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Studying During Lockdown: What Helps Children and What Can Teachers Do?

What helps students to master remote studying in times of lockdown? This question is addressed by the fifth evaluation of the Corona supplementary survey of the National Educational Panel Study (NEPS). Surveys of 1,452 parents of 8th graders during the lockdown in spring 2020 and competency tests and surveys from 2018 provide data that is used to analyse the importance of reading competency, interest in the subject of studying and willingness to make an effort in studying. The analyses of the parents’ answers show that the children with high reading skills and high willingness to exert effort were better able to cope with remote studying – interest in learning content, on the other hand, plays a lesser role in motivation to learn during school closures. However, remote learning can also offer an opportunity to promote self-regulated learning competencies. To do this, teachers must make greater use of methods that allow individual feedback, says Prof. Dr Cordula Artelt, head of the National Education Panel.

Two thirds of the parents (67%) had problems motivating their children to study during remote learning, about half of them (35%) even found this rather or very difficult. There is a clear difference between the genders: parents stated significantly more often for boys that it was more difficult to motivate them to study at home than for girls. This was reported by the parents of 14-year-old eighth-grade students during the first phase of homeschooling in spring 2020. If we combine this assessment by the parents with the results of competency tests that the same students had taken one and a half years earlier as part of the National Education Panel, it becomes clear: those who read well are more easily motivated to study at home and were able to cope better with the unfamiliar learning situation.

Written work instructions as a brake on motivation

This may be due to the fact that reading texts in textbooks, but also instructions and work directions, is particularly important when studying at home, the authors of the report conclude. Unlike in regular face-to-face teaching, teachers cannot orally explain the studying material and tasks in many cases. The ability to understand written texts is thus becoming a central competence for all school subjects. This has consequences. Lead author Dr. Kathrin Lockl, head of the "Competencies" research area at the Leibniz Institute for Educational Trajectories (LIfBi): "We suspect that students with lower reading competencies more often have comprehension difficulties and are less able to comprehend some tasks. Such rather discouraging experiences could then contribute to students being less motivated to complete their tasks."

What opportunities lie in distance learning

But distance learning can also help children to develop their competences. Prof. Dr Cordula Artelt, head of the National Educational Panel and director of LIfBi: "For children to be motivated, they need realistic goals and feedback. They need to experience themselves as competent and autonomous. Actually, remote learning is wonderfully suited to promote self-regulated learning, but there must be a good mix of independent and guided phases."

If remote learning is only understood as the transmission of tasks, there is a danger that children will receive too little feedback and especially those who have motivational difficulties anyway will be left behind. The evaluations of the supplementary survey of the National Education Panel so far suggest that this was often the case in the spring-lockdown. Educational researcher Artelt therefore strongly recommends that teachers incorporate individual elements into remote learning in the future, for example through personal consultation hours, video conferencing or interactive assignments. It is also clear that parents cannot replace this didactic-pedagogical support. What parents need from the schools, on the other hand, is not only the ability to plan homeschooling, but also transparency about what is expected in remote learning and what the children are expected to achieve during that time.

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