Updated: Jan 5, 2021
The schools are closing. It’s March 2020 and Covid-19 is in the peak of its first wave in the UK. In an unprecedented move, the nation’s schools shut their doors to all but the children of essential workers. Pupils are sent home, to learn what they can there.
There’s collective anxiety, distress, bemusement and uncertainty. And, for me, excitement. This was the moment I felt I’d been born for.
You see, I’m a wannabe teacher. Back in school, I got top marks across the board: English, maths, science, languages. I was that kid in class – the one everyone asked what they got on the test. I loved it all, equations, essays, vocabulary, chemicals. Not plants, so much. And don’t ask me to run 5k or fix a fence. But when it comes to school, I loved it then, and it’s stayed with me now.
At university, I studied physics, then did an Open University degree in philosophy and psychology. My last exam was three days before my son was born. Now I could pass all that on to my kids, for their own good, because circumstances had forced it. Not really because I wanted to, or anything…
I was helped in this venture by a hands-off approach from our local school. No video lessons, no marked homework and one sheet of suggested work per week. Suggested? I think not, I have much better ideas. Yes, I was personally free to design my own damn curriculum. I don’t think kids get enough logic gates, theory of evolution and political philosophy in junior school. Time to fix that.
So I stocked a cupboard with mechanical pencils, bought a twelve-pack of blank exercise books and worked out how to fit lessons around my full-time job. I’m lucky to have a flexible IT job. It didn’t matter if the code gets tested at 7am or 7pm so long as it gets done, and I made the most of that. On the downside, my wife is a nurse and was rather busy saving people’s lives, so I was mainly on my own.
It turned out I learnt more than my kids over the next few months. I had grand ideas, and I tried them all. Some worked spectacularly and some completely failed. I switched around the weekends, taught with different media, used school bells, set up revision schedules, let the kids lead me, made it simple then added layers, used scaffolding, social embedding, partial reinforcement… All kinds of tips and tricks. Many worked, some didn’t, but I can share them all with you.
In an ideal world these would be scientifically tested in controlled experiments to gauge their effectiveness. Back here in reality, I had a sample size of two. They were seven and nine at the time, so that’s the only age range I can talk about, and I present these as ideas – things for you to try, to see if they work for you. Terms and conditions apply, your mileage may vary etc.
So this is for anyone who is helping their children learn remotely, or is home-schooling by choice, or has been forced to by circumstance. It’s for anyone who wants to do extra with their kids, or just wants homework to go more smoothly. This worked for me. I offer it here in case it helps you too.