Learning – All Is Not ‘Lost’
Another day, another lockdown announcement and here in Wales, we’ve just had the news that we are going back to school after half term. Well, to be specific, children aged 3-7 are going back to school. For me as a teacher, this is fantastic news – I can’t wait to see the children, can’t wait to teach them in person, can’t wait to share their joys and be interrupted by their random news mid-carpet input. As a single parent, with one of my children aged 8, this brings problems of its own as, at present, key stage two children have no news about their return to school. My other child, aged 4, has barely been in Nursery since the start of the year. Am I worried about ‘lost learning’? No, and I’ll explain why.
Teaching from home while home schooling my two children has, at times, been challenging to say the least. Daily Google Meets, telephone check-ins with parents and children, planning, marking…all the key elements of ‘teaching’ that would be difficult enough to juggle in a classroom setting with regular PPA are almost impossible when you have two children who want (and deserve) my attention too, not to mention a very needy cat whose party trick is to join every Google Meet and bite me when I try to shoo her along.
My children are currently in two different schools (don’t – it’s a nightmare, and not my choice!) with lockdown provision that looks very different. My eldest daughter has one Google Meet per day, with three written tasks set each day (usually Maths, Literacy and one other). My youngest has no live teaching or check-ins, but does have at least one task set per day from her Nursery teacher (ranging from baking gingerbread to learning a penguin dance!). The expectation for both is to upload a task a day. Most days, this is fine; on days when I have a lot on, work-wise, we will have to carry some of the tasks over onto the next day, which means a continuous run of ‘playing catch up’.
Reading the papers every day is enough to send any ‘wannabe’ teachers running for the hills. Headlines which have incurred my wrath include “Schools closed” (no, they’ve been open throughout, running hubs for key workers’ children), “Lazy teachers refuse to work” (no, we are frustrated about the lack of respect for the profession and scared to work with little or no PPE, running the daily risk of taking the virus back home to our own vulnerable family members) and “Generation of lost learning” – and this is one I want to address.
The definition of ‘learning’ is “the act or process of acquiring knowledge or skill”. ‘Education’ is defined as “the act or process of imparting or acquiring particular knowledge or skills” and regardless of personal circumstances or situation, every child at home has experienced this at some level. This is where we need to remember the importance of equity vs equality. Not everyone’s personal circumstances are the same – far from it. But everyone is doing the best they can. For some parents, this involves religiously undertaking every task set by school, following a formalised timetable and structure, because that is what works for some. For other parents, with work commitments, the focus may be on family walks, baking, gardening, etc. Learning has taken place. Even with those families where YouTube has become something of a childcare option, parents have interacted with children. Family has become more of a focus, and speaking from personal experience, we have definitely done more cooking, more chatting as a family and, dare I say it, more appreciating each other.
Anyway, who is to define what constitutes ‘learning’? Is it a set of regimented facts that all children should learn by a certain age? Does it matter if a generation of 18 year olds don’t know when the Battle of Hastings was or what happens when you add sodium to water? I would argue that it is far more important that children have learned life skills, manners, conversation. Personally, I dropped Geography as a subject as soon as possible in a move that was beneficial for all those around me, especially seeing as I regularly managed to get lost even finding the classroom. Did I ‘lose’ learning in Geography because I chose not to take it for a GCSE option? No, I developed a love for learning about the world, visiting countries and finding out about their culture, language and way of life in a way that was interesting to me. I still struggle with reading a map (and at times even a Satnav confuses me) but I don’t feel my life is less rich because of it. And it was definitely better for the Geography teacher who frequently despaired with me!
Maybe we need to shift our focus onto what is important. Or maybe we don’t need a tick list of other people telling us what is and isn’t important? We are so lucky with our new curriculum in Wales that the focus is on skills and equipping the children with the skills they need to develop under the umbrella of the ‘Four Purposes’ – helping to support our learners on the journey to becoming:
- Ambitious, capable learners
- Ethical, informed citizens
- Enterprising, creative contributors
- Healthy, confident individuals
What I love about these four descriptors is how well-rounded they sound. Wouldn’t we all like to describe ourselves as ‘confident’, ‘healthy’, ‘ambitious’, etc? When my children return to school now, my plan is to celebrate their achievements during lockdown, to share in their successes and find out what has made them smile. We are going to get outside and use our environment to support our learning; use our new project of ‘There’s no place like home’ to find out all about the world around us, from our local area, to our country and beyond; we are going to forge friendships, develop relationships and enhance our social skills through play, interaction, collaboration and fun.
My school has always been a firm believer in ‘equity, not equality’, and nowhere has this rung more true than during lockdown. In terms of staff and their personal circumstances, everyone has different challenges to overcome.
In terms of the children, we will be working with 30 individuals for whom the lockdowns have been very different. It is so important to remember this and to support the children in whatever they need. This doesn’t mean immediately ‘plugging gaps’ of knowledge; rather it means supporting the children in routines, consistency and emotionally, re-educating them on how to form friendships and how to interact with each other. Returning to that definition of learning: the act or process of acquiring knowledge or skill – that is absolutely what children need right now: knowledge of how to be a good friend; skills to empathise with others; knowledge that equity is more important than equality and understanding that not everyone will feel the same, or react in the same way; the skill of friendship. Kindness is one of the most important skills that children (and adults) can learn and it’s definitely going to be the starting point in my classroom.