Struggling with home schooling? What the research says about keeping motivated and effective

The EEF has identified the main barriers and issues with teaching children in a home environment:

  • The Environment
  • Daily Structure
  • Technology
  • Planning and teaching
  • Self-regulation

Using these barrier as guides, there are 5 top tips to overcome that involve:

  • Activate (check prior learning & understanding)
  • Explain (modelling)
  • Practice (independent work)
  • Reflection (be honest- what went well and what didn’t?)
  • Review (check for improvements, progress and go back if needed)

Let’s take a look in a bit more detail of the barriers and strategies to help parents with homeschooling during the Covid 19 pandemic.

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. Many parents are working from home themselves so won’t be able to monitor behaviour and work constantly like a teacher or teaching assistant would.

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. If your school doesn’t dictate a timetable for you then use flexibility to your advantage and break up the learning in manageable chunks separated with breaks that link to yours. The key is the start. Get up and get the morning activities out the way. If it goes wayward towards the afternoon at least the main learning has been achieved.

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. Many educational apps work on both Apple and Android devices but don’t be afraid to combine good old fashioned pen and paper to complete online tasks- if you school teacher wants evidence you can always take a photo and upload the work.

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. There are so many websites and companies trying to get your attention for home learning at the moment it can be overwhelming. Take your school’s lead on this one- stick to the apps and websites you and your child are familiar with. Venture out when boredom hits in!

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, the EEF have produced a framework, focussing particularly on the final three issues. Rooted in the EEF’s Metacognition Guidance Report, they’ve suggested some approaches you can take when planning home learning, including online and offlineexamples, to take into account differing levels of access.

5 top tips to support home learning:

Activate: Teachers do this all the time. Take a snapshot of what your child already knows and can do. If you don’t take 5 minutes to check their level of understanding your pitch could be way off and both your and your child will get frustrated. Give your child a couple of test questions or do the first one together and ask them to explain their thinking- don’t settle for the classic “I just did it in my head” that doesn’t help anyone here! If you’re not sure about the best way to check what they should already know check out your school’s website for info on the topics they should have already covered. The school website should also have policies and documents on ways to teach and explain certain skills.

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. It’s okay to use ready-made resources and video like YouTube. Check out Maths Antics, Khan Academy and KTV Online for video guides.

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 child and looking the incorrect questions to help target support for the next lesson. 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. Check out Kahoot! What is important about this stage is that you shouldn’t move on with new learning until you are sure the child has fully understood the learning objective and skill. Teachers often spend a full week teaching one skill so take your time and keep practicing.

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 your child to write everything they can remember about a previous topic. Try and make it an open and non-restricted task so their ideas can develop – check out Sketchnoting for reviewing. 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. Use the carrot and link completed activities to intrinsic rewards (verbal praise and feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment) with external reward- yes you can now play on the PplayStation or Xbox!

A Final Thought

Every home is different. So is every child. Some parents are working full time from home while others will have limited access to online learning. We must accept that home school isn’t school, and some children will find it much harder to learn at home than others. Try not to worry about your child falling behind. The basics are key- daily reading, times tables and spelling. Look after their mental health and yours. If done correctly, home schooling can help to combat anxieties about academic learning and help to boost levels of self confidence and motivation by successfully completing activities. Remember you are not in this alone. Reach out to others for support and guidance if needed. Below are some useful links to help…

Homeschool top tips from Scholastic

The Best Homeschooling resources from James Martin

TechCrunch Resources to help parents for home schooling

See EEF guidance on Metacognition and Self-Regulated Learning

Published by Mr K Education

Tom Konsek is an Apple Distinguished Educator and Primary school teacher in the East Midlands, UK. He shares his innovative ideas about curriculum and technology via his blog.

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