Setting Up For Success

Classrooms are wonderful places. Pots of pencils on every table, tubs with personalised workbooks and plenty of space for learning displays. Homes however differ, temptations everywhere, washing to be done and limited space to devote to a study zone. Learning and teaching at home is the ultimate challenge.

So lets knuckle down on one piece of the puzzle. How do you get maximum impact through minimal effort? What is the single most important aspect of home education that has it’s roots in the classroom?

Through my partnership with Melbourne University’s Science of Learning Research Centre, I was inundated with evidence around ‘Readiness to Learn.’ Basically, this is the driver in which a child seeks out the learning, either consciously or unconsciously. Think about it as that moment when you open your device and hit the YouTube App, you unconsciously prepare yourself to watch, your brain is gearing up to view a video.

‘Learner Readiness’ is directly linked to deep learning and the ability to recall learning through memory. Meaning that unless the child is truly in the space mentally (think mindfulness, imagination off and staring out the window at a minimum) then your impact will be low. That’s why many teachers, leaders and coaches encourage mindfulness, so that the mind has a moment to catch up with the body and almost download the physical space that you are in before thinking and learning starts.

In the classroom, this is integral when a learner moving about a space (even from the playground or say Physical Education) or moving from listening on the floor to opening their workbook at their table, which is where our focus lies. This is where the home education link begins to form. As the children move about a space, downloading all that they see, they move to the floor for focussed teaching. The impact here may already begin low as they have come to the floor with a full brain of experiences, simply from moving about a space. So beginning a lesson introduction will fill it further, creating surface learning as oppose to deep learning. Once the lesson begins, slowly layers begin to sink deeper and connections begin to happen. Then it’s time to move back to their table and start the application or the task at hand. There are simply too many steps between sitting on the floor, moving to their desk and opening their book, so in that time, if they have not truly connected to the task at hand, only surface details will be remembered. This applies to adults to! Have you ever walked in to a room and completely forgotten what you went into get? That’s what I like to call the ‘Doorway Effect.’ Think about the downloading of information your brain is doing as you walk and crossing into a new space.

The kitchen bench can be a study sanctuary with the right priming and tools.

Let’s return to our classroom; in some classrooms, including my own, I have seen children engaged in a fascinating focus lesson on the floor, learning a new skill, collaborating with a partner and raring to go back to their desk to start the task. Then low and behold, they return to their desk, smiling and still ready, but begin by finding a grey lead pencil, then sharpening said pencil, realising their margin needs to be done in a red pencil, locating their ruler, rifling through their tub for the right workbook asking their partner for today’s date, then swapping back to the grey lead pencil, reminding their partner to use a grey lead pencil then adding on “what’s in your lunchbox?” “Do you like cheese in your sandwich?” and then, wait for it, “Miss Donald, what are we doing again?”

Videos are a great way to justify this when explaining ‘WHY’ we do the things we do. Why set up before learning?

I giggle just recalling this scenario. I was often confused at how such engaged, enthusiastic, high achievers had lost their groove 3 minutes after they had uttered new learning in the lesson introduction. Until the research within the ‘Science of Learning’ crossed my eyes and ears. As educators and parents alike, we too often blame ourselves, but it’s incredibly important to move from blame to reflection, “how can I build this into our learning?” After hearing about ‘Learner Readiness,’ the very next day I flipped our space. I would have the children set up their desks the day before just before school finished. They thought I had gone crazy the first time, “Miss Donald, why are we setting up for reading with our bags on our backs?” or before they ate their recess, “Do we really have to stay in for our writing lesson, I need to save a handball court.” I would wander around the classroom, rewarding open workbooks at a fresh page, margins done, dates and any extra materials stacked alongside. The children caught on pretty quickly. Some children were so hooked on ‘Readiness to Learn’ that when they arrived in the morning they pulled out their tub and started stacking their books in the order that the lessons would occur that day. Needless to say, there were some major reward points given!

Prompts made together are a great start. Do it together, just for a little while and soon it because habit. And don’t underestimate the power of photos! Add the child into the photo and somehow it becomes more interesting!

This technique of creating a clear physical learning space before beginning the learning in time builds great routine. Routine equals predictability. Predictability creates deep learning as we subconsciously organise the surface details. This means that the downloading of the space that we were discussing early is already taken care of. The brain and memory begin to become open again. It created predictability to the space, so as students walk back in to a classroom after a break and didn’t ask, “Miss Donald, what are we doing now?” in a familiar droning voice, but often skipped in, “it’s Maths time!”

So how does this translate to home?

Simple. Orderliness. Keep everything in one area, one orderly area.

Every tool for learning set out in a space, the order is up to the learner.

Workbooks together in a basket, away from toys, lessons in a consistent place in a comfortable seat (there is a time and place for the couch) and importantly away from screens. Yes, even iPads. When a child learns a new skill then simply opens the home page of their iPad, the deep learning again is wiped. Combat this by ensuring the iPad is set up before learning, to the finest detail; screen on, page open, iBook chosen, app ready to go, etc. This doesn’t mean your house becomes a classroom. You may have a shelf to store workbooks, a trolley or pop tools away in a cupboard clearly marked ‘Learning Tools.’

Implement our classroom skill, just at home. If you are Reading after breakfast ensure novels are out with a book mark ready to go in the comfortable physical space that the children will be sitting (I told you the couch came into it eventually). The area is orderly and prepared. Which transforms it from couch to learning zone. If Writing comes after a mid-morning snack, place open journals at table (move out of sight of the couch this time), date on the page, pencil sharpened and eat your snack outside so as not to disturb. It is also a fabulous motivator, “morning tea is ready as soon as the learning space is!” Let the children start to have control, shift from “you will need” to “what will you need for Writing?”

I love Reading as it has the capacity to be learnt anywhere. Children would set up for Reading in corners, across two tables and even at my desk! The set up was orderly and the impact was high. The struggle was in the learning, not in getting comfy!

It seems basic, but trust me, once you start there is no turning back. Hello learning potential!

For some research in this domain try;

https://www.slrc.org.au/pen-3-spatial-predictability-guides-attention/

OR ‘Make It Stick’ by Peter Brown, Henry Roediger and Mark McDaniel

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