School’s Out

I may have wished for my independent learning program to have a real impact but I NEVER expected most of the children in the UK to have to develop their independent learning skills quite so quickly.

What a week! In the strange world of Social Distancing,this is my classroom for the foreseeable future whist I am teaching remotely. School’s out for now – for me, the students I teach and my own three children who have returned home early from Uni or had their A levels and GCSE exams cancelled. But the learning can’t stop.

This blog started as a way of documenting my school-based project but I’m repurposing it into a way for me to stay in touch with my students and offer some support to them through the uncertainty of the next few weeks and months. I’m going to try to offer hints and tips for any ‘quaran – teens’ to make the most of learning independently. So spread the word if you feel it helps.

Let’s do this.

Featured post

1- Home learning – sink or swim?

Dear Quaran – teens,

So here is the benefit of my experience to help you get off to the best possible start on home study. It would be selfish of me not to share it with you, right?

Let’s face it – we may have longed for the Easter hols to come and the revision to be over but we never expected to be at home right now twiddling our thumbs and wondering what the next few weeks would bring. I hope you’ve settled into a new kind of normal at home. At Smart HQ we held a family meeting to plan our route through the next few weeks. It’s a mystery tour now that GCSEs, A Levels and University exams have been cancelled.

For many of you – even my GCSE and A Level classes – it’s important to keep working on something. Until you know exactly what kind of evidence your teachers need to provide to the exam boards to help them decide on your grades, then that should be your studies. There was a time, before I became your teacher that I worked from home every day. It was an adventure. My friends used to drop by for a coffee; it was easy to become distracted by the radio, the housework, the refrigerator or the garden. Nobody would know if I spent the whole day in my pyjamas. Guess what? On some days not a lot of work took place. That should not happen to you.

Here are my top tips.

  1. Stick to your timetable. When it takes three weeks to establish a new habit or routine, why wouldn’t you stick with your school routine? Hockey may be off but kicking a ball in the garden, walking the dog or going for a short run is not. If Chemistry is first lesson on Monday then spend that time doing Chemistry. Take 5 minute breaks between study sessions. Have a proper mid morning break, a lunchtime and a mid afternoon break.
  2. Sleep. As Lady Macbeth informs us, it’s “the season of all natures”. Whilst I wouldn’t hold her up as a role model, on sleep she was bang on.
  3. Eat properly If you’re going to feed your brain you need decent food. I’m sure your parents will help if you have an attack of the munchies but fuelling up with good food at mealtimes is THE way to go.
  4. Spruce up your work space Nobody wants to work in a dingy space. You may have a lovely desk and a beautiful view in your own private space. Or, like me, you may be working in the family kitchen. Wherever you’re based, make it somewhere you want to be.
  5. Replicate your school environment Studying is easier if you have your familiar things around you. Set your workspace out the way you do at school. The more things stay the same,the easier it will be to focus on what matters – your studies.
  6. Get dressed I have a friend who used to work from home in clothes that made him embarrassed to answer the door to the postman. I have another who gets dressed in her work clothes every day, leaves the house, goes for a short walk and then returns to her house 15 minutes later, ready for work. Extreme I know, but way more productive than the one who had to hide behind the sofa every time the doorbell rang.
  7. Have a goal Have an aim, a place you want to get to by the end of a study session, the end of the day or the end of the week. If a teacher sets you a deadline, stick to it. Even project work should be chunked into achievable tasks so that you know you’re keeping everything afloat without the daily checks, merits and demerits of your teachers. Give yourself a reward if you achieve your task. It will keep you motivated.
  8. Keep in touch Studying from home can be lonely. If your teacher hasn’t set up a Skype lesson then you’ll miss the business of the classroom and the opportunity to collaborate with friends, discuss your opinions or compare your answers. Set up a way of keeping in touch with classmates about work. Maybe FaceTime everyday at a set time. Set up a WhatsApp group. You won’t feel so alone
  9. Make studying active Before a remote lesson, think about what you already know, do some reading around the subject and after the lesson, evaluate and reflect on what you’ve learned. Try to add to your notes. That way you gain maximum benefit from the teacher contact you have. You can ask questions to clarify any points and move your learning on.
  10. Plan ahead Although you don’t know when home studying will end, plan ahead to the next holiday. Know what you’ve got coming up next week and the week after, just like you do at school for every half term. It will keep you focused.

Let me know how you get on and look out for my next postcard.

Mrs Smart

Growing Effective Independent Learners

Research project is ready to launch I’ve spent the last term reading, researching and making contact with senior leaders in other schools about workable strategies that they use to improve outcomes for students without putting the students, themselves or their staff under unnecessary pressure. Easy gains is what I’m after. Different and smarter ways of working – not putting in extra hours. There is a heap of excellent research-based learning out there and that has informed the design of my program.

It’s a pilot, under construction with some year groups, whilst proceeding apace with others. I have a team of teachers across all departments working with me, some handpicked by me and other volunteers. We have vision, bags of energy, a determination to create something worthwhile for the teachers and the students at the school – and home-baked cake. Having established level descriptors for reporting on independent learning and devised some tutorial materials, now we’ll be looking at the great activities that are already happening in the school to promote independent learning and finding ways to share and celebrate them all.


Back to school

I’m dipping a toe in the water and getting back into the business of school leadership after a very extended break away. I have a pile of reading to complete in preparation and a lot of plates to spin during the course of this academic year.

There has been an explosion in recent years of evidence based research to guide teachers – subject-based and whole school. Thousands of teachers are connecting via Twitter to share resources and spend their free time attending CPD, often on Saturdays and during school holidays. This is a good thing. Teaching is as much about learning as it is about imparting knowledge, igniting a spark and fanning the flames of enthusiasm, sowing a seed that will grow into a lifetime of learning and guiding your charges through the forest of knowledge that surrounds them at school. It’s about walking alongside your students. That’s why I sit the exams my students do in real time every year! Never forget what it is like to be a student.

This is one of the guiding principles for the school project on independent learning which I’ll be leading over the next school year as part of my senior leadership qualification. Twenty years ago before I had my own children, when I was a senior leader in a secondary school in Bath there were few excellent books to read and little sharing of resources and best practice. Times have changed – and mostly for the better.

I’m going to get my head down into the planning of my project and all the associated reading. Once it’s up and running I’ll be providing updates here.

See you after Christmas I expect.

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