At the moment, like many teachers, I am operating across two key roles in my life, often simultaneously: I am a mother, and I am also Director of London South Teaching School Alliance, a collaborative of 45 schools across London.
Every day, the Year 5 WhatsApp mums’ group pings with someone else sharing their experiences, and many personal friends have also been consulting me about their own challenges with homeschooling. I’m also observing via Twitter, the many and diverse home schooling offers of schools within and beyond the alliance. And in between this, I’m also homeschooling my own ten year old son every day using the Charles Dickens Primary Virtual School.
These experiences have helped me reflect on what is it that really engages and motivates pupils to want to learn, and I believe that many of these lessons are valid both for online and face-to-face learning.
Every Charles Dickens Virtual School day begins with a video from the classteacher, talking directly to the pupils about their own experiences of lockdown, and most importantly, sharing personal information about them, their lives and their relationships. We have heard about the robin that lives outside Miss Smith’s window and met Mr Windle’s children; we know which country Miss Fraser comes from and learnt about a local myth. These are the things that make my son feel like he is one of the class, and motivate him to start the day’s work. Other parents tell me they struggle to get their children started on downloadable worksheets. A teacher friend told me she really struggles to record her personal video message for her class every morning, but she does it anyway – she knows it’s important for her pupils. For the pupils, if there is no personal connection, there is no motivation to learn.
How much do we as teachers focus on building personal relationships with pupils both during lockdown and in the classroom?
Many online schools offer all subjects every day, including some wonderful art and music ideas, MFL lessons and the full breadth of humanities subjects. Other online schools seem to consist largely of writing and mathematics activities, as if in times of emergency, this is all that matters for learning. Watching my son enjoying the breadth and variety of the learning offer makes it really clear that it is the non-core subjects that really give pupils the opportunities to apply their literacy and mathematics skills to real life problems in which they are motivated to succeed. My son has even been motivated to write (a tough one!) by listening to the teachers reading stories online – not just analysing individual chapters, but exploring the entire book across the half term. A lot of mathematics has been learned through my son’s excitement at using the online music composition tools the teacher has explained.
Does the curriculum in our schools recognise that literacy and mathematics skills develop because of and not in spite of time allocated towards non-core subjects?
It’s difficult to be an expert in every subject, and some subjects are particularly tricky for non-specialists to teach. The latter particularly include art and music. Some of the online music and art lessons my son has done have been truly inspirational, and this has been largely about the expertise of the teachers who lead them. It has brought back memories of my own attempts to teach music as a primary teacher: always with the best intentions, but never with great success! If I had had access to music lesson videos like the ones my son is using, I could have taught music really well and perhaps inspired some pupils to really develop their musical interests and expertise.
Can we make use of technology beyond lockdown to make sure a greater number of pupils have access to subject experts for more motivating and effective learning?
None of these ideas involve radical rethinks, large budgets or copious amounts of time and training. It’s about reframing the way we currently work, to learn from lockdown and to really inspire pupils as learners.
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