For the past three months, probably the majority of children have been effectively doing homework, having been required to stay at home during the lockdown. There have been exceptions, for key worker and different groups of vulnerable children.
Homework, at the best of times, is a strange beast in the education system, in that it is mandated, but can result in very mixed outcomes. Activities that are set by the school are required to be accommodated during the child’s time at home.
For some, this might mean a clash between homework and chosen interests. For others the challenge of the work or possibly the challenge of working in the home, competition for space and available technology might impact. Certainly, the recent few months have highlighted the significant difference between the haves and the have-nots. Many schools have possibly discovered aspects of their children’s home lives of which they were previously unaware. It has meant, for many, that schools have had to duplicate on-line work with paper-based alternatives.
Has anyone ever really trained children into homework or home learning? Clear tasks and expectations might be set, but what about “how to”? And if a child was to say that they couldn’t, for some reason, what’s the response?
It may be the case that previous assumptions have been very much challenged. Do all children have the time, space and resources to be able to concentrate on a series of challenging tasks that replicate a school day? This also questions the independent learning level of each child; some will be more capable than others of working on their own, especially if they have been dependent on a level of additional adult help in classroom learning.
Home adult engagement levels may vary, too, from the completely focused and hands-on to those possibly unable to offer help within the learning challenge, and potentially the disengaged.
In many ways, the adult engagement has been the potential casualty of pandemic education, the equivalent of the class teacher scanning the class to see those who are in need of extra support, teacher standards 6&5, or Dylan Wiliam’s reflective, reactive teaching.
While the past twelve weeks may have been a kind of holding operation, the outcomes will be very mixed, because it's been a novel situation in everyone's lives, perhaps because everyone has been trying the find the right balance, but also seeking appropriate forms of communication that help children and their parents to accommodate set challenges.
I wonder how the lockdown experience has altered school views on setting homework, which will become a significant factor in any form of recovery dynamic when schools return? Equally, if the pandemic continues and home-learning has to continue into the autumn, how schools will alter any remote approach?
One thing is certain, it can’t be assumed to be “business as usual”, “back to normal”.
Planning for learning will need to be significantly underpinned by clarity in assessment. It will need to be longer term, with clear purpose and goals and make better use of class time. Setting home activity might need to incorporate that time for children to have a topic to talk about at home, to write draft notes or first draft writing that can be used as the basis for editing and improvement under teacher guidance in class time. Tasks need to be something that the child can do independently.
Using time differently will affect the overall dynamics of learning, with home adding greater value to class activities. It’s in teacher planning that this dynamic will start.