Covid-19: Keeping children busy

Some schools have given work to their pupils to complete during the Covid-19 school closure and others haven’t. If your child has been given work to do, this may have been completed in a day, it may still be ongoing, or it won’t be completed at all. Each of these scenarios is perfectly acceptable.

What can you do if you’re looking to keep your child busy? If you’re a teacher, you’re in the privileged position where you have the appropriate qualification to teach your child from home. If you’re not a teacher or you don’t fancy trying your hand at teaching your child during the closure, there is plenty of busy work that can be done. You’ll need the following:

  1. Preferably a desktop computer to work from. I prefer this over tablets as I assume the long-term use of tablets could lead to issues with posture, or the neck, depending on how the child is seated and how the device is held. Sitting at a desktop computer in an appropriate chair with a good posture will be easier to stick with in the long-term, in this teacher’s humble opinion.
  2. Some colours – any will do: crayons, colouring pencils, markers, etc. Make sure you have plenty of paper.
  3. A printer. It’s not that important whether or not it’s a colour printer.
  4. Internet access. has given free access for a limited time to help parents with keeping their children busy. There are plenty of PowerPoints, amongst other content, on a variety of topics that will keep children fascinated if they are interested in doing a bit of research on topics that interest them.

If you find yourself with no work from the school (unfortunately schools had very little notice of the closure) then you may consider allowing your child to pursue their own interests through an academic lens. Try not to impose project work on them that they have very little or no interest in, instead let them choose a topic that they can relate to, then let them do the research, put it into their own words and put together a project or an oral presentation on the topic. It’s an enjoyable way to practise their existing literacy skills. Don’t forget to remind your child about the importance of not plagiarising! It’s also a good idea to remind your child about proofreading/self-correction.

If you have a recording device (most smartphones have a voice recorder), consider encouraging your child to keep a log, or record a podcast, or both. You can use Audacity to edit the sound files and it’s available free, here. Just make sure to check your child’s content if he/she decides to publish the content. Keeping a log or recording a podcast is an excellent way for your child to practise their oral language skills, while practising their digital skills.

I won’t provide a list of educational websites here because a quick Google search would serve that purpose. However, you’ll easily find websites that have a massive amount of maths games and literacy games. Encourage your child to explore these.

It might not be everyone’s cup of tea but try not to let your child neglect Gaeilge. If you have cúpla focal, use them and encourage their conversational use with your child.

Don’t forget about your child’s physical education. Exercise will provide your child with the balance required so that they won’t get fed up with their academic activities. You can set up a free account with GoNoodle and allow you child to explore these physical activities. Chances are your child is already familiar with this website. If your child has a bicycle, now is a great time to do a bit more cycling, provided a safe ‘social distance’ can be kept from other people.

Read. Read read read. This is an unprecedented opportunity to get loads of reading done. It would be a shame if this opportunity was wasted. If you don’t have a great selection of books, check out Libraries Ireland. The page I have linked will show you how to access a vast selection of ebooks, for free.

Try to give each day some variety. It’s unknown as of yet how long schools will really be closed for, so it’s best to get into good habits now. And when you finally see your child’s teacher again, give them a knowing nod.

The ‘Learning Styles’ Myth

“Despite the overwhelming lack of evidence that they [learning styles] have any effect on outcomes, apparently almost 90 per cent of teachers believe that different people have different learning styles, and that if we want them to learn a thing we have to present it in the way they learn best.” (Didau, 2015, p. 42)

The above comes from David Didau’s book What if everything you knew about education was wrong? (well worth a read, by the way). When push comes to shove, it is not the preferences of an individual learner or a group of learners that determines how content is taught, it is the content itself. The visual, auditory and kinaesthetic (VAK) individual learning styles approach is just not helpful at all. Continue reading

The Aistear Fallacy

The idea behind Aistear, in a nutshell, is that children will learn through play. I have no problem with learning through play. I have no problem with play as a spontaneous, child-led activity – where children set their own rules and decide on what they want to do. I have no problem with developing skills through play – as children have always done this. I have no problem with facilitating an infant class at the beginning of the school day (reception time) with a selection of toys and activities, where they can choose what they want to do with them and pretend on their own terms – or not pretend at all.

The issue I have with Aistear (the thematic and play-based learning approach in Ireland) is that it is, at its core, an imposed form of play. Continue reading

Writing your PME Dissertation

It is around this time of year that students in their second year of the various Professional Master of Education courses launch properly into the writing and supervision processes of their 10,000-word dissertations. With many competing workload demands, it may seem difficult to dedicate the proper amount of time to this responsibility. I have given some thought to this element of the PME course and have compiled some tips in order to assist students. Continue reading

Will you be hosting a Student Teacher?

Every qualified teacher was once a student teacher on placement. A huge part of the experience involves the host teacher – whomever that is, it is generally out of the control of the student. It is important for the host teacher to have the correct frame of mind if she decides to offer her class to a student on placement.

Here are a number of suggestions for teachers who will host a student or who will at some point consider it:

  1. You were once where the student is now. Try to remember the huge effort that the student will most likely put in every day in order to prepare for placement. It can be a stressful experience, so make sure to offer some advice or guidance whenever you deem it appropriate. It might seem like a small gesture but it can make a massive difference for a student.
  2. Offer your classroom resources for use by the student. These are for the children anyway – tell your student not to buy anything that you already have access to in your school. Remember how expensive it can be for a student who most likely won’t be earning any money during the weeks of school placement.
  3. You should want to have a student in your classroom. If this is the case, that’s great. If this is not the case and you have been told by your principal that you’ll be getting a student regardless of your view on the matter, please make the most of the situation. The student will pick up very quickly the feeling of not being welcome if you don’t engage in any real or meaningful way with them, and this will add difficulty to her time in your classroom, as well as being a stressful experience.
  4. You, as the host teacher, are ultimately responsible for the teaching and learning in the classroom. If you observe something that you consider worthy of note (good or bad practice), discuss this with the student. You are the qualified, experienced professional and you should share your wisdom with the student if you observe bad practice, but remember to deal with this tactfully. Equally, affirm the student on her good practice. Your feedback is more important to the student than you might think.
  5. When their supervisor/tutor comes to assess them, please be honest with them when they ask how the student is doing. Praise their strengths and suggest areas for improvement. Although School Placement is an examination, it is also a learning experience for the student.
  6. You should always feel free to have a look at the student’s planning folder, but mention it to the student first as a matter of courtesy if you intend on doing this. You may have suggestions for improvement and these may make a difference to the student’s planning grade.

This is not an exhaustive list and they are my own views on how to help students on placement. If you can add to the above suggestions or would like to suggest amendments, please feel free to leave a comment below.

Does School Placement in Primary Teacher Training serve its purpose?

Every serving qualified teacher in Ireland will have undertaken School Placement (previously called Teaching Practice) as a partial requirement for their teaching qualification. Experiences during this placement will vary. If there is one prominent trait that I have noticed from my own previous experience as well as from having spoken to others in the same boat, it is inconsistency.

A School Placement Tutor assesses the student teacher, after all, the placement is technically an examination. When correcting or assessing an examination, a marking rubric or an assessment checklist should be used to ensure fairness and consistency. I have no doubt that such a checklist or rubric is supposed to be used when assessing a student teacher on placement, however what strikes me is how the tutor’s own subjectivity and personal preferences can play a part in the overall feedback or grade. Continue reading