In many households across the UK, crowded kitchens are filled with adults and children preparing for their day ‘at work and school’ from the comfort of their home. Breakfast plates are cleared away, replaced with laptops and work packs as both child and adult settle into the day’s activities.
If you have ever followed the day of a child in a school, you will soon realise that it’s hectic. It is likely to cover five different subjects, contain two breaks and lots of social interaction with peers and adults. I’ve been in the lucky position to do this many times, and it doesn’t matter if I follow a primary or secondary student, at the end of the day I’ll be exhausted. It is easy to see how secondary teachers become frustrated with pupils that cannot remember what was covered last lesson, but when you look at it from their point of view you can see that the work is rattling past them like an out of control freight train. Each hour’s lesson starts with the teacher interaction to motivate, getting the learning going, and (like the curves we see on the news each night) rise to a peak as the pupils start the main task. Without extra interaction, motivation can tail off. In the classroom we crave the ‘second peak’, we want our children to complete a task and still have the hunger for more learning. It’s the teacher in the classroom that keeps the plates spinning and prevents student motivation from grinding to a halt.
It doesn’t seem to work like this around the dining room table. The adults within the house may still be trying to hold down a full-time job whilst sitting in casual clothes. The phone is ringing off the hook as colleagues try to ask a quick question across the office.
The children get ready, login and load up the home task for today. The first bit is easy, a quick video to watch and a word matching exercise. They complete it independently and the first peak is reached. The next page of the dictated presentation talks about them writing about the video they saw previously; they have a list of figurative language that needs to be included. The child looks wildly round the dining room needing a reassuring look that his teacher would have provided, it’s not there. The adults in the family are working and the child is left to fend for themselves. This is when the motivation drops through the floor.
As adults we can force motivation to keep going, but as a child this is more difficult. The motivation is not only provided by the teacher, but the peers in the classroom providing a supporting environment for the work to be completed. When some children begin to struggle the other pupils help them ‘crowd surf’ to the end of the task.
As we know, a school community is by definition, a mixed group of people and it’s those differences that make the rich learning environment. I am starting to see schools embrace technology to be able to give pupils a variety of tasks to try and keep them engaged when there isn’t the push of peers or a teacher. The rich learning environment demands a rich variety of tasks. Use of video, worksheets, quizzes, visual, written and even practical tasks give those much-needed boosts in a world where you see the same four walls every day.
For me, what I see lacking at the moment is differentiation. There are some amazing tasks that are being given to children, but can they all access it? When I was in the classroom, I used to use a Chilli Sheet to help differentiate homework. Pupils would have to complete a certain number of tasks that were rated in chilli’s, the harder the task the more chilli’s it was worth. Over the course of the homework, pupils would have to complete a number of tasks to reach the total. It may be a couple of hard or maybe 4 or 5 simple tasks they needed to complete. Pupils were independently selecting their work that met the requirements of the teacher, whilst working in their comfort zone. Don’t get me wrong, we are there as teachers to push pupils on, but in these times some work is better than no work. Knowing which battles to fight means everyone is learning in the same direction, even if at a differing pace.
My hope, as the lockdown continues, is that the introduction of differentiation starts to creep into the distance learning that schools provide. This not only allows our pupils to build on their subject knowledge, but also keep that motivation going ready for the return to school.