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About St James Exeter

St James is a successful and thriving school of 980 students aged 11-16 which celebrates its diversity and high aspirations for all students. The school’s goal is for every student to enjoy a wide range of experiences and opportunities, to work hard and to be kind.

The school believes that it is possible for students to be challenged and achieve the best results, without compromising their mental health and wellbeing. Motivation and engagement amongst students are high: during the second Covid school closure, 95% of students participated in online learning, despite it being ‘the weirdest school year ever, and incredibly tough for staff and students’.

The Science department already had access to two online learning tools prior to signing up to pilot Collins Adapt, and made frequent use of one to support KS4 homeworks and independent learning. Rob Morse, Assistant Headteacher and Science teacher started using Collins Adapt with his Y10 Chemistry class in March 2021, to foster a confident learning ethos following a challenging time, to identify and assess where students’ learning is at, and provide individual support for a wide range of students.

One of the downsides of the gamification of learning which is used as a motivational tool for many online learning platforms is that it rewards speed at the expense of deeper learning.  The implication is that the faster students complete the task they’ve been set, the ‘better’ they know it.  Students had also worked out how to ‘beat’ one of the platforms offering a personalised learning pathway by remembering the sequence in which the questions were asked, and memorising the correct answer. Finally, the questions in these systems tend to focus on recall, rather than on higher order skills requiring advanced thinking.

How did they use Collins Adapt?

We started using it as a homework resource for Y10 Chemistry with the Set 3s who are working towards a G4 or 5. Students were sent the link in an email, and were set two assignments as a 30 minute homework. This term, we’ve been using it for physics homeworks, with the expectation that students spend an hour a week on their homework.  Because we’ve been using it consistently and regularly, students have simply got on with it.

We’ve also used it for cover lessons, where staff have had to isolate because of Covid. Being able to set a specific topic for students to complete in class has been very useful.

Finally, I used it as an intervention with a small group of students, as a followup to a test. I’m not sure about the usefulness here: if students’ have understood something, I suspect that they need a teacher intervention first.

The reporting on the teacher dashboard is incredibly rich, but it is very granular, and can be overwhelming. It’s only after using it for 6-7 weeks on the run that it’s starting to build a picture of what they’ve learned and understood that week. I’d like to see whether the red bars indicating gaps correspond with the topics they missed during lockdown, but I’ve not yet had time. I can see this becoming more useful, the longer we use it. I’d also like to use the data showing ‘unconscious incompetence’ (i.e. students who don’t know what they don’t know) to inform after-school interventions: this is where this data becomes most useful.

Impact on students’ learning so far

Students are having to think about the answers: it’s not just a memory exercise;  they have to reflect on whether the response will be accepted, and if not, why not. That can frustrate them as it takes longer, but it’s a good complaint! Collins Adapt shifts the focus away from speed, and doing as many questions as possible, to taking your time, and getting it right. A key focus across the school is building resilience and academic grit, getting students to engage and persevere beyond the ‘I don’t get it’. The ones who are motivated, and want to work, like it. The ones who don’t are those who want to randomly slam a button to get through it as fast as possible.

For me, the benefit is that I can see not just how much they’ve completed, but which questions they’re answering correctly and which they’re struggling with. I can then use that to inform what I do next with them. With other AI-driven systems, we don’t feel the top-end students are extended, while the lower-end race through it without engaging. There’s a small group in the middle who benefit.

Next steps?

We’ve decided to drop other online learning platforms in favour of paper-based knowledge organisers, but I would like to carry on with Collins Adapt. This is so much more useful than the alternatives.