Learning never stops – supporting our younger learners (and their families!)

Learning in lockdown is tricky on so many levels, so how can we support our youngest phase of learners to keep learning, remain motivated, stay confident, and above all, look forward to getting back to school?

We need to remember that home is not school. But we do need to empower our families to help all learners with simple, everyday activities they can be doing with their students.

Here are a few suggestions.

The temporary teacher

Any parent can help their child to learn. It is not about how much you know (or don’t know). It is about being interested in what they are doing (whether this is school related or not), helping them to feel successful and valued, encouraging their questions and supporting them with the choices they are making. As a parent you are doing these things every day!

Parents have a huge set of skills. They are just a little different to the set that teachers have in the classroom. So, perhaps we should harness these skills and encourage them rather than expect parents to deliver a curriculum without the tools in their toolbox.

Offline or online

Some parents will be technically brilliant, others less so. Whatever technological aptitudes we have, we are all having to learn new skills – and fast. However, it is important to remember that remote learning can be both synchronous (learning that happens in real time) and asynchronous (where students are learning at a different time or place than the delivery of a live lesson), and that there are advantages to both.

Synchronous learning offers routine and structure to the day. For our younger learners this can be a real advantage, particularly if they have not been attending school for very long! This shows them that there are expectations attached to their learning and helps to set the right tone for when they do return. It also offers an important connection to their teacher. Whether you are communicating through audio or video, the fact that someone is there at the same time as you is both comforting and helpful.

Asynchronous learning provides more flexibility as to when the learning is carried out. This is particularly helpful if we are encouraging adults to support too.

The main point to remember here is that all tasks need to be accessible to all.

Contact before content

Some learners will be enjoying this period of being at home, some will not. But I suspect they will all be missing their friends, the routine that time at school offers them and, of course, their teachers!

As teachers, it is important to make time to engage with them socially, as well as educationally. We do this naturally when we are in school. Learners will often come to school with stories of what happened over the weekend or what they are excited about, e.g.  birthdays, events etc).

So, let’s pause a little more, take time to invest in what learners have been doing (that are not school related).

Using and applying learning

There seems to be a real tension between offering learners work that they would have been accessing in the classroom, whether this is from the course textbook or scheme of work or offering work that is not constrained by the curriculum requirements.

Many parents will feel obliged to take on the role of ‘teaching’ whatever schools set their learners, so we need to be mindful of this and guide them in their temporary role of ‘teacher’. Parents will of course be understandably worried about maintaining their learners academic performance, but this current situation gives a perfect platform for learners to consolidate their learning and apply it to real world contexts.

If you do have the opportunity to offer learning that makes the most of the non-school environment, you can really make the most of the situation we are in and do things a little differently!

Learning really is everywhere. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Notice how many times we use numbers in the day. Make a book of all the numbers used and in what situation.
  • Discover the science we use in the home (changing bread to toast, watching ice melt)
  • A walk outside allows opportunities for sorting and classifying (birds, plants)
  • Keep a daily record of the weather.
  • A trip to the supermarket provides experiences of money, the cost of items and even where our food comes from.
  • Cooking is a great opportunity to use mathematical skills such as weighing, using time and thinking about proportions.
  • Plant some seeds and find out more about the life cycle of a plant, what it needs to grow and how long it takes.
  • Encourage list making.
  • Write a diary – the time when I went to school without leaving home.
  • Play games with family members. Collaboration and communication are key skills of participating in any game.
  • Wordsearches and puzzle books help to keep young minds active and occupied

A balancing act

There are two areas to think about here. The first concerns access to technology and the second centres on access to the curriculum.

Learners will have different levels of access to technology. If you are using technology, try to vary the tasks online. For example, documentaries are an invaluable learning aid. For older learners, learning a new skill independently is very useful (e.g. writing a PowerPoint presentation or using the internet to carry out some research).

However, whatever the technology access is, do try to think about offering a balance between tasks that are tablet driven and tasks that do not require any technological input. After all, we want to support healthy screen time management.

The second area to think about is the inequality in educational outcomes, because we know that not everyone is learning equally. For some learners, the risk is that this period of school absence means fundamental building blocks could be missed (e.g. early reading skills), because they are not doing as much learning as their peers (for a variety of reasons).

So, while many teachers and schools are keen to continue with the course/scheme of work the educational loss for some learners will be significant.

Rather than worry about this temporary gap in curriculum areas, perhaps we need to re-think what learning actually means in this current situation. Many learners are acquiring STEM skills daily, through their engagement with technology, observing science in the home or building dens at home. Others are learning to adapt to a different routine, share their learning space with others (adults or siblings) and communicate in different non-school ways. All of these skills require resilience, perseverance, imagination – great 21st century skills – and ones that resonate with the Cambridge learner attributes.

Motivation

Perhaps the most important point to remember is that we want to keep our learners motivated and hungry to learn. After all, learning never stops! And of course, we want them to be excited about returning to school and continuing their learning.

One of the ways to motivate learners is to notice what they are interested in and catch their attention of the moment. It may be something that is not part of the school work set, but they will still be learning!

If you see a learner pick up a recipe book and beginning looking at it or perhaps see them reading a letter that has come through the post, use this opportunity to encourage some reading, inference and understanding about the text. Make time to stop whatever you are doing and discuss the literature in question. Using these moments opens up the world of non-fiction and actually extends your learners reading habits. Your learners are now reading for pleasure and purpose!

Checklist

  • Remember that when learners are at school they are not constantly learning (e.g. breaks, lunch, registration etc), so think about how much work you are setting for them to complete daily.
  • A timetable that will work for one learner will not necessarily work for another. The work does not have to be completed during ‘normal’ school hours. For some learners, they may find it easier to work in the evening, particularly if this means they can access support from people at home.
  • Try to chunk tasks into smaller amounts of time than you would in school. Concentration spans differ at home and can sometimes be longer or shorter.
  • Think about setting tasks that you would like completed within a week, as opposed to daily tasks.
  • Projects are a great way to learn and can be scaled up or down accordingly.
  • Be creative in the tasks you set. View this time as an opportunity for your learners to use and apply skills that are not always accessible in school.

Conclusion

The Cambridge motto, “to prepare school students for life, helping them develop an informed curiosity and a lasting passion for learning”,  has never been so relevant as it is currently:

So, remember, learning never stops. But it might look a little different to the learning we were doing in the classroom a few months ago!

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