As the evidence for home-supported learning with school-aged students is being rapidly explored, lessons of what works in schools provide a starting point for ‘best bets' in translating evidence-based practices for learning at home.
Teachers are being asked to redefine the way they work to respond to the challenges of COVID-19, so we should all anchor to this statement: quality over quantity will make the difference in these times.
Evidence for Learning has identified ‘quality' in education – high-impact approaches, based on rigorous evidence – through the Teaching & Learning Toolkit. Strategies outlined in this article further unpack these for teachers and school leaders, exploring how these can be applied in a home-supported learning environment.
Potential barriers for teachers and students
Great teaching and learning occurs in classrooms all over Australia, but we are now presented with a challenge: to what extent do our existing models translate to home-supported learning? In looking to answer this, we must consider the pedagogies and ways of working that have the possibility to benefit students in home-supported learning environments, as well as the barriers that some students (and staff) may face.
Students surrounded by disadvantage, Australia-wide, are at risk of falling behind in their education with approximately 15 per cent of Australian families not having access to the internet (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2018). Despite the rising trend towards having mobile devices, access to a computer is not assured.
Students from families who don't speak English at home, or who are living in insecure housing may face additional barriers to their learning, and for families with multiple school-aged learners, such challenges may be compounded.
Teachers, too, face barriers. Research from the Australian Institute of Family Studies on technology use in Secondary English classes found that less than 75 per cent of the teachers in the study felt that they had received training and support to integrate technology into their teaching (Vassallo & Warren, 2018).
It isn't for teachers to overcome the barriers that students face, but it is important to have them in mind when designing home-supported learning. The starting point for all teaching is the pedagogy –so we look now to what we know about good practice and how this is likely to translate for home-supported learning.
What are our ‘best bets' from the current evidence?
A variety of high-impact strategies are deployed by teachers each time they walk into a learning space. Approaches from the Teaching & Learning Toolkit, such as metacognition and self-regulation, feedback, and reading comprehension strategies, are impactful and we can be confident that they can improve learning when effectively implemented.
We can make some inferences with confidence. Metacognition and self-regulation can have a significant impact on student progress (Education Endowment Foundation, 2020), and it is likely that students who are more metacognitive, may be better equipped to adjust to the home-supported learning environment. Teachers, therefore, could be encouraged to think about the explicit teaching of metacognitive strategies through this period of adjustment. From the evidence, students who can plan, monitor and evaluate their own learning will demonstrate greater independence (Quigley et al., 2019). Figure 1 demonstrates how this cycle is used for working through a mathematics problem.
Figure 1: The metacognitive regulation cycle for a learner (Quigley et al., 2019, p.10).
Teachers need to think about building metacognitive learners through explicit teaching, and tasks that provide opportunities for students to build their metacognitive skills and knowledge.
Like metacognitive strategies, reading comprehension strategies have evidence of positive impact for students, and can be taught through a combination of explicit instruction and opportunities for application. There are several strategies particularly well supported by research, which teachers should consider (National Reading Panel, 2000):
- Activation of prior knowledge – for example, setting brainstorming activities to allow students to identify what they already know about a topic.
- Prediction – encouraging students to think about what might happen next in the text or asking them to write a possible conclusion.
- Question generation – helping students check their own comprehension by generating questions that they have about the text, and maybe recording to follow up with a teacher if still unclear.
- Clarifying – identifying words, phrases or content which students are unfamiliar with to investigate, or to follow up with a teacher or peer.
- Summarising – assisting with drawing out the key messages and expressing them succinctly, verbally, written or using a graphic organiser or similar.
- Inference – inferring the meaning of phrases or sentences using context and other clues such as spelling patterns.
These strategies are well-suited for a home-supported learning environment. When paired with metacognitive strategies, they can be particularly effective because students are aware of their own thought process as they approach a question or problem in learning. While they can be taught and practised in isolation, they show greatest impact when teachers prepare and guide students to apply metacognitive thinking and strategies in specific subjects.
The identified strategies – overarched by metacognition and reading comprehension – can be tailored and applied across the spectrum of learning, but the evidence of positive impact is most strongly weighted towards students in the middle years of schooling (ages 7-14). Elements of explicit teaching should translate well to instruction that does not rely on being in a classroom. This is an area that researchers and practitioners are working hastily to better understand. Importantly, it is how students apply these strategies that will most likely lead to progress in learning.
Emerging research will provide us with greater clarity and direction as to the most effective ways to design home-based learning and support students in new ways.
What teachers and school leaders can do immediately, is draw on the evidence that is available and thoughtfully apply this to meet the altered requirements of learners. By maintaining focus on high-impact approaches in education and tailoring them to a new delivery model, we will provide continuity for learners.
Over the coming months, approaches that schools adapt and implement now will no doubt have a significant impact on our understanding of teaching and learning.
Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2018). Household Use of Information Technology. (Catalogue No. 8146.0) https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/mf/8146.0
Education Endowment Foundation. (2020). Evidence for Learning Teaching & Learning Toolkit: Education Endowment Foundation. Metacognition and self-regulation. https://www.evidenceforlearning.org.au/teaching-and-learning-toolkit/metacognition-and-self-regulation
National Reading Panel. (2000). Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction: Reports of the subgroups. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, 4-45
Quigley, A., Muijs, D., Stringer, E., Deeble, M., Ho, P., & Schoeffel, S. (2019). Metacognition and self-regulated learning. https://www.evidenceforlearning.org.au/guidance-reports
Vassallo, S. & Warren, D. (2018). Use of technology in the classroom. In D. Warren & G. Daraganova (Eds.), Growing Up In Australia – The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children, Annual Statistical Report 2017. Australian Institute of Family Studies. https://growingupinaustralia.gov.au/sites/default/files/publication-documents/lsac-asr-2017-chap10-teachers_use_of_technology.pdf (3.6MB)
The authors highlight six evidence-based reading comprehension strategies for teachers to consider. How could you include or expand upon your use of these in a home-supported learning environment?
As a teacher, when designing home-supported learning, do you consider the barriers some of your students may face? As a school leader, do you consider the barriers staff may face?