These are unprecedented times. Children won’t be in school for some time, and it will be even longer before they return to normal. For now, the emphasis has shifted to home, and how we can continue our children’s education while they are there.
As teachers, we always want to do what’s best for the children we teach, so when we are thrown into any unusual situation, our instinct is to find ways of helping them achieve just as well as they would have done in normal circumstances. We have to accept that in this situation, we can’t do everything we’d like to do, and nor can our pupils. But we can still look to research to see how it might help us.
Five issues we face
Environment: Home school isn’t the same as ordinary school, and we will struggle if we try to replicate it, not least because the pupils that we teach will have a range of home contexts.
Structure: Many schools are understandably trying to maintain a degree of consistency and routine by encouraging students to follow the timings of a normal school day. This won’t be possible for all pupils, particularly the most vulnerable.
Access to technology: Even if we use technology to try and overcome this reliance on adults at home, some households will have limited internet access or will have fewer devices than number of children.
Planning and teaching: If we are to keep both pupils and parents motivated to engage with work we set, it is important that it feels meaningful and manageable. When time and resources are limited, we need to ensure that this work is as impactful as possible.
Self-regulation: Metacognition and self-regulation will be particularly important when we’re not physically with pupils, especially for the most vulnerable. Some children will have very good support at home, and well-developed self-regulation strategies, but others will find it more difficult to adjust to the ‘new normal,’ and they will need support.
To help teachers frame their thinking when planning for home learning, we have produced a framework, focussing particularly on the final three issues. Rooted in the EEF’s Metacognition Guidance Report, we’ve suggested some approaches you can take when planning home learning, including online and offline examples, to take into account differing levels of access.
Five principles to support home learning
Activate: What we learn depends on what we know already, and it’s important to get students thinking about prior knowledge that will help them with their next steps. This could be as straightforward as reminding them of relevant vocabulary, or you might want to prompt them to remember as much as they can about a previous topic. You could point them to a relevant video or ask them to complete a short quiz (either auto- or self-marked).
Explain: An integral aspect of any learning sequence will be explanations. A powerful way of doing this is to model your thinking, by focusing on the thought processes behind decisions you make, as well as teaching the strategy itself. Broadly, try to keep the amount of new information in each session to a minimum, progressing through explanations using small steps. If you are making your own videos, emphasise explanations for each step in a process, whilst providing additional prompts or scaffolds for online resources.
Practice: Our ultimate aim is that our pupils will be able to work independently, but they will need sufficient scaffolding and guidance to get there. As you plan any learning sequence, keep in mind how children will progress from being fully supported to being fully independent, bearing in mind that this is unlikely to occur within a single session. Give partial prompts for questions, which are reduced each time, or encourage children to use traditional frameworks, such as knowledge organisers, essay prompts, bookmarks, structure strips or model answers.
Reflect: An important aspect of self-regulation is reflecting on what you have done and using this to inform what you’ll do in future. You can encourage pupils to do this with targeted questions and prompts. If students submit work (either self-marked or to be marked by you) try feeding back to the group as a whole, picking up on key learning points that arose, but including prompts for self-evaluation throughout. Alternatively, you could compile short quizzes for pupils to complete after activities, which support them to think about what they’ve learned and what they found tricky.
Review: Reviewing previous work, and retrieving key ideas from memory, aids long-term retention, particularly if this happens once you’ve started to forget what you’ve learned. You could use short online quizzes for this, incorporating questions from previous topics, as well as more recent ideas. Or, ask pupils to write everything they can remember about a previous topic, with a follow-up activity to correct anything that was wrong. The important thing here is that this is done from memory in the first instance, with resources used afterwards, as it’s the retrieval process itself that strengthens long-term memory.
Motivation is an important aspect of self-regulation so, once you’ve set tasks, try and show pupils why they matter. Where do they fit with what they’ve done before and what’s coming up? How will today’s work help them? Set concrete goals with clear success criteria, so they know what they’re doing is worth it.
We must accept that home school isn’t school, and some children will find it much harder to learn at home than others. But if we follow some key principles for teaching and learning, using these as we adapt to our ‘new normal,’ we can be more hopeful that the work we set can support them more effectively.
See EEF guidance on Metacognition and Self-Regulated Learning