COVID GUIDE FOR PARENTS
If your children have been sent home from school to continue their education using online means, a significant disruption to family and professional life can result. To these inconveniences is added another. How on earth do you assume the role of ‘teaching assistant’ when you’ve not had the benefits of any ED101 instruction? The following advice is designed to encourage parents and to remind them that they can be effective teachers.
First, let’s check the attitude. If the supervision of education is approached as a burden, a child will agree, and this will not help the learning chemistry. Let’s recognise that supervising the learning of a child at home, can be a wonderful opportunity for connection. With contemporary child/parent interaction threatened by busyness, the generation gap, peers, the cyber world, work commitments and access issues, some researchers are suggesting that conversation between children and parents is only a few minutes a day. These same researchers suggest children spend many hours a day with cyber mentors. This raises the question, ‘Who’s parenting our children?’ Having our children home in school hours can be an opportunity for parents to strengthen their role as a primary influence in their children’s lives.
Teachers are no longer wanting to stuff knowledge down the throats of their students. In fact, teachers don’t even want to teach. What they want is their students to learn. Teaching is out. Learning is in. This pedagogical shift in what happens in schools has resulted in a decline in teachers transmitting knowledge and a rise in students constructing knowledge. Contemporary schooling is more child-centered, more discovery learning and more interdisciplinary.
What’s being described is a type of education well-suited to distance education and to parental input. It’s an education that encourages the development of independent learning skills. Children are required to learn on their own. By so doing, they discover that learning is possible in any place at any time. In short, they are encouraged to become lifelong learners.
It’s important for parents to remember that there’s a curriculum of life-skills that can be taught by them. Although not having done ED101 at a university, they’ve majored in life, and the lessons they’ve learnt are priceless.
Therefore, this time when children are being schooled at home might be a great time to teach a life-skills curriculum. Think washing, cooking, ironing, mending, first-aid, gardening, driving, care maintenance, service learning and so on.
Perhaps one of the most important life skills that can be developed when home-schooling, is that of organisation. This can involve the setting up of daily and weekly timetables, goal setting and organising both online and off-line learning resources. There might even be a ‘splash’ effect which sees less resistance to making the bed, feeding the cat and sorting the washing.
Even on the academic front, parents have much to offer the home-bound scholar. Here are a few ways parents can contribute to the academic advancement of children schooled at home.
Partner with the school. The school should send home clear instructions about the distance education and video conferencing services to be used. Furthermore, training in using these services should be provided and a helpline established. This should mean parents, student and school can operate in tri-partnership to ensure meaningful learning continues despite school closure.
Create a great learning space for your child. It’s important that a desk, chair and computer be set up that’s ergonomically sound. It’s also good to establish a study space that has good natural light - but not so that it reflects onto the screen. Other things to check include the adequacy of desk space, sound attenuation and whether there’s suitable heating, cooling and lighting. Remove mirrors near the screen as they can induce body image reverie, and switch off, mute, or compost, any diverting electronic devices.
If at all possible, don’t set up the bedroom as the learning space. It’s good to preserve the bedroom as an ‘R&R’ space where a child can chill and relax. Be aware of privacy issues. Because video conferencing will display not just your child, but what’s on the wall behind your child, a careful check needs to be made that no inappropriate or private items are seen by others when participating in a video conference.
Know when parental input into learning is appropriate. There should be no parental input when video conferencing is happening and synchronous learning is taking place. This is teacher/student time. Outside of these times when video conferencing is not happening and when learning is asynchronous, parental input is often appropriate.
Use online resources. As parents, we’re not expected to know much about Byzantine art, but we can help our children to find this information. Fortunately, there are online search tools and many powerful knowledge engines that can provide information and instruction on most things. Another key resource is the school’s own information system.
Don’t tell. When helping your child with academic tasks, try not to tell them the answer or do the task for them. Far better to help them arrive at the answer by asking questions and suggesting web sites that could assist. Remember,
Give a child an answer, we help them for a minute.
Teach a child to find an answer, and we help them for life.
Encourage creativity and problem-solving. Your child’s future employers will prize a mind well-formed rather than a mind well-stuffed. Knowing has lost its capital. We can get it with the press of a button. The prized attributes of tomorrow include creativity, problem-solving and adaptability. Therefore, work at the growth of these skills in your child.
Teach thinking skills. Some of our children content themselves with shallow thinking skills such as chanting their way through the planets of the solar system. Knowledge is useful, but it’s a shallow skill compared with analysis, synthesis and evaluation. As parents, we need to encourage deeper thinking skills by asking our children to judge, contrast and assess.
Insist on purposeful practice. Our children often like to display what they already know rather than seek answers to what they don’t know. To be put on a trajectory of success, children need to engage in purposeful practice that leads to improvement. The job is not done when the 30 allocated minutes are up. It’s done when demonstrable improvement occurs.
Encourage student2student learning. Although the video conferencing may have stopped, the capacity of students to interact and help each other shouldn’t stop. Emails, messaging and ‘phone-a-friend’ can continue independently of class lessons. Encouraging your child to partner electronically with ‘study buddies’ can help a great deal when they’re self-educating.
Help your child self-assess and evaluate their work. The frequency of work being marked by the teacher may decline when a child is home-schooled. However, this provides more opportunities for the child to mark their own work, or to partner with other students to conference work.
Parental input into assessing quality of work should also be encouraged. Simple questions can be asked such as, What did you like about your work? and, How could you improve upon this work? Research consistently shows that the most significant factor influencing growth in student learning is the quality of feedback.
It’s possible to go on, but this should be enough to give immediate encouragement that parents can make a real contribution to a child’s education when the child is studying from home. The key thing a parent can provide a child is a sense they’re loved and reassurance they’re safe. The capacity to learn is reduced if a child is stressed. Neural energy is spent on coping with worries rather than coping with work. Parents that provide a home in which there is unconditional love, appropriate and consistent boundaries and a good mug of chocolate, is a home that’s going to support great learning.