Giving children in primary school the right support is vital. This year has made that particularly complicated, and has naturally led to a rise in enrolments for teaching focused courses on the FutureLearn platform. In this course spotlight we chat to the staff from the University of Reading behind one particularly popular course, Supporting Successful Learning in Primary School.
Can you tell us a bit about this course, who it’s aimed at and what it aims to achieve?
Schools in the UK and other countries, particularly those following a UK curriculum, have been employing teaching assistants since the change in the Education Act of 1981. The number of teaching assistants employed in many of these schools exceeds the number of teachers, and the majority lack a teaching qualification or any formal training in working with children. In the past there have been courses to upskill teaching assistants, but with the demise of the local authority and cutting of school funding, these have been closed.
Supporting Successful Learning in Primary School is designed to help address this gap. Featuring teachers and children from the University of Reading’s partnership schools, this concise, free, online course offers tailored CPD for support staff, parents, teachers, and trainees working with early years (up to 5 years old) and primary phase (up to 11 years old) children across the globe.
The aim of this accessible, interactive and educational resource is to help teaching assistants gain confidence by building on their understanding of teaching and learning, sharing best practice, and recognising and developing the skills they already have. Supporting Successful Learning in Primary School also provides a range of useful, practical tools, that learners can take away and apply immediately to further support their children in the classroom.
What has been your experience of running this course online?
Professor Helen Bilton, Lead Educator says:
Being involved with this course has been a highlight of my career and I have been humbled by the experience. I have found our online learners incredibly engaged, supportive of one other and innovative in their ideas. Having learners contribute ideas and share their experiences from across the world has been hugely beneficial too. We have a lot to learn from one another and I have been impressed to see how much our learners have enjoyed this aspect of the course, and how open they are to new ideas and respectful of differing viewpoints.
I have learnt a great deal as a result of every one of the 5 course runs and we have altered different aspects each time in response to these ideas, in addition to making improvements based on learner feedback and observing how they engage with the course materials. Designing and running this online course has also given me fresh ideas and new insights to apply in my campus based teaching. Supporting Successful Learning in Primary Schools has helped me become a better teacher.
The course was recently featured in Class Central’s Top 100 MOOCs list for 2020 and has an average user-rating of 4.8 stars on FutureLearn, with many learners praising the practical nature of the course. When designing the course, what steps did you take to ensure learners would come away with these practical outcomes?
Support staff working in schools are immensely busy, so we wanted to include brief learning activities that could be practised with ease at home or in school. No prior knowledge was required to participate in any of these activities, making the tasks accessible too.
The tasks were linked to school activities, to make them relevant to our learners in their everyday practice and designed to help them acknowledge and build on their existing skills. Once completed, learners were encouraged to demonstrate their learning by sharing and discussing their results with others. This was important as one of our goals was to go one step further than building a community of learners; we wanted to build a community of practice too.
You run a second course, Supporting Successful Learning in Secondary School, with similar aims for a slightly different audience. Did this change in audience lead you to have to approach anything in the design or content differently, and why?
We used the same structure for both courses but included different case studies and examples. Support staff in a secondary school have a different experience to those working in primary school so it was important to tailor the content and learning activities to make them relevant, and to help meet the needs of the each target audience.
What have been some of your key learnings from running this course?
Professor Helen Bilton says:
1) That what I have always believed still holds true and that is – always keep an open mind.
2) When you give people a safe space and encourage them to share their ideas – they will come up with interesting and useful insights, questions, and comments.
3) I have also learned that online learners can often answer one another’s’ questions, which demonstrates that everyone can be an educator, regardless of their background or prior knowledge.