Blended learning? No thanks.

When completing research for my Dissertation on Homework, I was particularly struck by one Dutch study which concluded that homework was in some cases a hindrance to some students making progress.  This was a particular case where it was necessary to have done the homework before completing the lesson in class the next day.  There was fairly widespread agreement among studies (and in my own work) that completing homework regularly really only helped the students who were likely to do well anyway – those who were better independent learners, had supportive families, a place at home to work etc.  If you like, the students who most needed homework are those least likely to do it.  So in the Dutch study referred to above, those students were being further penalised the next day because they were unable to make progress in the classroom having not done the homework.  Thus the effect of this homework was to widen that gulf between the two rough groups of learners (which unsurprisingly, often falls along socio-economic lines).

None of this would come as a surprise to most of the teachers I know – which is why so many teachers set homework which is an extension to the classwork, or a chance to practice a particular learned skill rather than a key part of the learning.

However the above is key in thinking about the work that millions of children in the UK are being set at the moment, whilst the government keeps them out of school.  Teachers are doing the very best they can.  They’ve learned loads of new skills.  Mostly out of necessity, but many of these will continue to form part of the way we teach our children.  Teachers who’ve got to grips with Show my Homework or Google Classrooms will continue to do so.  Teachers who’ve worked out how to make films for pupils by commentating over power-points using Google Screencastify will continue to do so.  The range of methods we can use particularly for students preparing for exams is greatly increased.

Likewise Google Meets, Microsoft Teams and Zoom will be used frequently in the future to get together colleagues from other schools across a LA, MAT or even the country.  These can and will be integrated into face-to-face meetings and conferences.  But hopefully teachers won’t have to use these tools to deliver lessons to their pupils regularly.  There are starting to be more of these lessons, and they are certainly more helpful than students struggling on their own.  Some students find them very useful.

The vast majority of our ‘teaching’ at the moment though, what the media and the public refer to as ‘home schooling’ is not really home schooling (as anyone who’s home schooled will probably tell you).  It’s really just setting loads and loads of homework tasks.  Work that can’t be easily differentiated by ability (like homework, if you know it, why do you need to do it again?  If you don’t know it, how are you going to understand it from this?), work that is designed to give students something to do, something to practice, something to watch, something to question.  Rarely though in this format, can it help them to learn and develop new concepts at their own level.

And therein lies the problem.  Because what they’re effectively doing is exactly the same as referred to in the Dutch study at the top.  Work that needs to be completed to move on.  And for those that aren’t doing it (which judging on what I’ve heard about submission rates could be as much of half of our students) that accentuates the gap between them and the more organised pupils.

Even among online lessons this gap is becoming more obvious.  One Secondary teacher I know described how she had started delivering one online lesson a week to her Sixth Form class.  At first it was great, but over the six weeks she’s been doing this the number of those who ‘turn up’ has diminished greatly.  Only 4 out of 9 this week.  And only the same 2 who really engage.  None of them ever turn on their cameras or microphones, using the chat facility only to communicate.  This makes it very difficult to teach.  Its not interactive, it feels like delivering a lecture to a webcam.  Exactly not what’s it supposed to be.

I have said throughout the last two months of lockdown that our pupils need to be back in schools as soon as possible.  I think this has never been more obvious.  The longer we leave it the more these divisions will widen.  Divisions that in a lifetime a significant proportion of the country’s school students will never be able to make up.  Some sort of ‘Blended learning’ compromise isn’t going to help.  It will continue to hinder.  What we need is children in classrooms.

About theinterruptingsheep
Freelance Composer/Arranger/Song-writer. Longer blogs here, shorter ones on twitter @GeraldCmin6 My band is 'The Great Divide'. You can 'like' us on facebook through www.thegreatdivide.co.uk Contact me directly through www.theinterruptingsheep.com if you want me to score your project.

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