Learning Matters

I have just been saying to my ever patient and loving partner, as she stood beside me, asking what I was up to, that this will be the fourth article I’ve written for Littleport Life for which the phrase ‘lockdown learning’ could apply. I sincerely hope that we will be out of this soon, but, as I write this, in the throes of a cold and miserably wet January day, none of us know, as yet, what March will bring. I am hoping, as we are no doubt all are, that March and the beginning of Spring will see us returning to that oft used word, and oft longed for state, ‘normality’. However, so much has changed over this past year, that who knows what that will be like?
Whatever normality is, and whatever has changed, many things will be the same and also many things will be changed. Just look at the new terminologies we have been accustomed to using, that 12 months, or so ago, would have been alien to us ; lock down, bubble, tiers, shielding, social distancing, ‘zooming’ and ‘R’ rate to name but a few. Will it be a case of a return to a ‘new normality’ or a more of a return to the old normality? We don’t know exactly how things will be. Will schools be open? Will they be offering a full curriculum? What will happen to SATs, GCSEs and the other raft of exams? How will the lockdowns impact more broadly upon the young? These are questions, that as yet, we don’t know the answer to, and to even contemplate such questions can feel a little overwhelming. However, as one person wisely said; don’t look at the mountain, look at your steps.
And so, in the spirit of looking at what we can do and what is within our control I’d like again, to look at the steps that can be taken in every home to help the progress, development and learning of every young person. Parents and the home have always played a critical role in the development of every child. It is not for nothing that the Jesuits have a saying  “Give me a child till he is seven years old, and I will show you the man” ( by ‘man’ the reference is to a humanity as a whole). Not only do parents, families and the home create the basis from which the young can develop as secure, confident human beings. The home is where character and personality traits are formed, and these too, we know, have a very important role to play in each child’s learning, development and future success. After all, the young spend the overwhelming majority of time at home, even when schooling is running full time. So, lockdown or not, what happens at home is crucial. So, what can parents, families and the young, do at home that helps? I have written, in articles prior to this one, about how encouraging independence, and domestic self-sufficiency is crucial. I have also written about the incredible impact of reading in all its forms. Both of these are still highly relevant and can make a huge difference. What else helps? The Education Endowment Foundation (https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk), whose core purpose is in promoting research led educational practice, have helpfully produced some guidance on ‘what works’ at home.
Firstly, they say, it is important that parents know about the work their child is being asked to do and that they support their child in doing the work, but that they don’t actively become too involved in the actual work itself. This means that taking an interest in, and giving encouragement for learning, is key, as opposed to direct involvement. An important skill is to ask for help, so if the learner in your life is stuck and doesn’t know what to do, encourage them to ask for help from those who can help, albeit ‘remotely’ (e.g. class mates, teachers, the school). Encourage this skill set and attitude and avoid the temptation to directly get involved.
Secondly, encourage good habits for when the learner is working. These good habits include; goal setting, planning, organising use of time, organising resources and encouraging ‘stickability’(persistence). When I was working on tutoring, we used to call these ‘X Skills’ and we saw that learners who were able to apply these skills achieved well across the board. A tip from the Education Endowment Foundation, is to have ‘five minute plan’- a quick chat with the learner in your life about what they will be doing. Include questions such as; ‘what are you hoping to achieve?’; ‘how will you use your time?’; ‘what equipment will you need?’; ‘what will you do if you find yourself losing concentration?’; ‘what will you do if you encounter a problem?’. These are very important questions and discussion points, which can also be referenced at the end of any period of work, when they become useful tools to help reflection; ‘how did it go?’, ‘what can you learn from this?’
Finally, if you do wish to have an involvement in your child’s learning, then using quizzes is a great idea. Quizzes can help with recall and also help with reinforcing of ideas/ concepts and information learnt and they can help build long-term memory. You can either make some up yourself, or search for an appropriate quiz on the internet or, even better, ask the learner in your life to come up with a quiz that you can use and quiz them on at the end. This could be a great project for them, say, for example, at the end of a week as a way of summarising/reinforcing their learning. Keep these quizzes and over time you will have a handy resource of quizzes to aid recall and learning!
I sincerely hope that these tips are helpful and also that by the time they are read, that something approaching normality has returned, whatever that entails. In the meantime, happy learning!

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