The point at which the Covid-19 pandemic struck, and most students were forced to continue their education remotely, was just that time of year when we know many Year 12 students start to ‘wobble’. The novelty of being in the Sixth Form has worn off - they’ve realised that wearing a suit to school every day is just a variation on the uniform of the previous 5 years, and having a common room with a kettle and a fridge isn’t quite the perk they’ve been led to believe it might be. Work load is increasing, Year 13 friends are starting to fret about their looming exams and tutors are talking about UCAS statements and apprenticeship applications. For these students, having to ‘learn from home’ couldn’t have come at a worse time. Their motivation was decreasing and they hadn’t yet established good independent study habits. We can all think of individual students to whom this applies and many will be from a disadvantaged background. They are likely to be the students for whom you are prioritising face-to-face contact this half term, and I suggest there are several ways you can maximise the impact of that time.
Encourage students to talk honestly about their experience of remote learning
Students who haven’t fully engaged with their remote learning will have many different reasons for not doing so. In addition to lack of motivation and insecure habits of learning, they may have dealt with challenging domestic circumstances, or suffered with poor mental health. They may find it difficult to talk openly and honestly about why they haven’t been completing work that has been set, and the use of some visual prompts might help a subject teacher or form tutor to start a conversation around this. Using a blob tree (www.blobtree.com) can be very helpful as a prompt for discussion. Ask students which blob character they feel represents them and why, and which character they would hope to be. This can lead to specific actions being set around how to make this change.
Ensure students have a vision
We know that many of our Year 12 students may not have made a particularly pro-active decision to join the Sixth Form – they stayed on because their parents wanted them to, their friends were staying on or they were nervous about going to college. So when the going gets tough, these students don’t have a compelling reason to dig deep and persevere, because they haven’t established clear goals or a vision of what success looks like. Steve Oakes and Martin Griffin’s excellent ‘A Level Mindset’ programme puts Vision as the first of the components of their VESPA system (Vision, Effort, Systems, Practice, Attitude). If your students haven’t set a vision, now is the time to support them to do that, and if they’ve already done this, revisit it. This is really worthwhile, but is neither an easy nor a quick process, and students are likely to need a lot of support. You might find the Vision Roadmap activity which is part of the free VESPA Mindset Home Study programme a helpful tool.
Direct students towards appropriate resources
For many teachers and tutors, the fact that students have been working remotely has presented opportunities to develop students’ super-curricular learning and encourage them to read (as well as watch and listen) around their subjects. Indeed, Unifrog’s Covid-19 Impact Report reports that there was a 106% increase in MOOC shortlists drawn up by students in the first 6 weeks of the pandemic. However, those living in the most advantaged areas were twice as likely to engage in this activity as those living in the most disadvantaged areas. Furthermore, the difference between boys’ and girls’ engagement with these courses is stark, with the number of shortlists created by girls increasing by 93% since last year, compared to just 14% for boys. Students who have not yet developed the appropriate skill sets for independent research will benefit from being directed to specific resources that match their interests and future career plans. Developing or returning to a student’s vision helps tutors and teachers understand what these are.
Support students’ time management
We are all now only too aware of the distractions associated with working from home, whether that be other family members, social media or the fridge. In addition, by working in isolation, students may have lost the constant, subliminal reinforcement to study that they received both in the classroom and in personal study time, when they observed their more studious peers working hard. You can support students with simple time management activities such as creating ‘to do’ lists, prioritising tasks and activities, and creating daily timetables. Some schools are encouraging students to use apps like the Adapt app, which, once set up, will send alerts to students to remind them when they should be completing tasks and show them the progress they are making to completion.
Offer practical and emotional support
Students’ domestic circumstances might have changed during the pandemic, and more students may now be eligible to apply for discretionary or vulnerable bursary payments. Remind students that they might be eligible and, if necessary, revisit your bursary policy to review how you allocate and spend this funding to ensure that you can support students in accessing remote learning. Changes in domestic circumstances may have taken an emotional toll on students as well, and schools may be in a position to set up remote counselling or mentoring sessions with external agencies, even if these sessions can’t yet take place face-to-face. Students can also be signposted to websites such as Every Mind Matters and Health for Teens (both run by the NHS).
Above all, students need to be reminded that they can be successful, and that you are there to support them. Whilst much has been made in recent weeks of the lost learning experienced, it is important that students don’t feel that what has been lost can’t be regained. If schools can support students with positive, purposeful and personalised face-to-face time they will soon start to feel re-engaged.