Blog 2. Transition to Home Schooling due to COVID-19: Have you Crossed the Five Bridges?

By Jennifer E. Symonds

On Thursday morning, the children were at school as normal. On Friday, they stayed home. Then, on Monday, the family waited for news from the children’s teacher, about how to learn at home.

The next few weeks were tricky. The instructions kept changing as the teachers learned more about using digital technologies. The parents kept adjusting their schedules to be able to school their children at home. Everyone learned how to use new digital technologies, and finally, in the third week, the children saw their school friends during a zoom lesson.

Typically, during the primary to secondary school transition, change happens at a slower pace.

Typically, during the primary to secondary school transition, change happens at a slower pace. Children and parents have a year to get used to the idea of a new school. Teachers can spend time preparing their class for the pedagogical and curricular change. Once children arrive at their new school, they are greeted with induction programmes that can last days or even weeks.

But the transition to home schooling in many countries has been different. Schools have closed on short notice, some only given days or hours to prepare. The research on best practice at school transition shows that transitions are coordinated effectively when there is managed continuity across five bridges. But this transition is like being pushed off the edge of a cliff, not walking across a bridge.

But this transition is like being pushed off the edge of a cliff, not walking across a bridge.

So, what are the bridges that create a successful transition, and how can we use this concept to help us adjust and manage home schooling? What are the continuities, and discontinuities, that we will face in each bridge as schools close and reopen?

The curriculum bridge is the change to a new timetable for learning, new subjects, and new subject content. The most discontinuous aspect of this bridge is the number of hours of learning at home. Some schools will be giving fewer hours of instructional time to children during school closure, although there are reports of some schools trying to keep their subject time intact.

Parents and teachers may be wondering how many hours are enough, each day, and for each subject. If it is not possible to maintain the specified subject time, what impact will this have on learning? Do we know what rate children are learning at in the home school environment? Could they be learning at a faster pace with a parent to guide them one-on-one?  Will it all ‘come out in the wash?’ Or will the loss of subject time lead to a loss in achievement?

Do we know what rate children are learning at in the home school environment?

With a change in hours, comes a change in subject coverage. Some schools may be prioritising examination subjects, for example English and mathematics, with the arts, music, history, geography, and science, getting a back seat with reduced or zero hours. What will children think about schooling when many of the subjects they enjoy are being neglected? Are parents being expected to pick up the pieces of creativity education at home?

The pedagogy bridge is the continuity and discontinuity in teaching methods across the transition. Moving to remote teaching has completely interrupted the mode of delivery. This change has probably been the hardest for teachers, who have learned a new method of delivery with very little advice. Children and parents have also had to adapt to this new model of delivery – using perhaps for the first time, remote platforms like See Saw, Padlet, and video conferencing.

This change has probably been the hardest for teachers, who have learned a new method of delivery with very little advice.

With a change in mode of delivery, we might be seeing changes in subject content (part of the curriculum bridge) – with children accessing educational applications such as Reading Eggs, and Mathletics, more often – which enable them to learn at their own pace. This might extend their access to more personalised subject content, which might be held at the margins in their classroom if their teacher is ‘teaching to the middle’.

The administrative bridge is the exchange of information about a child as a learner, between primary and secondary schools; or in this case, between school and home.

Parents who are closely involved with their child’s schooling will already know much about their child’s stage of learning. But unlike a secondary school teacher who will hopefully receive some information about their new students from the primary school, what information have parents received from their child’s teacher about how their child learns best, appropriate pacing, and targets for the child to reach?

Likewise, when schools are back in session, what information will parents provide about their child’s learning in home school, that could be useful to teachers? With many parents working closely with children during home schooling, now might be the perfect time to record, and feed back that information to the school, to help teachers improve your child’s learning experience.

What information will parents provide about their child’s learning in home school, that could be useful to teachers?

The social bridge is the move from one group of classmates / schoolmates and teachers, to another. Often at the move from primary to secondary school, children move from a single class of same-aged peers, to a year group where there are multiple classes of same-aged peers. This increases the chances of children finding peers with similar interests and values, to be friends with and children often report enjoying this aspect of transition.

But children have lost that daily, sustained contact with their same-aged peers during home schooling. This is a significant discontinuity. Although they might see their classmates on zoom, there is little chance of social interaction. And those opportunities for frequent, individualised conversations with the teacher are gone.

Although they might see their classmates on zoom, there is little chance of social interaction.

Will schools and parents seek to repair the social bridge at the transition to home schooling? This is extremely difficult under lockdown conditions. But what of when schools are closed, and other lockdown restrictions are lifted? Will parents be able to facilitate enough social interaction with same-aged peers for their children? Could a longer time to develop close relationships with just a few friends, strengthen some children’s social networks for when they return to school?

The self-management bridge is the child’s ability to cope with the demands of schooling. Every child learns, and manages themselves differently, according to their stage of development and individual needs. Typically, when children transfer to secondary school, they are required to be more self-organised – taking charge of their equipment and books, finding their own way between classrooms, and perhaps catching the bus to school for the first time.

The change to home schooling might require some children to be more independent with their learning, especially if parents are working and cannot supervise home schooling 100% of the time. Or, parents might not feel comfortable with this opportunity to improve their children’s self-management competencies, preferring to organise all the equipment and schedule themselves. If we consider how home schooling might help some children become more self-organised, we might be able to send our children back to school better able to cope with the challenges of classroom learning.

The change to home schooling might require some children to be more independent with their learning.

Crossing the bridges. Although transition to home schooling might have been sudden, children’s transition back to school does not need to be so abrupt. Teachers, parents, and children can start planning now to cross the five bridges back to school, with a focus on supporting children’s academic, social, and personal development.

Dr. Jennifer E. Symonds

Associate Professor of Education, School of Education; Fellow, Geary Institute for Public Policy, University College Dublin, Ireland.


Image copyright: Divya Jindal-Snape

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