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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In-person nasen training workshop

In person training with nasen

In this article, we provide some insight about our recently held nasen in-person training event.                  

Bright Heart

Bright Heart

We discuss our recently held in-person training event, which was presented by nasen.

Our training relationship with nasen

A lack of tutor training was a key shortcoming observed by Ryan in working with various tutoring agencies before launching Bright Heart. This was especially concerning when working with students with learning challenges. In launching Bright Heart, we were determined to put this right.

We approached nasen (National Association of Special Educational Needs) to help provide training to our tutors, due to its stellar reputation over >25 years supporting SEN (special educational needs) practitioners with training and resources. 

Nasen produced a training course exclusively for Bright Heart, comprising 4 webcasts (see here for topics) and a detailed written test. The aim of the course was to ensure that our tutors are adequately prepared to meet the individual learning needs of our students.

We recently complimented the online training course with an in-person training workshop facilitated by Michael Surr, nasen’s educational development officer.

 

In-person training workshop

nasen training
nasen's Michael Surr illustrating his point

We held our tutor in-person training workshop at a Wimbledon hotel on Saturday 28 September. Following an early start, tutors were welcomed on arrival with tea and coffee, before an opening address by Simon.

Michael then proceeded to engage the tutors with a very entertaining and interactive session during the rest of the morning, with the aims being to:

  • Provide an update on SEND news and developments;
  • Develop an understanding of mental health and person-centred working; and
  • Provide tutors with practical strategies to further enhance their one-to-one tuition.

The session included tutors taking part in a number of interesting group exercises and sharing their own tutoring experiences with the group. 

We also watched a very interesting video on the adolescent brain by Dr Andrew Curran, a neurobiologist. This helped to illustrate the science behind the Bright Heart Approach and what makes it so effective for our students.  He explained how the teenage years are characterised by excess dopamine levels (relative to serotonin) and how providing emotional support can help the brain to function optimally (by optimising the levels of dopamine produced). This is because the limbic emotional brain is responsible for 93% of dopamine secretion. Or to put it simply, “if you have someone’s heart, their minds will come with”.

Ryan then concluded the session by emphasising Bright Heart’s vision and the importance of implementing the Bright Heart Approach. He also acknowledged the tutors for their invaluable contributions in successfully putting this into practice.

Tutors then enjoyed a light lunch where they were able to spend time getting to know each other and sharing ideas on how best to implement some of the strategies covered during the morning.

Some tutors then joined Simon and Ryan for a well-earned afternoon beverage at a nearby pub.

The feedback from tutors was all very positive, with everyone thoroughly enjoying the hands-on activities and getting to meet and learn from their peers.

Find a well-trained tutor to help your child

Bright Heart’s tutors are all required to complete online training and encouraged to compliment this by actively participating in periodic in-person training workshops and other events.

Please get in touch to talk to us about how one of our well-trained, caring tutors could be perfect for your child!


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Our nasen tutor training course

student doing online training course

In this article, we provide some insight from our nasen training course, produced exclusively for Bright Heart’s tutors.                  

Simon McQueen

We explain why we asked nasen to help train our tutors, discuss the course and provide insight from our tutors’ test answers.

Why did we ask nasen to help train our tutors?

The lack of tutor training was a key shortcoming observed by Ryan in working with various tutoring agencies. This was especially concerning for tutors working with students with learning challenges. 

One of Bright Heart’s main goals is to improve the quality of tuition for students who would benefit most from a more nurturing approach. We approached nasen (National Association of Special Educational Needs) to help achieve this, due to its stellar reputation over >25 years supporting SEN practitioners with training and resources.

In meeting nasen’s education team, we were surprised to find that no other tutoring agency had met with them before. We therefore commissioned nasen to produce an online training course exclusively for Bright Heart before even hiring our first tutor

The training course comprises 4 webcasts (as shown below) and a detailed written test. The aim of the course is to ensure that our tutors are adequately prepared to meet the individual learning needs of our students.

Webcast 1: The Current Context of SEND

This provides a brief overview of the legislative context of SEND (special educational needs and disability) in England. It considers the key principles of the Code of Practice (2015), followed by the models of disability. The current definition of SEND is also discussed.

The current context of SEND

Webcast 2: The 4 broad areas of need

This covers the four main divisions of SEND according to student need, being:

  • Communication and Interaction
  • Cognition and Learning
  • Sensory and / or Physical
  • Social, Emotional and Mental Health

The webcast also considers how support and provision works, discussing the graduated approach and general strategies to consider for students.

4 broad areas of SEND

Webcast 3: Person-centred working

This defines person-centred working and how it should inform all interaction with students. It also explains how it should be used in conjunction with the Bright Heart Approach. Our heart-based approach focuses on the whole student and building rapport with warmth, before addressing academic needs.

Person-centred working

Webcast 4: Specific needs and strategies

This webcast provides a good examination of some specific SEN, including dyslexia, autism and social, emotional and mental health needs. It explains how understanding a student’s needs and considering related strengths and appropriate strategies helps to improve tutoring. Lastly, it discusses general strategies of engagement to add to a tutor’s tools for effective tuition.

SEND tutoring strategies

The nasen training course test

Bright Heart’s tutors are required to pass a detailed written test covering the nasen training course. The test comprises 20 questions requiring careful consideration from tutors. The focus is on applying the course material to practical learning situations. A selection of the questions posed are:

  • How might adopting the social model of disability benefit your work?
  • How could person-centred tools be used as part of the graduated approach?
  • Imagine that you are working with a young person that is being uncooperative. How might you go about trying to engage them?
  • Why is care needed when using labels to describe needs e.g. dyslexia?

Interesting insights provided by our tutors

Our tutors demonstrated their full understanding of the course material through their test answers. Reviewing these answers provided some interesting insights into their approach to tuition. Answers took into account the Bright Heart Approach, specific tools and guidance provided by the nasen training, as well as tutors’ own practical experience and other relevant training and qualifications.

A selection of helpful and insightful extracts from tutors’ answers to the questions above included:

  • "Adopting the social model is paramount to any educator's practice... Adherence to the model means looking at each one of my tutees as a unique human being, whose feelings, needs and learning style differ from those of any other human being. The Bright Heart model is quintessentially social, and relies on creating an empathetic rapport with the tutee in order to nurture not only the learner but the sentient being who has feelings, hopes, wishes and opinions of his or her own. ..."
  • "Many of the tools promote information gathering, and encourage an exploration of the young person’s world: how they experience their learning. This leads to both assessment of needs and also a recognition of what is useful to include in planning. Other tools promote review and reflection and can be used to indicate what needs changing or adapting as you go along."
  • "... Listening to the person, showing concern for their feelings, can often deal with the root of the problem, and not only the outward manifestation, which can only worsen if left untouched. Without attempting to solve the problems in people's lives, or to intervene in them in any way, simple listening and caring can help to build a healthy relationship with our tutees. Even if we manage to get a person to collaborate under a punitive approach, the fact that they are doing it under duress will only make it a short-term remedial measure. The Bright Heart approach is based on caring and understanding of tutees, not coercive measures which may assure compliance, but damage rapport, and, most importantly, fail to foster lifelong learners."
  • "Because every individual is different and they may not "fit" the dyslexic label as simply as one might expect - e.g. showing maybe one of the characteristic signs rather than all. Dyslexia is a spectrum condition, and also can occur comorbidly with other learning difficulties. Lastly, using the label may down play their strengths, such as creativity and their natural ability to see the bigger picture of concepts and problems."

Find a well-trained tutor to help your child

Bright Heart is pleased that its tutors have embraced their training and demonstrated their thorough understanding of it through their test answers. We plan to complement online training with in-person nasen training. Bright Heart’s directors have already received in-person training from nasen. We will write more about this in a future blog. 

Please get in touch to talk to us about how one of our well-trained, caring tutors could be perfect for your child!


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