WHILE many schools have been making a tremendous effort to go digital, they are faced with challenges of lack of home learning support. Parents have found themselves taking on far more responsibility than they do when children are dropped to school for a number of hours each day. Parents have had to follow instructions on email and watch tutorials to learn the online tools chosen by their child’s school, supervise the online learning timetable, upload completed assignments.
Top that off with providing devices and a quiet home environment, making sure that Wi-Fi is working, and keeping up the regular communication with schools, parents suddenly have a lot on their plate. How can they maximise the benefits of online learning while keeping up with their own daily schedules?
The answer may lie in shifting the dependence from adult-led education towards greater independence for children. Setting targets is one way of providing them with a framework to work towards — they do not necessarily have to be taken step-by-step towards those aims. In fact, research on intrinsic motivation shows that children who have been given the reins to take responsibility for their learning early on in life generally work with greater interest and produce better results.
In these changing times, the role of parents might need to be re-evaluated — it is not the amount of time we spend with our children that is critical for learning, but how we choose to guide them. As parents, we often fall into the trap of telling children what to do. More often than not, we just have to show them how to do their work, step back and watch the magic. They can surprise us repeatedly if given the chance to show originality, but if they are given a set formula to follow, it will inevitably meet with resistance.
How can parents maximise the benefits of online learning?
One way of reacting to this resistance is to make the work ‘appear’ easy, even when it is not. Children get motivated when something seems within their reach. In fact, adults react differently to a product or service that is ‘packaged’ in a pleasing way. When children get colourful assignments in bite-sized packages, they are much less daunted than when they have to work through lengthy assignments. Breaking up tasks between students is also quite effective, as children take pride doing their ‘share of the work’. It also teaches collaboration and teamwork, which are great life skills. Take the example of teaching descriptive writing — it might be a good start to present a visual and have each child describe a different aspect of it. Together, they can build a composition with everyone’s contribution. This technique is especially helpful for students who do not enjoy writing lengthy paragraphs.
Teachers may also struggle with students who do not like to give lengthy verbal answers — often, they will offer a reluctant ‘I don’t know’ to get out of a tricky situation. The Question Formulation Technique works for any subject. Students are encouraged to read a text, or just the title, and ask as many questions as possible. Then they are asked to distinguish between open-ended questions and closed ones and answer only the three most important questions. The motivational trick here is that children usually enjoy answering their own questions. QFT can be used by parents to assess learning at home if the roles are flipped — children get to ask questions that parents must answer.
Open-book assessments seem to be gaining momentum in the world of online teaching. The role of memorisation is now minimal as students are free to access the content and frame answers that test critical thinking and problem-solving skills. With after-school activities at their minimal, there is more time now for reflective learning. Conversations that help students analyse what they have learnt from the content they discuss in online classes, will help parents gauge the extent of learning taking place. This is also a good time for parents to benchmark their children against targets for their age group as plenty of assessment tools, including free e-worksheets, are available online.
As education makes a paradigm shift, it has become clearer that teachers must now give up the reins to ease the transition towards student-led learning. Now, more than ever before, the tools of research and analysis, navigating topics and encouraging intrinsic motivation is more important than instilling the content. Mentors and facilitators have had to spend more time evaluating the quality of teaching, rather than chasing quantity. As the classroom comes home to them, having the parents’ involvement is a blessing rather than a bane — it is critical to have them on board as mentors and supervisors in this revolutionary movement.
The writer is senior manager, professional development, Oxford University Press, Pakistan.
Published in Dawn, August 15th, 2020