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Ilminster Intermediate School

Ako Puarere – online learning platform ensuring connection to learning for students

This spotlight describes how Ilminster Intermediate used an online learning platform to connect and engage their tamariki and whānau in learning when the impacts of COVID-19 affected their return to school at the start of 2022.

The spotlight was written from a presentation given by the Principal Megan Rangiuia.

Ilminster Intermediate School located in Kaiti, Gisborne, caters for students in Years 7 and 8. Most of the 374 students attending identify as Māori with a small number of Pacific students.

The school’s vision ‘Simply the Best’ supports the mission to cater to the needs of all ākonga, emphasising academic achievement as well as social and cultural awareness. The Ilminster curriculum is delivered via Mātauranga groups for literacy, numeracy, health and physical education. A Connections programme provides Technology in Food, Music, Art and Science. Students and whānau opt into learning centres that cater for self-identified strengths and interests. The school has been working to strengthen localised curriculum development.

What we did

Stayed connected through an online learning platform

Ako Puarere is an online learning platform that connects students to their learning. The site has promoted the building of relationships between learning centre kaiako and students despite the impacts of COVID-19 to the start of the 2022 school year. All students and whānau can access the platform directly from the school’s website. Principal Megan Rangiuia said that her leadership team and kaiako have been intentional about having this learning space up and running from the start of this year predicting large numbers of absences and wanting to be well prepared. Whilst the site had been used in previous lockdowns this iteration represents the hybrid model with greater fidelity in that this time the online and in-class programmes of learning run simultaneously.

The resilience of Ilminster’s hybrid approach was tested when the school recorded Covid positive cases in the first week of Term 1. A large number of students needed to isolate and the school quickly moved to hybrid learning to support the continuation of education.

Experiencing positive cases and with many students having to isolate in the first week of school impacted the start of year program for many ākonga and especially the whakawhanaungatanga between new Year 7 students, kaiako and their whānau.

Having an online learning bubble where students could check and connect daily, learn more about their kaiako and chosen learning centre and interact with other students has supported the transition of many ākonga to intermediate and laid strong foundations that have promoted student engagement.

“Keeping everyone in your leadership team in the loop regarding Covid developments has been crucial. The capacity across our team meant that everyone knew what their responsibilities were and could be responsive when transitioning in and out of remote learning and on site learning.”

Oriented ākonga and whānau for hybrid learning

At Whānau Nights at the start of the year staff shared the plan for a hybrid learning system in preparation for an unpredictable term. This system came into effect as large numbers of our students, staff, and support staff found themselves isolating at home. All students were contacted and oriented into their online learning programme.

Provided anywhere, anytime learning

Using the learning sites, teachers and students have been able to connect from home and continue the teaching and learning that is occurring in our classrooms. This is the goal of a hybrid learning model – making learning accessible from anywhere. Students who have engaged with their learning at home re-enter their in-person classes without the ‘lost’ feeling that is sometimes experienced after prolonged absence.

Shifted our thinking

For teachers and education systems, hybrid learning has required a shift in thinking and approach. Our staff have embraced this upskilling and work with open minds, enthusiasm, and the understanding that this approach may be the way forward post pandemic. Our learning sites are evolving as we see what works (and what doesn’t) for our rangatahi.

What we learnt

Hybrid learning is challenging 

For our students there is an immediate requirement for self-management and this means they may need support from whānau to problem solve, engage with their learning, and complete their mahi.

Importance of working with whānau

Whānau were invited to evening wānanga sessions at school to learn about Ako Puarere and how they could support their ākonga through distance learning. The input and feedback from the whānau were also used as reflections to identify the next steps to be taken to improve the platform for ākonga and whānau.

“Each of our students was contacted and oriented into their online learning program. Through Ako Puarere, teachers and students have been able to connect from home and continue the teaching and learning that is occurring in our classrooms.”

Check and connect – connection is important

Providing a space and time for our ākonga to connect not only with their kaiako but more importantly with their other peers is integral to their well-being in any distance program. They would come together as a community of distance learners at the same time each day and then later in the day they would also be able to engage with the other students from their centres.

“We kept with the same time each day, and this also helped those of our children who were experiencing COVID and/or isolating to feel that they weren’t alone.”

Make learning interactive – not just a digital hardpack

To be engaging the learning programme needs to be designed for purpose and should not just be a digitised version of hard materials. Kaiako take this into consideration when planning. Collaborating together, sharing the workload and sharing skills, strengths and capabilities is important to support kaiako when they are developing resources in unfamiliar ways. The school made the decision that Ako Puarere would play a key role in teaching and learning programmes early into planning for 2022, so this was factored in with preparations for the start of year.

Providing feedback 

Feedback to tamariki is as important in a digital space as in the classroom.

Scaffolding and teaching tamariki self-management skills 

Consistent structures, systems, and processes were key to onboarding students to the platform without having had the time to complete induction on site.

Ensuring tamariki are fluent in the systems of online learning

For example:

  • Can compose and check their emails
  • Know the kaupapa for online meets, can mute themselves, raise their hand, ask questions, react and respond
  • Are familiar with the site (at Ilminster, staff use the Ako Puarere in class as a resource)

Prioritise non-contact time for key staff 

This has been fundamental in the success of our online learning. Our lead teacher has had the time to connect, create and support students, staff and whānau. This has been the school-wide priority in Term 1 and we are now able to benefit from this mahi.

An effective hybrid programme is one that builds a culture and environment where ākonga can remain engaged in their learning with support from home

Intentional design, planning and consistency are key to promoting engagement. A whole community approach to understanding the programme and ensuring all ākonga and their whānau can have input into it is essential to support ongoing learning.

Reflective questions to consider:

  • Are whānau and ākonga learning together how to participate in the hybrid programme?
  • Have you considered what pedagogical approach(es) are appropriate for what’s being taught?
  • What will our students need in order to be more self-managing?
  • Are your staff ready, willing and able to be developing their teaching and learning programmes in this new digital way?

Where to next?

  • Continue to develop agency amongst our learners and build on their self-management skills to support them to take ownership of their learning.
  • Further grow the skills of our kaiako and leaders to develop interactive and engaging activities for Ako Puarere.
  • Build on the success of wānanga with whānau to continue this learning partnership.