As we enter yet another week of lock down, albeit one with a few less restrictions, our children are all preparing for another incredibly mixed bag of educational experiences. Some will have days in school, some will be given work from their teachers on a daily basis, and some will be trying to carry out their own independent learning. Of course, some teenagers will have been completing little or no work for a whole variety of reasons, but even the most committed students are likely to be experiencing a sense of fatigue and possible burn out right now. Whilst we may have the technology in place for online learning, it is not really the way in which we are designed to learn for prolonged periods of time. Zoom calls are draining, and spending hours working independently without feedback or support from a teacher is very hard to maintain.
If your child is understandably showing signs of online learning fatigue right now, here are a few suggestions about ways in which you can support him/her.
When lock down first began, many parents felt that they were under pressure to recreate the school day as closely as possible, even taking lunch breaks at the correct time in order to give children a consistent routine. But as I mentioned earlier, this just is not really possible when the majority of learning is being done online. This is particularly the case at secondary level, where children are taught by subject specialists. Parents do not have the time to step into this teacher’s role for every single subject, and I have spoken to quite a few parents who say that even when they have tried to do this, their children have not always responded well to these attempts to intervene. Year Ten and Twelve students have specific examinations they are preparing for, and they need the guidance of qualified teachers.
This means that these teenagers are reliant upon the resources being sent to them via their teachers. As a classroom teacher, I know it is incredibly difficult to set high quality learning tasks that students can do completely independently, without teacher support and immediate feedback. The teacher cannot gage how the students are getting on with the work. In a classroom situation, teachers adopt their planning as they go, based on how the class is getting on with the topic.
The work that the students are getting is therefore not an accurate replica of the work they would be doing in the classroom, they are tasks designed to keep the students using skills they have already learnt. So there is little point in focusing so much on reproducing a school day for these students, there are just too many differences.
That being said, it is a good idea to establish set hours where your child will sit down to do their independent work. But these do not have to match exactly with the school hours. For example, studies have shown that teenagers would benefit from starting later in the morning and finishing later in the afternoon anyway, so now is a great time to try this. Let your child have a bit of a lie-in and a late breakfast, as long as there is an expectation that he/she will start work at a particular time (that same day!) Remember to have breaks scheduled in as well. Consistency is important, but it does not have to be the same as the school day.A couple of hours a day of work that is focused is going to be far better than not doing anything at all.
Set a location for work
Following from the importance of allocating times for work, location is also very important. Make sure your child has somewhere in the house that is specifically designated for their study. I know we do not all live in palaces and space can be limited (my “study” at the moment is a corner in our guest room). But try and ensure he/she has somewhere to go, with a desk/table. If possible, make sure this is an area where disturbances will be minimal, and it is away from temptations like the television and the X-Box. Ensure there is enough light - I damaged my eyesight as a teenager by working in poor light!
Study support groups
Working independently day-in and day-out can be a very isolating experience for young people. Having their own virtual support network around them can make a big difference to their mental wellbeing. Some students make Whatsapp groups with classmates, although this is possibly more common with Year 12 students. There are student forums online, where students can post about topics they are struggling with, and these can be a great life line when students are feeling isolated.
Mix tasks up where possible
This one does depend on the type of work and the frequency of work coming from your child’s school, but where possible, ensure that your child is not doing exactly the same type of work all the time. For example, if your child is asked to plan a response to an English essay question, they could come away from the laptop and produce a mind map response instead. If they are set a task that requires some research, he/she could watch a video instead of reading information. This also makes it harder for them to succumb to the classic research cheat - the copy and paste! As I have said, we are not programmed to do the same kind of tasks repeatedly for hours on end, to stay in learning mode, we need to give our brain a variety of learning tasks and styles.
Set goals and talk about the bigger picture
We all need goals to help motivate us, and during this lock down it has been easy to lose sight of them. No one really knows if or when we are ever going back to “normal”, and it has definitely felt at times as if we are all going to be in lock down forever. It can be really easy to lose motivation to complete learning tasks if we do not have a specific outcome in mind. Talk to your child about their plans and goals. It does not matter if they are still vague at the moment, just having conversations about different options they could take will be helpful. If you want to motivate your child further, you could try an exercise such as creating a vision board of images that your child has selected, that represent the type of future he/she would like to have. Talk to him/her about values, what sort of things are important to them? For example, do they want to work with others and make a difference? Or are they hoping to earn a high wage and live an affluent lifestyle? Your child does not have to rush into making decisions, but it is important to ask him/her the questions, in order to remind them that they are in control of their own future, and the decisions they make now will have an impact later on.
If all else fails, there is nothing wrong with a bit of bribery! Whilst we would love our children to be guided by intrinsic motivation, sometimes a bit of extrinsic motivation can help too! These rewards do not have to be big or expensive, it could be as simple as making your child’s favourite meal or even making them a cup of tea, if you feel that their efforts deserve it. Let them know that you do care, and you appreciate the efforts they are making in order to continue their education in very difficult circumstances.
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