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Gemma Goldenberg: 'We'd got the work done, but the children hadn't actually learnt anything'

She was, until recently, assistant headteacher at Sandringham School in Newham, East London, and is now working for the Chartered College of Teaching and doing a PhD in education.

In this guest blog, Gemma shares her thoughts on home learning so far, and how she hopes teachers and parents can work together more effectively to strengthen students' learning muscles in future.

Gemma writes:

Life here is busier than ever. I am now home-schooling my two older boys whilst trying to keep my one year old happy. I’m trying to see this as a good opportunity for more time with the children and the chance to home in on some learning power development with them! It's very interesting to become their teacher and see their little habits and challenges that need to be picked apart and worked on together.

That experience has got me thinking, I feel like these school closures could really polarise children into the two ends of the spectrum regarding learning powers. Some children will have a parent at home who may 'over-help' quite a lot for an easier life. I found myself doing this for the first few days - trying to just keep everyone happy and get the tasks done as easily and quickly as possible as we have to submit them electronically to the school. It's also very hard to have a quality discussion about learning with a crying baby on your hip! So we survived the first week and it was only on reflection that I realised whilst we'd got the work done, the children hadn't actually learnt anything; they'd just been kept busy. So I’m changing my tack…

Anyway, some children may return to school having not worked independently for weeks and months as there may be a parent at home who's available to sit and give them help and attention for every task. There will be a lot of learned helplessness for their teachers to undo. Other children may have working parents and might have had to learn very quickly how to work independently, problem solve, and be resourceful. They might go back to school more resilient and self-directing than ever before. Of course there'll also be the children without much supervision who will face challenges and give up quickly and end up not doing the schoolwork at all. When they go back to school they’ll have both a curriculum coverage issue and a learning powers issue too.

So in many ways, I think when schools re open our LPA books will be more relevant than ever. Schools employing the LPA are able to give children a more even starting ground. They will know how to learn effectively. But without that kind of input at school, there will be more disparity in children's learning powers - so a cohesive whole-school approach will be really important. I also think once parents and teachers have had a chance to take a breath and settle into their new routines and ways of living, it'd be great to explore in more detail how teachers and parents can work together more effectively to strengthen children’s learning power and make sure this aspect of their development is not overlooked in favour of keeping children busy.

You can pre-order Powering Up Your School: The Learning Power Approach to School Leadership here.

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