Refreshing student learning habits post-shutdown

COVID-19 school shutdowns were unlike anything we’ve seen in education before, and came with little warning as this pandemic swept the globe.

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COVID-19 school shutdowns were unlike anything we’ve seen in education before, and came with little warning as this pandemic swept the globe. It didn’t take any time at all for educators all around the country to spring into action. And their efforts have been nothing short of amazing.

With all Australian states now back at school in some capacity many teachers are reporting something we all knew was a risk with the sudden shift to remote learning. Due to the change of routine and the challenges of remote learning, you may have noticed yourself that many students’ learning habits need to be rebuilt. 

Teachers know that building good learning habits is not a once-off exercise — it requires constant reiteration and perseverance. But as schools return to in-class learning, this issue is compounded with the desire to make up for any maths learning missed during shutdowns. It can be hard to prioritise the longer term maths learning (by first focusing on learning habits) ahead of any shortfalls that are apparent right now. 

But this is exactly what students need as they return to classrooms. We cannot resume classroom practices as they were when students left school. We are not on the familiar ground of pre-shutdown education — even if it might look like it to the naked eye. 

With change comes re-adjustment

For many students, school shutdowns and other COVID-19 induced changes have been some of the most stressful times of their lives. School — one of the most structured and reliable parts of their lives — has been closed; the news has been full of reports on hospital bed shortages; while in their own houses there has been financial hardship and uncertainty about the family’s future. It would be unreasonable to expect students to return to school in the same state they left. 

While we can’t take on the burden of our students’ anxiety about these uncertain times, we can take steps to ensure we’re not adding to it. The high expectations we had of students beforehand are still important, but they need some extra propping up now. A key focus for teachers returning to the classroom should be the re-establishing of routines and habits that will enable students the opportunity to meet these expectations. 

It can be hard to stifle that voice in your head that says “But what about catching up on content??”, and you shouldn’t ignore it completely. But research on traumatic experiences with students indicates that focus and memory are affected by exposure to trauma and adversity, so high expectations without additional scaffolding run a risk of compounding this issue. Arm your students with the best possible chance of meeting high expectations with initial groundwork. 

Many Maths Pathway teachers will have run some of our Learning Skills Lessons when they first began implementing the Learning and Teaching model. Thankfully they’re not only useful when students are new to Maths Pathway — they’re also perfect for this resetting of routines that is so vital right now. 

As one excellent example, this lesson helps set expectations for high quality bookwork in a way that fosters better learning. You can download a full lesson plan and resources here

There are also lessons on Growth Mindset and processes for getting help when you’re stuck. You can find the whole set here.

Back on track

Remember, there are no silver bullets. What your students need in order to bounce back from school shutdowns will be different to the needs of other students. While the Perfect Workbook lesson is a valuable resource, it’s worth getting an understanding of what learning skills your students think they need to rebuild in order to be successful. Many will have noticed the things that make it hard for them to focus during this shutdown, and that insight is invaluable to getting them back into routine. 

With so much change and uncertainty over the past two months teachers and students have had to make many adjustments to the way things are done. As schools slowly resume, remember that it’ll take a while for your students to re-adjust again. So reset your expectations, take things slow and before you know it, your class will be back on track.

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