What primary schools should do in a Coronavirus shut-down
Skype is not the solution
If primary schools are to close down (which looks increasingly likely), the question of what to do will be weighing heavily on a lot of leaders’ minds.
I am very concerned about the amount of guff I have read online about deploying Skype and other such tools to carry on lessons ‘as normal’. While presumably well-intentioned, I think this would be a catastrophically bad idea.
Even if primary schools had 6 months to prepare how they were going to live-Skype their lessons, the overwhelming odds would still dictate that:
- the tech would fall over on a regular basis
- the attainment gap between rich and poor would widen
- ‘attendance’ would be…variable
- ‘behaviour for learning’ would, in a lot of cases, be non-existent
- responsive teaching — literally the bedrock of learning — would be impossible
It is a terrible, terrible idea that will end in nothing but wasted time for every single person involved — from parents to teachers to pupils.
What should we do instead?
Statistics in educational research are spurious at best, but if there is one thing we have an absolutely rock-solid body of data on, it’s that a significant majority of the curriculum is never learned. Like a shiny new Ferrari pulverised in a scrap heap — most of the curriculum lies strewn in tatters at the end of each exam cycle, completely forgotten.
Why? Because we don’t devote enough time to getting it into long-term memory.
Mainly because we don’t have enough time.
Here’s my proposal for primary schools facing closure:
- Concentrate all your energies on reviewing the curriculum you have taught so far and setting up low-tech opportunities for retrieval practice.
- In the time that schools are closed, teachers should be given reading lists to develop subject knowledge and expertise — these could be blogs, research articles or books which the school will pay for with the money it saves during the shutdown. There will never be a better moment to give teachers extended reading time.
Despite the horrific circumstances, we’ve got a golden opportunity to freeze the conveyor-belt curriculum and allow pupils some time to absorb the learning that has already taken place.
In case you missed it, I’ve created a curriculum search engine for children to help them with retrieval projects. Unlike most research lessons, every result is both readable and relevant:
A child-friendly curriculum search engine, perfect for classroom or home research. Every result is relevant and…
- As soon as school closures look imminent, direct all PPA time to creating retrieval resources.
- If you HAVE to make videos (and you really don’t) — make them about things you learned in the Autumn term. Don’t forget there are already a TONNE of curriculum-related videos on YouTube — and seeing material presented in a slightly different way to how it was first presented is good for learning.
- Make the retrieval practice a mix of fluency, generation and evaluation. Don’t just focus on retrieving facts — take the opportunity to build on and synthesise previous learning.
- If you start now, you could provide each child with a decent amount of zero-tech paper-based resources.
- If you’re worried about printing, there are a number of easy-to-use (and Skype-free) tools online for retrieval — I’m writing this blog in a hurry but look out for a comprehensive list on my Twitter feed asap.