turn led to frustration and eventually refusal to work.

Our adaptation to remote learning with him proved to be fruitful. First and foremost, as a student with ADHD he was less prone to distractions at home, as opposed to the myriad of stimuli in a school setting. Restricted internet access was necessary, but technology allowed for better differentiation, by addressing individual learning events; one specific topic could be delivered in multiple ways and be adapted to his unique style. Thus, a multimedia history session could include videos, downloadable materials, audio and interactive games. He was also able to work at his own pace, being free to view lessons and materials at his convenience, allowing for maximum flexibility. Since deadlines were relaxed, he had extra time to complete tasks. Additionally, his workspace was adapted to suit his preferences, creating an environment conducive to learning. 

He liked technology because he found it more impersonal and nonthreatening. There were no peers there to judge him, no teachers there to pressure him with impending deadlines. He dreaded the idea of completing mammoth projects under severe time constraints, but smaller chunks no longer seemed insurmountable. His innate curiosity for technology developed into a learning opportunity, as he experimented with the different features in PowerPoint, Word or Google Drive, mastering the subject matter in the process. He learned to be less dependent on text-based learning when using audio books and videos online and felt at ease with no one watching over his shoulder. 

A way forward

This experience has taught us that the value of direct support from well-qualified teachers is irreplaceable. But we also know that online learning is here to stay, not only for children who are home schooled full time, but also as an integral part of school life.

The technology industry takes giant leaps much faster than most industries, to the point where it permeates all human activity, including education. Lockdown prompted an impromptu trial for teachers, tutors, parents and students and learning from this can surely guide us when moving forward, but not by simply replicating lessons in the shape of online lessons, with ensuing workloads that must be completed by students autonomously. When managed appropriately and combined with optimal support in the hands of capable, well-trained instructors, applying technology in a student-centred learning environment can bring forth a wealth of benefits, including for those with SEN, as it provides the flexibility and sense of ownership that can be lacking in traditional classrooms. However, a balance must be struck between digital and screen-free activities and independent and teacher led activities.

With the right support, combining pedagogical and technological expertise, students with SEN can meet learning targets in nonthreatening, customised environments.

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If this article rings true for you, then please get in touch and let us know how best we can help.


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Facebook Live Q & A about homeschooling during lockdown

FB Live with John Salmon, Bright Heart director

Bright Heart director John Salmon, M.Ed., answers pertinent questions live on Facebook about homeschooling during lockdown.        

Bright Heart

Bright Heart

In a live Q & A, John Salmon, M.Ed, addressed parent’s typical homeschooling concerns due to lockdown.

Facebook Live Q & A about homeschooling during lockdown

We recently held a Facebook Live Q & A to address parent’s questions about homeschooling during lockdown.  This was hosted by Jacqui Mackway-Wilson, our social media manager, with questions answered by Bright Heart director and former headteacher John Salmon, M.Ed.

Facebook Live streaming

Key questions covered

Facebook Live Q & A about homeschooling during lockdown
Click on the picture to watch the Q & A about homeschooling.

What has been your experience of education during lockdown?

We would love to hear about it on our Facebook page, or feel free to get in touch directly with any questions. You can read about the experiences of a Bright Heart student, parent and tutor in a recent blog here.

We have written a series of blogs about education during lockdown which you may find useful: Homeschooling tips for parents during Coronavirus lockdownQuestions (FAQs) about learning, schools and exams during lockdown and Pros and cons of online tutoring and tips for parents using an online tutor

Bright Heart will continue to offer guidance and support during this challenging period.


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Personal stories of homeschooling and online tutoring during lockdown

Online teaching during lockdown

Unique educational perspectives are shared from a student, parent and tutor during the current lockdown.            

Bright Heart

Bright Heart

In this next instalment we look at some of the personal experiences of homeschooling from those affected by lockdown.

Personal stories about homeschooling and online tutoring during lockdown

In light of these challenging circumstances, we reached out to the Bright Heart community for their perspectives on homeschooling and online tutoring during lockdown. Thank you for all your insightful comments and questions.

Special thanks to Tom (student), Steven (parent) and Angela (tutor) for sharing their experiences with us and agreeing to have them published.

Tom (student, aged 10)

Let’s start with one of our most enthusiastic and brilliant young minds, Tom. He has fully embraced online tutoring during the last month and a half.  It has been such a pleasure to see how much Tom has progressed during the last year. It has been especially rewarding to know that he has been able to keep the good work up during lockdown, despite all the added challenges.

I have been having lessons with John for about a year now.  I have a lot of ideas, but sometimes I have trouble organising them. John really helps me with planning my writing and putting it down on paper. I was a bit nervous about having a tutor at the beginning, but I have not regretted it since, as it has been a thoroughly enjoyable experience! 

The transition from face to face sessions to online has been very smooth and I feel like I am learning just as much as before. I still look forward to every session and it is one of the highlights of my week. I would definitely recommend Bright Heart Tutors.

Online teaching during lockdown
Online learning has been an enjoyable experience for some students during lockdown

Steven (parent of a Y7 boy)

One of our Bright Heart parents, Steven, wrote to us to share some of his family’s experiences with homeschooling. In his detailed account, he talks about the inadequate use of technology by the school and the anxiety that the mounting workloads and lack of in-person instruction has caused his son during lockdown. It is worth noting that teachers also feel overwhelmed and unprepared these days, despite having technological tools at their disposal, as no one could foresee the scale and complexities of the current situation. Steven decided to use our online tutoring service to help his son overcome his anxiety and guide him with his work on a daily basis.

My son’s school has decided to use Microsoft Teams as its remote learning platform. There were a few technical issues, which are understandable, but I’m not impressed with the way the school has organised these lessons, as the school has decided to host lessons to all or nearly all students at once per subject.

My child is in year 7, so we’re talking multiple classes in the same year group, or basically 100+ children per subject. This wouldn’t be so much of an issue in older year groups such as GCSE or A Levels since the myriad subject choices students could choose at this level means that each subject naturally would contain less children, but this presents a problem for younger ones. To keep things in some semblance of order, children are asked to mute their audio and keep their video off. Their only outlet for questions is via the text chat function. This results in either too many questions at once, overwhelming the teacher’s ability to teach and answer them at the same time, or where the teacher is presenting and not looking at the chat completely, a torrent of irrelevant chat and GIFs; hardly surprising since the children are only 12 years old and there’s potentially 100 of them in the same lesson.

In terms of presentation, a Maths lesson I observed had the teacher talking and demonstrating by using a camera pointed down at a desk whiteboard. This hints at teachers not being provided with the right equipment. A tablet computer or separate tablet device (with or without screen) is what they should be using. Perhaps this is part of the teething issues and will be resolved at a later date as the school gains more experience from this approach to learning.

Recently I also saw a pre-recorded lesson. It looked more professional, as the teacher had clearly taken the time to create the presentation deck and voice over during the lesson. However, this is not ideal as it wasn’t live.

The biggest issues I see with the above approach that need to be considered and rectified by the school are:

My child’s school remote learning implementation is not the greatest. Large class sizes, almost no ability for interaction or questions, no record of the class post lesson, results in an inferior learning experience. I think the school should lower class sizes by having more teachers present, thus allowing more interaction. It should make recordings available to the students afterward, provide more training and better equipment to teachers.  

Hopefully as the school gains experience and more teachers become available to teach, some of these issues will start to diminish or even disappear. Hopefully this happens sooner rather than later. But from my observation, remote learning as implemented by my child’s school is little better than my child teaching himself. Only the fact that the classes are at set times and timetabled give any sort of advantage to this approach.

My son has learning difficulties and he was feeling overwhelmed and anxious with the technical issues, impossible workloads and lack of communication with his teachers.  He is in constant need of support and encouragement and I therefore sought the help of Bright Heart to increase the number of tutoring sessions through their online platform. Having that 1:1 support proved to be invaluable for my son, who is now successfully coping with all the challenges which seemed insurmountable to him not too long ago.”    

Online tutoring
Learning online has presented unique challenges for students, teachers, parents and tutors during lockdown

Angela (Bright Heart tutor)

Finally, one of our tutors, Angela, who made the transition from in-person to online tutoring relates her experience below, which has been educational for both her and her students.

Working as an online tutor during lockdown has generally been very positive. 

I am currently 9 months pregnant so it has been a great way to continue supporting the students while not having to navigate the tube at rush hour! Overall, it has been remarkable to see how some of the children have adapted to and have enjoyed using the technology. I have seen them engage in novel ways with the material and some have demonstrated more agency in their learning. Having a screen in front of them, at a set time has also, somewhat surprisingly, been a good medium for those students who struggle to focus. 

My students have benefitted from the consistency of maintaining weekly tuition and it has definitely given them confidence in using new skills. It has also brought about new skills for me, for example, forcing me to be more concise in my instruction and explanation. Overall, I believe that going forward, it is an excellent option for students and tutors alike.”

What has been your experience of education during lockdown?

We would love to hear about it on our Facebook page, or feel free to get in touch directly to see how we can help. 

We have written a series of blogs about education during lockdown which you may find useful: Homeschooling tips for parents during Coronavirus lockdownQuestions (FAQ) about learning, schools and exams during lockdown and Pros and cons of online tutoring and tips for parents using an online tutor.

We also held a Facebook Live Q & A where we answered some common questions from parents at this time.

Bright Heart will continue to offer guidance and support during this challenging period.


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Pros and cons of online tutoring and tips for parents using an online tutor

student learning online with tutor

In part 3 of our lockdown blog series, one of our directors discusses online tutoring and provides some tips.                

John Salmon director

In part 3, I provide some details on online tuition and provide tips for using an online tutor

Pros and cons of online tutoring and tips for parents using an online tutor

In this third blog in a 3-part series to help parents during lockdown, I discuss online tutoring. Online tuition has experienced a massive surge in popularity due to lockdown.

With the growth of technology and the desire for education in the home, online tutoring had already been experiencing increasing adoption before coronavirus (COVID-19).     

Online tutoring platforms have been improving, as they allow for interactive teaching and learning, as well as effective evaluation, in real time. Online tutoring also presents opportunities for students who live in areas that are hard to access, where there are not many tutors. For tutors, online tutoring is much more efficient than navigating the city’s public transport or driving at rush hour.

While in-person tuition is often the preferred option for parents, there are some students who find in-person social interaction awkward and who may feel more comfortable online. There are also many students who enjoy technology and find this method of learning exciting. However, for some students with special educational needs (SEN) who require kinaesthetic learning, meeting their needs online will not be as attainable. Building rapport, which is an important part of tutoring, is a bit more challenging online. Some parents are also happier once they’ve met the tutor in person before online lessons commence.

Let’s consider some of the pros and cons of online tutoring and some general tips for parents.

student learning online with tutor
Online tuition has certain strengths and weaknesses

What are some advantages of online tutoring?

What are some disadvantages of online tutoring?

Parents should take precautions to make sure they are happy with the online tutor for their child.

6 tips for parents using a private online tutor

  1. Use an agency that follows strict protocols when screening and interviewing tutors and conducting background checks (Enhanced DBS) and reference checks. Although the tutor is not physically present in the home, using a carefully vetted tutor that the agency knows personally is very important.
  1. Check that the tutoring agency or tutor is using a suitable platform for tuition. This would be one that allows video, audio, file sharing and online whiteboard options. The latter is important when evaluating written content in real time. The ability to share pictures related to the topic (e.g. volcanoes for Geography) is also helpful to maintain interest.
  1. Preferably meet them in person beforehand; however, if this is not possible, set up an online mini interview before the lesson to get a sense of their approach, personality and experience.
  1. Prior to the first lesson, allow some time to set up the technology and to gain some familiarity with it. Children are naturals with technology, but some applications are more intuitive than others.
  1. Make sure the topic is chosen prior to the lesson. Extra preparation is needed for online tuition and this will be much appreciated by the tutor.
  1. Carefully review the first online lesson to make sure that you are comfortable with the tutor and that your child and the tutor have established the necessary rapport. A good tutoring agency will also provide a lesson report following the session and some agencies, such as Bright Heart, even offer a free trial to make sure you are completely satisfied before continuing.   
Gardening during lockdown has shown a large increase in popularity

What can we do to help you during lockdown?

This lockdown period will be a challenge for everyone. But with every challenge there is an opportunity – with a little thought and planning this period can be productive and a time of family connection and reflection. We hope that you keep healthy with your family and make the most of the next months. We also hope you have found this 3-part blog series helpful – see Part 1 and Part 2.

My fellow Bright Heart directors and I are here to help at this difficult time. Please don’t hesitate to contact us. Whether it is simply to ask a question about the blog series or to discuss how one of our experienced, caring tutors could be the right choice to help your child, we are always happy to hear from parents.

Please share our blogs with other parents if you think they could be helpful. We would also love you to share your own experiences and tips with us through our Facebook page.


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