Learning at home – what has previous educational research said?

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The closure of schools as a result of Covid 19 has led to many parents and carers having to take a greater role in their children’s education. Dr Jane Andrews, Associate Professor (Education) at UWE discusses a selection of published research articles which explore different aspects of learning at home for children in early years and primary education.

The arrival of Covid 19 has meant that home schooling or learning at home has been much discussed and there has been a sharing of ideas and experiences on social media and in news stories.  The stories have ranged from the serious, such as a consideration of the impact on children’s learning given different levels of parental time and access to resources, to the light-hearted, such as observations from parents or carers announcing “we’re having an INSET day today”. It is interesting to note that in his message to the French people about a partial return to normal living from 11th May, the French President, Emmanuel Macron, stated that the opening of nurseries and schools would be a priority. His rationale is a concern for children who do not have access to digital resources to continue their education at home who will be falling behind in their learning. The focus in France on children and their education at this time could lead us to pose questions such as:

  • what can parents or carers do to support their children’s learning at home?
  • what knowledge and resources are needed?
  • is learning with parents or carers the same or different from learning with peers and teachers?

No doubt there are many other questions besides these. However, long before this period of schools’ partial closure and children being given activities to do online or worksheets to complete at home, educational researchers have been exploring the roles of parents or carers in their children’s learning.

The purpose of this blog post is to provide a brief review and discussion of a selection of published research articles which address different dimensions of learning at home. The articles all refer to children in early years and primary education.

The full details of each article are given at the end of the blog post. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on these articles in the comments section below this blog post and please share any articles or blog posts which have caught your attention at this time. You might wish to share your thoughts or research which looks at secondary age pupils and their learning out of school.

Learning with teachers or learning with parents and carers – same or different?  

In an article from 1998 Greenhough and Hughes reported on how parents or carers and teachers approached the task of listening to young children read (the children were aged between 5 and 7). Distinctive differences were noted between parents’ or carers’ and teachers’ ways of engaging with children as they read.  The researchers were careful not to judge which strategies were more effective but, rather, they teased out patterns of interaction evident in the transcripts of teachers and parents or carers talking to their children during reading. These patterns were possibly surprising. Parents or carers tended to focus their talk on helping children with decoding the words in the text. Teachers, on the other hand, used more “conversing”, a term used by the researchers to describe talking about the text as a whole, including linking the text with children’s own experiences. These different strategies might go against what we might expect. Wouldn’t we expect decoding and “getting it right” to be what’s done at school? Might we not imagine linking reading with shared life experiences to be more naturally done in the home environment?    

What might this research mean? The researchers suggest that it may be useful for children’s development as readers if parents or carers are supported in trying out a wider range of strategies when listening to their children read. The implication is that parents or carers would be better off not seeing themselves as “being the teacher” when listening to their child read. Instead, there are roles they can play which will be of benefit for children’s reading which also fit better with their relationship with their child. Chatting about texts and linking to shared experiences (e.g. talking about pictures and asking children about them) should not be undervalued or neglected when we are considering how to develop positive skills and dispositions in reading.

One-way traffic from school to home?

The next article I want to reflect on is by Jackie Marsh from 2003 and it explores the literacy practices (e.g. reading, imaginative play, mark making) of 3 and 4 year old children at home and compares whether these literacy practices overlap with the kinds of literacy activities and texts used at school. The first part of the article discusses a rich range of activities and engagement with text at home (as reported by parents) which all tended to revolve around popular culture and media texts e.g. play stimulated by TV programmes or characters from films such as Toy Story 2. Marsh’s discussion then moves onto considering the kinds of literacy activities these same children experienced when at nursery. The key difference appeared to be that the nursery was stocked with picture books which are described as “a canon of well-loved texts” but there were no popular culture books such as books based on Disney films or TV tie-in books. Does this difference matter? Jackie Marsh believes that it does and she suggests that children’s literacy experiences could be further supported if the texts they are familiar with and love at home could be acknowledged and included in their learning at nursery. The line of argument is that all literacy practices are valuable and should be shared across the settings of home and nursery. Conversely there is a message that educators should resist following a “one-way traffic” model of sending nursery books home without asking about or encouraging children to share what they engage with spontaneously in their homes.

The home as a learning environment

The final paper which I have been reflecting on recently comes from Iram Siraj-Blatchford who is known for her large scale, longitudinal studies into learning in the early years in homes and in early years settings and schools. The specific article I find fascinating was published in 2010 and explores the impact of children’s “home learning environment” on their later school achievement. This is a complex study but some key messages shine through regarding which activities are seen to be most beneficial for children and parents or carers to engage with at home.  The beneficial activities are (helpfully) simple ones and are as follows:

  • frequent story reading
  • trips to the library
  • playing with numbers
  • painting and drawing
  • being taught letters and numbers
  • singing songs
  • learning and reciting poems and rhymes

What can we conclude?

It is interesting to note that each of these 3 articles highlights how activities engaged with at home are very valuable for children’s learning in their own right. There is a value of a style of learning at home which is not just a mirror image of (teaching and) learning at school. Clearly we are in different times at the moment with enforced closure of schools and nurseries for many children, with parents and carers finding themselves leading or guiding learning at home and structuring the daily activities.

My concluding thought is that parents and carers should not necessarily feel they have to forget how they usually engage with their children and turn home life into a form of school. There will be continuing benefits for parents and carers to engage with their children in informal activities which they all want to give time to!

References

Greenhough, P. & Hughes, M. (1998) Parents’ and Teachers’ Interventions in Children’s Reading in British Educational Research Journal, 24/4, 383-398

Marsh, J. (2003) One-way Traffic? Connections between Literacy Practices at Home and in the Nursery in British Educational Research Journal, 29/3, 369-382

Siraj-Blatchford, I. (2010) Learning in the home and at school: how working class children ‘succeed against the odds’ in British Educational Research Journal, 36/3, 463-482

Photograph by Annie Spratt at Unsplash

Top tips for parents home-schooling their children.

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With all UK schools closed until further notice, except for the children of key workers and children who have been identified as vulnerable, thousands of parents will have to introduce some form of learning in the home.

To help parents navigate this challenging time, Senior Lecturer in Education at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) Ben Wiggins has shared some of his top tips for implementing a successful home-schooling programme and also highlights some potential pitfalls to avoid.

While some parents will find educating their children particularly difficult due to pressures such as caring for relatives or working from home, it is hoped that the advice can still be useful, especially to those with no previous experience of teaching or home-schooling.

Mr Wiggins is self-isolating due to an underlying health condition and is using these techniques himself as he currently home-schools his eight-year-old daughter. He also has nearly 20 years’ experience as a Primary School Teacher and is the current leader of the Primary PGCE Teacher Training Programme at UWE Bristol, which was ranked as one of the top five universities for Education in the country by the 2019 Guardian University Guide.

Top tips for home-schooling your primary school aged children:

  • Preparation. Even if your school sends you a learning pack try to know what it is you are going to be doing the next day. That way your day will flow better and you won’t look like you are just making it up. Share the timetable with your child so they know what they are going to be doing and when
  • Structure. Establish a definitive start and end time to the day. Try to get your children to view this as ‘school time’. Plan in breaks just like in school and remember, the younger the child the shorter your teaching sessions need to be
  • Play. If you have very young children remember to play with them too. You can also incorporate activities such as cooking, DIY projects and gardening into your schooling as they also provide learning

Pitfalls to avoid:

  • Don’t try to do too much. Remember to get the difficult things out of the way early and leave afternoons for more fun activities
  • Try not to get cross if your child doesn’t understand. It is difficult to educate your own children because you are so invested in their progress. However, learning takes time and is a messy process so don’t worry too much if they don’t ‘get it’ first time
  • If your child doesn’t understand what you’re saying, don’t just repeat the same explanation louder and more slowly, try to think of another way of explaining it
  • Try not to criticise the way your child does something. Parents can get very defensive about the way they learned to do something but teaching may have changed since then so try to be open minded. Who knows, you might learn something too

”It’s important to remember that you’re not going to get this right straight away so whatever happens, reflect on it and try something different the next day if things didn’t work. If you really don’t understand something, email your child’s teacher. Things will have changed a lot since you went to school so you shouldn’t be embarrassed about asking for help. For example, the teaching of detailed grammar and phonics is fairly new and something most parents will not have been taught themselves,” says Mr Wiggins.

”Teachers are industrious and creative so I’m sure it won’t be long before your child’s school shares some interesting and engaging ways for you to educate your child over the coming weeks. In the meantime, try your best, ask for help if you need it and try to enjoy yourself.”

First published UWE News and Events 26 March 2020

How can we promote acceptance of stigmatised appearances in primary schools?

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Primary Schools are excellent places for child development, learning and socialisation, but unfortunately can also be hubs for bullying, social isolation and stigma. The chances of a child having negative experiences during Primary School education increase if they have an appearance which is socially stigmatised. If you are wondering what a socially stigmatised appearance is… it essentially means having an appearance which significantly deviates from society’s ‘standard’ characteristics, for example being of a higher weight or having a visible scar.

Of course, no two children’s experiences will be the same and having an appearance which is deemed socially stigmatising does not necessarily mean a child will have a negative experience in or out of school. However, studies which have considered the experiences of children with various socially stigmatised appearances suggest it would be naïve to believe, in general, their experiences are the same as children who have a socially ‘normative’ appearance (e.g., white, able-bodied with no visible difference).

Why is this the case? Well, there are a number of factors at play here. External factors such as the media, parents, education and policy can all influence children’s attitudes towards other appearances. Think of a villain in a children’s film… a number of villains have an appearance which is deemed socially stigmatising. Scar from the Lion King? Ursula from the Little Mermaid? These messages likely influence children’s attitudes towards various appearances.

Children develop attitudes towards socially stigmatised appearances at a very young age – at around 4 years stereotyping and prejudice can exist. Although, some evidence suggests this is even younger, with stigma towards people of higher weight being present at the age of 3 years, according to one study. Another study found by the age of 5 children make judgements based on weight and are less likely to choose a higher weight child as a playmate. Children with facial differences such as burn scars, a birthmark or cleft lip and/or palate are also at risk, with evidence that they are less likely to be accepted by their peers. All of this evidence highlights how children who have a socially stigmatised appearance may be less accepted and judged accordingly. Therefore, it is unfortunately not surprising that studies have also found children with a socially stigmatised appearance have a lower quality of life and are more likely to be subjected to bullying.

This issue is not new. Research during the 1960’s painted a similar picture, whereby children consistently ranked a child with no socially stigmatised appearance as most preferred in comparison to various other socially stigmatised appearances. However, to date, majority of intervention? Efforts within psychology and body image have focused on secondary school children. However, attempting to promote acceptance of socially stigmatised appearances in children aged 11 years and above may be a fruitless endeavour, as attitudes are likely well ingrained by this age. It is important efforts be placed in younger age groups, when attitudes are still developing, in order to combat stereotypes and subsequent behaviours. 

Further, the majority of school-based body image interventions have focused on a medical (individual) model and less on the social (group) model. For example, consider a child who has a facial burn. This child may be perfectly happy with their appearance. However, if they are being teased, bullied or excluded from social events, previous efforts regarding the child’s body image, would attempt to help that child increase their self-worth and self-esteem. However, efforts are not focused on changing the attitudes and behaviours of children around that child. Providing body image interventions which target acceptance at a group level allow for improvements beyond just the individual.

There has been a handful of interventions developed which target Primary School aged children in a bid to do exactly this – promote acceptance of appearance, at a group-based level.  A pilot study of a recent body acceptance intervention, titled ABC-4-YC, has found promising findings in Australia. However, interventions developed to target this broader issue have either not been evaluated at all, or require further evaluation.

What is clear is that children develop attitudes towards appearance at a very young age and this can impact on the lives of those who have an appearance which is socially stigmatised. Yet, majority of the efforts to target this issue have focused on older children or at the individual level. Therefore, undoubtedly there is a need for evidenced-based school resources which promote acceptance of stigmatised appearances in Primary School-aged children. Efforts should be made within psychology, education and social policy in order to combat this issue in a sensitive, timely and age appropriate manner.

If you are interested in research on body image in schools, Appearance Matters: The Podcast! Co-hosted by Jade Parnell (me!) and Nadia Craddock delves into what we know about how we tackle body image within the classroom. This episode can be found here.

Jade Parnell is a PhD student at the Centre for Appearance Research, based in Health and Applied Sciences (HAS) at the University of the West of England (UWE). You can contact Jade directly via email: jade.parnell@uwe.ac.uk or twitter: @jadeparnell.

The Bristol Inter-disciplinary Group for Education Research (BRIDGE) – Seminar

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Bristol Inter-disciplinary Group for Education Research (BRIDGE) invites you to a lunchtime seminar on Monday, 4th March 2019 — 12noon-1pm — Room 2S603. We are pleased to have Jade Parnell, the Centre for Appearance Research, the University of the West of England, and Dr Maryam Almohammad and Dr Jane Andrews, the Department of Education and Childhood, the University of the West of England.


Promoting Acceptance of Socially Stigmatised Appearances in Young Children in Primary School


Jade Parnell, the Centre for Appearance Research, the Department of Health and Social Sciences, the University of the West of England


In this talk I will discuss my PhD, which aims to promote acceptance towards various socially stigmatised appearances in young children. Appearance-based stereotyping and prejudice emerges in early childhood, and can exist by the age of 4 years. Children from negatively stereotyped or stigmatised groups (e.g., higher weight, visible difference) are at increased risk of experiencing stigmatisation from other children, resulting in negative outcomes such as poorer psychological adjustment and quality of life. The talk will focus on a recent study, where children aged 4-9 years, from various Primary Schools in the South West of England viewed, in a randomised order, five digitally designed, realistic child characters. The images included a character; with no stigmatised appearance, wearing glasses, of higher weight, with a facial burn and in a wheelchair. All characters had similar features (e.g., face shape, height, race and eyes), but varied slightly according to the stigmatised appearance. Children were asked open ended questions and quantitative measures assessing their attitudes and possible subsequent behaviours towards the individual characters. Discussion will consider the possible findings in relation to the literature; along with implications for researchers and education professionals regarding strategies for promoting acceptance of socially stigmatised appearances in young children.


Artmaking, Materialism, and Multilingualism in Welcoming Environments for EAL Learners


Maryam Almohammad and Jane Andrews, the Department of Education and Childhood, University of the West of England.


The Creating Welcoming Learning Environments project, known as CWLE, (AHRC-funded, AH/R004781/1)) is a follow-on project from the large grant Researching Multilingually at the Borders of Language, the Body, the Law and the State (AH/AH/L006936/1). The project involved a “creative collaboration”, using Vera John Steiner’s conceptualisation (2000), between creative artists, school-based teachers and teaching assistants, local authority advisory teachers and university researchers. The project operated on a co-operative development model of teacher development as articulated by Edge (1992) so that, through a series of workshops, teachers participated in arts-based practices, assembled artifacts and interpreted them to reflect on their identities, bodies, languages and cultures. This was prior to teachers engaging in a process of transformation of their first-hand experiences of creative techniques into activities for their own learners in the different school contexts they work in, including primary, secondary and special schools in England.


In this paper, we approach the data generated in the workshops and in interviews, using Bennett’s concepts of “thing-power” and “discursive agency” (2010). Bennett (2010) uses the term “thing-power” to describe the qualities that objects have that in many ways are indescribable and intangible. Power is among all material bodies, both human and more-than-human, and therefore does not belong to bodies independently, but rather happens because material bodies are always dependent on one another. This is known as distributive agency (Bennett, 2010). In the CWLE series of workshops, teachers worked with materials: cardboard, maps, colours, stones, textiles, dyes and symbols. Working with art materials teachers engaged with the role of objects in art and meaning-making and reflected on the potential of material transformation in EAL contexts. Materials constructed during our workshops serve as reflective tools on the body experience and materials surrounding the body. Teachers transformed the art practices in their school spaces, such as the use of the identity suitcase box. The artmaking of suitcase/boxes offered teachers and learners an opportunity to engage with the taken for granted value of both human-human and human-non-human relationships. Through a co-creative process and collective action between animate and inanimate things, teachers and learners could be seen to no longer separate human from non-human. In this sense, humans are no more valuable than materials and objects with which they interact. In our paper we analyse one example of educational practice in a specific secondary school in England. Therefore, not only the divide between human and non-human ceases to exist, and new ways for knowing the self and the object as interbeings emerge (Anderson & Guyas, 2012), but also the divide between the ‘us and them’ can be seen to finish. Distributive agency of materials may be seen to help humans cooperate with each other in the art-and-language classrooms.