By Tara de Coninck, Learning Leader, English Language Learning, Hagley College
As part of our English Language Learning (ELL) programme/curriculum, our students are introduced to online learning platforms, so they have the opportunity to take the learning outside of the classroom. One of these e-learning platforms we use is called SEESAW. SEESAW is a platform for student engagement where teachers empower their students to ‘create, reflect, share and collaborate’. Students and teachers can ‘show what they know’ using photos, videos, text. Another positive of SEESAW is that it is an app that can be downloaded onto the students’ phones (although not all of our learners have access to computers, 100 percent of our learners have smartphones) and it is very user friendly, even for low-level language learners.

When Covid-19 became a pandemic, we started preparing our students for online learning, in the event schools needed to close. We did a Student IT survey to find out what types of technology our learners had access to at home. The survey showed that all students had access to smartphones. This was also the case for the English Language Composite (ELC) class, where all the students are refugees. The survey showed that only 3/17 students in the ELC class had a computer in the home. This meant we needed to work with platforms that were accessible on their phones. After some research, another user-friendly e-learning platform was found, Studyladder. During that time, teachers made sure all students were familiarised with both SEESAW and Studyladder. Hagley College uses Microsoft Teams as a communication and collaboration platform, but we did not introduce this to our learners at this point. When New Zealand was placed in Alert Level 4, we felt confident our learners would be able to continue their learning from home. During the two days we were still at Level 3, the teachers collated additional resources, including work booklets and reading materials to send to the students’ homes. The teachers of the ELC class decided to go to each students’ home and personally deliver the resources. The reason for this was to check in with our most vulnerable students in ELL, our refugee community, as well as to make sure they understood what the requirements were of being in Level 4. We did this by including a booklet of information, downloaded from the Easy Read Resources at the Ministry of Health, to our delivery pack, assuring our students had very clear, accurate, easy-toread information about Covid-19 and Level 4 isolation. All students appreciated this gesture.

The first days of being at Level 4, we could see the students were responding to the posts on SEESAW and most of them were doing the work on Studyladder. However, we realised that we were missing instant and social connection with our learners and we were concerned our students would feel extra isolated. As Teams allows us to communicate with our learners in real time, we decided to also connect our ELC class to this platform. After some effort, we were able to connect all ELC students onto Teams which really promoted the feeling of connectivity amongst our learners. Teachers created group chats and during the term break, students connected with each other daily, for a video call or a chat. This also gave the teachers the opportunity to check-in with their students to see if they were doing okay.

On April 15 we started Term 2 with online learning, teaching our students from home. We have grouped our learners according to their ability and we have created work groups based on student level. Work is set for each group or individual and teachers provide face-to-face contact through video conferences making sure students receive guidance, encouragement and constructive feedback. This way of connecting also allowed us, during lockdown periods, to check in with our students and their families’ wellbeing, to see if they needed anything or if they had enough food. We felt confident that our most vulnerable learners’ learning needs were being met.

The English Language learners in the composite class (ELC) consist of two males and 15 females. The students come from Afghanistan (12), Somalia (4), Eritrea (2) and Ethiopia (1). They vary in age between 22 and 67 years old. All students have received limited formal education in their home countries. As part of their full-time English Language course, they have 20 periods each week – 16 periods of English (with a focus on literacy) and 4 periods of Maths (with a focus on life skills/practical purposes).