Some lessons from home-schooling during lockdown
As the country went into lockdown for the first time schools were open only for key worker children and most learning switched to being online.
Parents once used to limiting screen time were now encouraging their children to pick up their digital devices and log into online teaching. The switch from school to home learning was swift and sudden. Now with extended school closures announced, pupils and parents will have to make the shift from school to home guided learning.
Home schooling as many parents discovered was not as plain sailing as first imagined. A new respect grew for teachers who manage groups of children of differing abilities every day and keep even the most reluctant on task. Getting the strength of the WiFi working at its best is crucial especially if there are a few home workers all draining the system. Having enough devices has been perhaps sorted by a Christmas gift delivery. Some children do not take to home learning and dislike the level of independence needed. In order to encourage children to get online it might be possible for them to join their lesson early to allow some social interaction. Whilst being away from distractions may seem to be the best way of working learning from a bedroom provides many other opportunities to be off task. It is better to encourage children to work around the kitchen table but you may have to invest in good quality headphones.
Mock examinations are often at this time of year and the year groups that were facing public examinations this summer are concerned that these assessments will gain greater importance as predictors for a final grade. Students have worked hard on their revision and fear that if these tests are not invigilated officially the results will not have the credibility they need. There are ways of remotely supervising candidates and in the absence of being in school this is the best way of overcoming this problem. Mocks are only a small piece in the basket of evidence used in predicting a final grade and must be kept in perspective.
Many schools also carry out entrance tests at this time of year and with restrictions have moved their assessments to using an online provider. Others have already held their tests perhaps a little ahead of the normal timing. Parents are naturally concerned that these tests are more difficult online and their children less prepared especially if they missed a significant chunk of school last summer. Schools are keen to reassure that the tests are one measure and there are also interviews and written reports from their current school.
There is much that was learned last lockdown that will inform actions this year. It is accepted that whilst some children enjoyed the extra time gained at home for some they missed the interaction with their peers. Lockdown in the summer provided an opportunity to be outdoors more and enjoy the good weather. A winter closure is starkly different with long dark evenings and less chance for time away from digital devices. Schools are aware that homework still needs to be lighter and not be focussed on more time on screens. Pupils should be encouraged to participate in practical projects such as using their creative skills to develop craft pastimes. Family jigsaws give time for chatting not normally afforded in busy lives.
There were some unexpected outcomes to the whole family being at home. Some of these changes many would like to keep. There was a different pace to the day with no commuting and time to eat breakfast and lunch together. Time normally spent on the road or public transport became gained hours and I noticed families walking the dog together or just out enjoying the good weather for their daily exercise. This slower start gave children a lie in and unusually so, for during the term, a rest. There was a calmness to routines that are often rushed and hectic.
As schools close again albeit for hopefully a shorter time it is worth reflecting on lessons learned to avoid the same bear pits and focus on the positives that pandemic learning has afforded education. The difference between this lockdown and last is that a rollout of the vaccine gives hope of a brighter future.