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Realistic expectations about what can be achieved

When you are teaching in your classroom, you cover a huge amount of material in an hour. This is not just when you are explaining a new concept to the whole class, but also when you are walking around the classroom talking to individual pupils and groups, exploring misconceptions with probing questions and prompting deeper thinking as they work together on a task.

Although carried out in an adult setting, research shows that during a group task in a face-to-face setting, it takes approximately six minutes for people to exchange 600 words. Whereas, it takes about an hour to cover the same ground using electronic communication, such as email or a collaborative online document such as Google Docs (not counting the delays between replying) (Kock, 2005). At primary level, pupils are likely to take far longer, as they are still developing their communication skills.

We can’t expect to replicate the school day in a home learning environment, particularly as pupils will have a range of home contexts. Remember that children may be sharing digital devices with others at home and if support is needed, they may have to wait until the end of a parent’s working day. With home distractions, concentration is also shorter than in school. In a blog about remote teaching, the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) notes:

“our instinct is to find ways of helping them achieve just as well as they would have done in normal circumstances. We have to accept that in this situation, we can’t do everything we’d like to do, and nor can our pupils”

With this in mind, it is helpful to be realistic about what you can cover in a week, or by the end of term, and to re-think your priorities. A common rule of thumb is that children might engage with learning activities for a maximum of 3 hours a day and this applies right up to secondary level students. Therefore if the pupils you teach are 6 years old, they may only be able to focus for an hour or two on everything they have been asked to cover.

Define the most essential outcomes for your pupils at a fundamental level, one or two big ideas you most want pupils to have mastered. This will involve a trade-off and there will be a lot of content from your scheme of learning that you will have to put aside for now. (Horn, 2020). It may be wise to concentrate on revisiting and practicing prior learning rather than trying to introduce new scientific concepts.


What have pupils covered already that can be explored in more depth and practiced? Which parts of next term’s content could you set aside for now?

If you have already started your discussions with colleagues, what have you decided to focus on over the next few months? Share in the comments below.

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This article is from the free online course:

Teaching for Home Learning: Primary Science

National STEM Learning Centre