Chris Drage likes the way Espresso has tried to provide value for hard-pressed schools

Espresso has continued forging ahead in its determination to provide schools with ever more value for their squeezed budgets. Content has grown to include several new modules.

One that took my eye is 'Coping with Change', made in partnership with Service Children Education (SCE) whose role includes looking after the 40 or so schools all over the world that provide education for the children of servicemen and women.

Coping with Change deals with the issues learners might have to cope with when changing to a new school, which service children often have to do, sometimes within the same country. It also embraces changing homes and even countries.

Children helped to express themselves about changes

The 'stimulus' videos include 'I'm New Here', 'I've Settled In', 'I'm Moving On', which feature service children sharing their experiences. The videos are designed to be prompts for children to discuss their thoughts, feelings, anxieties, in fact anything they are worried about, and bring them out into the open expressing themselves either in class or via the various facilities available in Espresso.

These include the now familiar Activities Page which comprise Thoughts and Feelings about Change – an illustrated writing frame – and making a Buddy Poster with its sentence starters and word banks provided for extra writing support. Learners can also use features within the activiites pages to do a whole host of things such as keep a 'change diary', express themselves using poems and even through leaflets such as a 'Welcome to our School' leaflet. Key stage 1 children are well catered for with a print-and-cut-out 'Imagine You Are Moving' activity, a 'Feelings Fact File' and a 'Big Book on Changes'. For busy teachers wanting to the locate the facilities quickly, there's a Learning Review activity and a Module Map – a format all very familiar to Espresso users.

The value in this particular new module is the help given to teachers to scaffold a discussion around the important issues that a child might have to deal with when changing schools. I like the way that the module encourages children to use different ways of expressing themselves, particularly the 'Advice From Sal'. In true agony-aunt tradition, children can imagine being Sal reading the submitted letters and formulating their own responses.

It’s not just a one-sided approach either; there is equal emphasis on activities which encourage the rest of the class to make newcomers welcome – a form of ‘virtual mentoring’ if you like. I chose this particular PSHE module as it can be used to also help immigrant children cope with moving to a new school and encourage them to develop their English.

Another area where Espresso is putting in a lot of effort, is in helping teachers extract the best value from the service. “We are very keen to promote speed guides," explains company CEO Lewis Bronze. "These provide new teachers to Espresso a very quick means of finding out what is in Espresso and navigating straight to a resource.

"So if I am a teacher who has been offered the post of subject leader for history and I'm looking for assets in Espresso to use with key stage 2, I can immediately see there are more than 200 assets available. Clicking on Speed Guides will load these and I can further refine my search to say: I am looking for resources for Victorian Britain and all the related modules and assets will be rapidly assembled.”

You can even ask the Speed Guide to simply show the most popular (favourite) items in, say, history, and up will pop a number of particularly useful assets randomly selected. Because it enables a teacher to select precise resources very quickly, the Speed Guide is a real boon for planning.

UK benefiting from Espresso's international ventures

Espresso is being enthusiastically accepted abroad and although the service is now localised for USA, Canada and Sweden, it is the USA market which is impacting on the Espresso service in the UK in an unexpected but interesting way. By using one central production team, Espresso is able to share ideas, content and resources, so seeing what works particularly well with Espresso in one country can be related back to, and tried, in the UK.  For example, teachers in the USA have fed back that they want more direction provided in how to use the resource.  In the UK, Espresso has always offered some guidance but has largely left teachers to use their professional judgement on how best to integrate Espresso with their lessons. But the USA feedback has resulted in more direction within the UK service for using certain Espresso assets. This cross-fertilisation of the two services is resulting in benefits, both in terms of content and practice.   

Don Passey, (Senior Research Fellow, Lancaster University) conducted an independent academic evaluation of Espresso using evidence from more than 330 user schools. His findings highlighted three key positive effects:

  • Espresso resources encourage deeper and wider learning;
  • Earlier use of Espresso is associated with higher achievement in key stage 2 SATs results;
  • Espresso takes 50 per cent less time than Internet resources when selecting, vetting and preparing lessons

I think that the second point is interesting as many schools only use Espresso resource in a dip-into-now-and-again manner and not more frequently from early ages. Don Passey’s research suggests that there are distinct advantages in Espresso being embedded into a school's longer term plan and using also for targeted support to children's learning.

In these hard times, every pound a school spends has to earn its place in the school budget and, quite rightly, content providers are expected to work harder to deliver the very best value for that pound. I do believe Espresso is trying to do that most earnestly by helping customers make the best use of the resource, ensuring that it’s really embedded into practice, delivering training, providing the right kind of content, supporting that content and addressing both the learner’s and teacher’s needs – and it gets top marks.

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