When we first went into lockdown following the spread of COVID-19 I, like many of us, was deeply concerned. What will learning look like with only a computer screen to connect us? How will I reach out to the children in my care? How will we connect without being in the same physical space? How will we all cope? I was especially concerned with how this might look for the 4- and 5-year-olds I teach – the idea of holding their attention and interest through a screen seemed impossible when we were on day one of lockdown!
With some time to digest, reflect and focus on what was within my control, I was motivated by the concept of ‘post-traumatic growth’, whereby people develop resilience and experience positive change following traumatic experiences (Tedeschi and Calhoun, 2004), to try and turn this experience into an opportunity. What might we learn? How might we grow? Could there be new ways forward in what we explore and achieve during this time? Could we actually find ways to strengthen children as learners? And the answer to these questions is a resounding ‘yes’. I am sure that, with some thought and reflection time, you have also been starting to find those golden nuggets, seeds of growth and opportunities for learning. Building on our existing approaches to teaching, we have started to develop a ‘new normal’ that I believe will strengthen children’s learning in the long term.
During my classroom practice, I’ve found the Learning Power Approach (LPA) (Claxton et al., 2020) to be effective not only in teaching curriculum content, but also in supporting children to develop skills as learners. The LPA is guided by ‘design principles’, which include instilling a love for challenging learning, deepening collaboration and conversation skills and embedding reflection as a day-to-day practice. As teachers embed these principles with their children, learning becomes deeper and more independent – this is one of the key aims of the LPA. Developing a language of learning with children is a foundational principle. Language is powerful – it creates the bedrock of your classroom ethos and shapes attitudes to learning. For example, consider the difference between the uses of the word ‘work’, which may have connotations of being dull or boring, with ‘learning’, which sounds more engaging. Similarly, using phrases such as ‘I wonder’ and ‘I imagine’ helps to develop curiosity, using ‘could be’ instead of ‘is’ invites children to think broadly, and consistently using words such as ‘notice’ and ‘review’ when children are observing and reflecting helps them to realise when they are using these skills and why they are important (Carlzon, 2017).
One way in which lockdown has enriched our language of learning is through giving us the opportunity to share language and pedagogy with parents. We have done this through ‘drip-feeding’ short videos into our home learning blog to guide parents with ways in which they can scaffold their children’s learning. These videos last for about 5 minutes and are posted one to two times per week, with one key video opening up our learning for that week. For example, in a ‘Little Scientists’ project, we shared a video modelling language, including the use of ‘I wonder’ and ‘I notice’ and challenged parents to see if they could go the whole week wondering out loud with their children. We asked them, ‘Challenge yourselves to see how long you can go without giving or finding out the answer – one hour?! One day?! One month?!’
The results were tangible – we received videos of children and parents gasping in wonderment together, long-term projects of children observing plants and the moon, collaborations of children developing experiments with their brothers and sisters. Parents and children were genuinely buzzing with an excitement around discovery. Not only that, weeks after the simple introduction of ‘I wonder’ at home, children are still sharing their learning, starting with the words, ‘I wonder …’, suggesting that this parental involvement in using a language of learning has had a long-term impact on their thinking.
There were challenges too. There were different levels of engagement among parents, and some got the general idea of how to support (or, more importantly, step back!) more quickly than others. We found that stripping our home learning blog back helped parents to engage, as there was less ‘noise’ – we really had to distil what the key points for each project were and focus on those rather than being tempted to add lots of ideas and provocations. This is just one example of a series of videos we created to invite parents on a journey of learning with us. Over the course of the months we have been learning from home, we have gradually shared little ideas, words and snippets to empower parents with language that will help to develop lifelong learners. In hindsight, and if we’d have had more time to plan (which was impossible amidst a global pandemic!), we might have planned a progressive series of language and ideas to share with parents. As it happened, we still covered and revisited some key learning points with parents, including how to support and structure play, how to develop a language for learning in a variety of contexts, how to thread maths and writing into play and how to support high-quality talk.
Here are a few pointers about what we learned about making videos for parents:
- Plan and note down the key language you would like to share before recording – what would you like the parents’ long-term ‘take aways’ to be?
- Change the tone of your video to connect with parents. Take the time to explain ‘teacher talk’ as you go
- Have props, visuals and examples to bring the ideas to life
- Demonstrate how concepts can be applicable in a variety of contexts.
With schools starting to reopen I’m wondering; how do we bring this back into the classroom? How can we genuinely work and learn with parents to empower them to truly scaffold and support their children’s learning, so that their children can learn for themselves, both in and out of school? I wonder what your thoughts are too…
Carlzon B (2017) Speaking ‘learnish’. Available at: https://learningpowerkids.com/speaking-learnish/ (accessed 11 June 2020).
Claxton GL, Robinson J, Macfarlane R, et al. (2020) Powering Up Your School: The Learning Power Approach to School Leadership. Carmarthen: Crown House.
Tedeschi RG and Calhoun LG (2004) Posttraumatic growth: Conceptual foundations and empirical evidence. Psychological Inquiry 15(1): 1–18.