Categories: Community, Highlights, News

The SPARK Schools Covid-19 playbook to keep learning going for every child


Posted on

students working on their computers under the guidance of a teacher at a Spark School

Anu Nathan, itslearning

How did this network of schools in South Africa keep learning going amid the challenges of a global pandemic, low Internet accessibility, and having just transitioned to a new Learning Management System? Dee Moodley, Head of Learning Model at SPARK Schools explains.

Dee Moodley has an infectious laugh, but what’s more infectious is her passion for education and her commitment to helping students succeed. “We could not let them down. We had to keep the school open. We had to figure out a way when this pandemic happened.”

And that’s what teachers at SPARK Schools did. The network of 20 private schools in South Africa offers affordable, globally competitive education. They have a rigorous curriculum, and they believe in holistic support for teachers and students.

We balanced academic and practical learning. We even created differentiated learning paths … prioritized the content to be provided online and worked from there.”

Dee Moodley, SPARK Schools

Dee has been a teacher for more than 20 years. Coming from a family of teachers, it was what she always wanted to be. “It’s my flow moment – when I’m teaching,” she says, with a big laugh. In 2002, she moved to England to teach at a public primary school where technology and blended learning was part of the curriculum.

“The teachers there did everything to help their students succeed – it was such a revelation to see this in a public school system, to receive such a great education from dedicated teachers.”

Dee returned to South Africa and joined SPARK in 2013 where she found that same commitment to students.

So, it was no surprise that when the South African government announced a lockdown, the staff at SPARK Schools were already working on a remote learning plan to keep education going. They launched the Home Learning Portal on March 16, three days before lockdown went into effect. The portal offered pupils at Foundation (R-Grade 3) level math and reading material, while the Intermediate and Senior students had access to itslearning.

Reaching students without Internet access

“But we also had to make sure that we were reaching our students who did not have access to the Internet. So, for them we had paper packs – every week their parents would collect a paper pack with lessons, materials and exercises, and submit the exercises from the week before.

“We even created differentiated learning paths not just online, but also with the paper packs. We prioritized the content to be provided online and worked from there.

“We made sure to involve parents so they could support their children in the home learning. Our intermediate and senior students were on itslearning, so we ensured that parents knew how to access the site and help their children. We also provided parents with creative activities they could do with their children, as well as a daily schedule for the scholars.”

A flexible, soft approach to learning during the pandemic

“This was Phase 1. We then progressed to Phase 2 and began recording lessons for students. These recordings were kept to around 5 minutes.

“This was incredible – teachers had to learn how to make and edit videos, make the recordings engaging. It was mind-blowing what the teachers were able to create. We used itslearning and Google documents for exercises. Short video instruction and then the teachers would help the students with their work. We did this for quite a while.”

Since they were independent, they were given permission to reopen at their own discretion, so long as they followed national health and safety protocols.

“Our schools reopened on June 2. That’s when we transitioned to Phase 3 – live lessons. But some parents were nervous about sending their children to school. So, we took the soft approach. We offered three learning models – face to face teaching, fully online learning or hybrid learning – and let them decide what worked best for them.

“We phased in our scholars week by week. We redid the timetable. Instead of teachers owning a classroom, now students stayed put and it was the teachers who moved from class to class.

“During all of this, we worked with itslearning to get our Foundation level onto the platform – that’s Grades R (Kindergarten) to Grade 3. Everything was done remotely. We created site specific courses in itslearning and this was where each school would create the assignment for students who were submitting the home pack.”

Get students to think about their learning

“The one real indispensable tool was the planner. We did a weekly planner and the point of this was to prepare the students for what they would be learning. We used metacognition. Ask the question first to get them thinking. Start off the week with a task rather than the information.

“We also used metacognition around assessment – what were the resources to address gaps in knowledge. This was all done on the planner because we wanted engagement from the students. The planner is a great tool to create structure for independent learning.

“Having a well-dated planner helped, because the students knew what they had to get through week by week, and that helped them stay focused.

“To gauge understanding, we used the test tool, of course. We also used tasks for offline exercises, and assignments. We gave our scholars instructions on how to open a Google doc and submit in itslearning.

“Students would be most excited to do experiments – the practical stuff – and teachers had to get creative and use things that were accessible at home. Teachers would be there with them online, to give guidance.”

Data analysis to improve education delivery

“We balanced academic and practical learning. The younger students, in the primary levels, would have 2 hours a day of academic time, while older students had more.

“We did our data analysis early on in lockdown. We already had the end of term assessment and qualitative data from teachers when we had to close. So that first week at home, we were very specific about what we had to do. We already had a lot of data – we knew which children were progressing well, who needed some intervention and who needed a lot of intervention. So, when the teachers started their live lessons in Phase 3, they already had this information and could structure how they delivered the lessons and differentiated the material for students of different abilities.”

Support for the faculty

“Teachers at SPARK get 2-3 hours of professional development (PD) and one-to-one coaching with mentors a week. Post lockdown, we couldn’t do this. Instead, we used itslearning to deliver PD. We started with PD for school leaders which cascaded to the staff, using the ‘train the trainer’ model.

“Instructional coaching continued – online. Using itslearning courses as PD courses for school leaders, we uploaded all the content a week before so they could prepare, and the sessions not only became shorter, but were also more effective.”

“It’s important to engage the teachers. Get the teachers onto the platform first so they are familiar with how students are experiencing it and will know how to help their students.

We switched to itslearning because we were looking for a robust student management system. We wanted to be able to better personalize education”

Personalized learning: A student getting some extra reading help during a 1-1 session with a teacher.

Finding the right LMS partner

“We switched to itslearning because we were looking for a robust student management system. We wanted to be able to better personalize education, so tools such as learning paths to redirect content to specific children who need a bit more help is simply brilliant.

“We were on Google Classroom before – but Google Classroom is not a full LMS. It was good for term plans, lesson plans, assignment and content. The move to itslearning has been ‘epic’. We gain so much, incredible data. It’s easy to use. And it’s a proper database. Google Classroom was work intensive, we had to recreate classes, plans… every year. With itslearning we can just repurpose and reuse content year after year. So that is a huge benefit for us as a low-cost private school. We save on hours of work and that to us is a big win. itslearning is a one-stop shop – teachers can submit their lessons plans, assignments, content, data, reports – it’s all there.

“I tell the teachers, go in and do the work yourself. Learn about all the capabilities of itslearning. Be hands on, and you will discover that you can do so many things with the LMS. Decide what you want to do and see how the LMS can serve that purpose. The possibilities of the system are endless.”

Dee’s 4 key factors to consider before implementing blended learning

  1. Define the problem statement and understand the problem/gap you are trying to solve.
  2. Identify the blended learning model that you want to implement and why this model would work best for your institution/district.
  3. Decide whether you want to curate or create the content.
  4. Teachers first, students second. Holistically support your teachers because they need the right tools and training, before they can help the students.

* Shortly after this interview Dee Moodley left SPARK Schools to pursue her own interests. She remains very much involved in the education arena.

Remote learning starter kit image

Free Remote Learning Starter Kit


Recent Posts

Our Product

How to talk to your students about plagiarism and academic integrity

August 25, 2021

Our Product

4 tips to help uphold academic integrity in your classrooms

August 16, 2021

Our Product

Encouraging academic integrity and original thinking with itslearning

August 9, 2021

Higher Ed

A hybrid learning approach to higher education: Bahçeşehir University

August 4, 2021

News

The NEN Interview – Steve Tucker, CEO itslearning

June 28, 2021

Our Product

The itslearning planner is a great tool to give students structure, sequence and scope

June 21, 2021

Community

Isle of Man endorses hybrid learning as the way forward following 3 lockdowns

June 15, 2021

News

itslearning will exit the US market over time and strengthen its position in Europe

June 9, 2021

Our Product

A brand new, visually appealing planner for Back to School 2021/2022

June 8, 2021

Community

Virus versus the internet — education during and after the pandemic

June 8, 2021

Highlights

Schleswig-Holstein extends contract with itslearning for further three years

May 28, 2021

Community

Personalizing Learning through a Hybrid Model

April 27, 2021

Community

9 reasons why you should be at itsConvention

April 20, 2021

Community

Tips from the online classroom: How to engage students and activate their interest

April 15, 2021

Highlights

The future of education: remote and hybrid learning

April 12, 2021

News

ROC Midden Nederland chooses itslearning

April 12, 2021

Highlights

Podcast – How itslearning empowers students and teachers across the globe

April 8, 2021

Community

Aarhus Tech uses video conferencing to prevent dropouts

March 2, 2021

Highlights

2021 brings some major improvements to the itslearning platform

February 17, 2021

Community

Online Learning Tips & Tricks

February 17, 2021

Higher Ed

Implementing a Digital Learning Environment at Centria University of Applied Sciences

February 11, 2021

Community

Berlin offers the itslearning LMS to 400,000 students and teachers

February 10, 2021

Community

7 easy steps to engage your students during live video online classes in itslearning

February 2, 2021

Community

Five important data privacy takeaways from 10 months of remote and blended learning

January 27, 2021

Community

How the Dutch Police Academy Streamlines & Secures Education

January 18, 2021

Community

itslearning is moving fully to the cloud to scale up faster and better serve you

January 4, 2021

Community

How education disruption prompted this Finnish school to reinvent vocational learning

January 4, 2021

Community

5 free & fun tools to learn a new language

December 15, 2020

Community

Engaging Students with Virtual Reality

December 10, 2020

Higher Ed

What kind of technology can be used to support the learning process at universities?

December 10, 2020

Highlights

Baden-Württemberg selects the itslearning LMS for over 1 million students

December 9, 2020

Highlights

Introducing our brand new Test tool

December 7, 2020

Highlights

10 ideas for creating accessible content for everyone in itslearning

December 3, 2020

Higher Ed

Review: University of Southern Denmark to replace Blackboard with itslearning

December 1, 2020

Higher Ed

University Digitalization – How can an LMS make a difference?

November 18, 2020

Community

5 key strategies to make remote learning fun and engaging for younger learners

November 3, 2020

Community

Overview of itslearning October Updates by Brenny Kummer

October 20, 2020

Community

The SPARK Schools Covid-19 playbook to keep learning going for every child

October 14, 2020

News

itslearning: A Powerful Partner for Online Learning by Aimée Skidmore

October 13, 2020

Higher Ed

An effective implementation of technology (LMS) in Higher Education

October 13, 2020

Highlights

Becki Lee of Hopwood Hall College Awarded “UK Teaching Oscar” for Digital Innovator of the Year

October 12, 2020

Highlights

itslearning October 2020 Release

October 5, 2020

Highlights

Another great literacy tool – itslearning adds Immersive Reader to the platform

October 2, 2020

News

itslearning establishes new partnership with Altitude Learning to manage its US business

October 1, 2020

Highlights

Remote Learning Tips from the “Digital Teacher of the Year”!

September 25, 2020

Higher Ed

Tips for blended learning in higher education – the Stockholm University experience

September 8, 2020

Community

International Schools Embracing Technology for Blended and Remote Learning

August 25, 2020

Highlights

All set for Back to School after summer

August 24, 2020

Community

The Learning Platform That Enables & Enhances Blended Learning

July 7, 2020

Community

Whatever it Takes – Supporting Personalized Learning Remotely

June 17, 2020

Highlights

itslearning June 2020 Release

June 12, 2020

Community

How the Millis School District is tackling Remote Learning

June 11, 2020

Community

Learning Paths Simplify Online Learning

May 22, 2020

Community

itslearning LMS Makes Remote Learning Easier

May 19, 2020

News

itslearning + Google: All That and a Bag of Chips!

May 11, 2020

Our Product

itslearning May 2020 Release

May 8, 2020

News

Digital Solutions at Bremerhaven Schools

May 6, 2020

News

Shifting from eLearning to Remote Learning

May 5, 2020

Higher Ed

University of Southern Denmark chooses itslearning as its learning platform for 45,000 users

May 5, 2020

News

Elizabeth White — Harford’s 2020 Teacher of the Year — keeps caring for students while working remotely

May 4, 2020

News

Lightening the lockdown load

April 27, 2020

News

Tools that teachers love for fostering human connections in remote learning

April 17, 2020

News

The Mooseheart Child City & School Reinvents Teaching & Learning!

April 16, 2020

Highlights

Düsseldorf fast tracks remote learning – connecting 80k users in 24 hrs

April 15, 2020

Highlights

itslearning is ISO 27001 certified

April 14, 2020

News

itslearning Announces UBIT as New Partner in Turkey

April 14, 2020

Highlights

Bahçeşehir University Uses itslearning to Support Remote Learning

April 7, 2020

News

Remote Learning for All

April 2, 2020

News

Helpful teaching tools for virtual learning

March 24, 2020

News

Update: Efforts to boost platform capacity for itslearning users

March 17, 2020

News

Remote learning usage peaks as schools around the world close

March 16, 2020

Higher Ed

Turku University of Applied Sciences Selects itslearning

March 13, 2020

News

The successful implementation of a learning platform at Bartholomew Schools

March 5, 2020

News

How schools can ensure continuous learning during the coronavirus outbreak with remote learning

March 4, 2020

News

Amy Ong, from St Paul’s Catholic School wins UK User of the Year 2019

February 14, 2020

Our Product

itslearning February 2020 Release

February 14, 2020

News

Meet our new CEO – Steve Tucker

February 13, 2020

Higher Ed

What is an LMS… and do we need one?

February 12, 2020

Higher Ed

3 Things You Need to Know Before Implementing an LMS in Your University

February 10, 2020

News

Leadership change at itslearning

February 4, 2020

Our Product

itslearning January 2020 Release

January 10, 2020

News

itslearning is now a part of Sanoma Group

December 5, 2019

Higher Ed

itslearning at the OEB Global Conference 2019 in Berlin

November 27, 2019

Higher Ed

University College Copenhagen Selects the itslearning Platform

November 20, 2019

Higher Ed

Stockholm University hosts series of pedagogical course design workshops

November 4, 2019

News

Vi e’ Bergen – itslearning is Bergen

November 4, 2019

News

Virtual Learning Environments: What is their role in contemporary education?

October 18, 2019

News

5 Ways to Use an LMS to Support Blended and Online Learning

October 15, 2019

News

7 of the Best Apps for Teachers

October 9, 2019

News

Developer Festival – Sparking New Ideas

September 25, 2019

News

9 Ways to Help Students Practice STEM Skills

September 23, 2019

Our Product

itslearning August 2019 Release

August 30, 2019

News

5 Ways to Use Edtech for Project-Based Learning

August 29, 2019

News

Returning refreshed and recharged for the new school year

August 28, 2019

News

A very special visit from China for back to school

August 26, 2019

News

A second summer interning at itslearning

August 21, 2019

previous arrow
next arrow