Back to School: Pearson English Podcast

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This month the podcast panel poses questions from parents to English language school director Vanessa Hartson Walker. They discuss the issues around going back to school after months of disrupted learning caused by the pandemic, and how teachers can advise parents on how to support their children.  

Vanessa is the director and founder of Kids Can, an English language school for children and teenagers in Rome, as well as a teacher trainer and one of Pearson’s Live Classes trainers.  

Listen to the Back to School podcast now!  

How to support children going back to school 

For many children, parents and teachers around the world, September means going back to school. Yet, with such a turbulent 18 months behind them, some parents are feeling a little nervous about the new term and what lies ahead.  

To help answer some of the queries and concerns that they have, we asked our listeners two main questions: What are you most worried about when your children go back to school? And what do you most need support with?  

Additionally, Vanessa explores some of those questions with us and offers tips for teachers to help advise parents and support learners starting the new school year.  

How can I help my child catch up after learning loss?

One of the main concerns parents raised was regarding the learning loss many children experienced due to interrupted lessons. Some parents are worried that their children have fallen behind and will struggle to catch up this year.  

Yet, Vanessa asks both parents and teachers not to worry too much about this issue. She says that it’s crucial we don’t put too much pressure on learners as they prepare to go back to school. This year, she suggests that we should meet learners where they are.  

Instead of focusing on what stage or level the world expects them to be at, we should adapt to their current stage. This means adapting lesson plans to teach for students and their needs, instead of for the curriculum.  

She also adds that rather than focusing on learning loss, we should be reflecting on what students have learned. For example, many have become much more digitally aware, flexible and mindful. These are very important skills that should be celebrated moving forward.  

Are there ways to develop my child’s computer literacy skills?

Some parents are worried about the growing dependency on technology and the need for children to be more digitally literate. Many schools will continue with online, blended or hybrid learning this year, which means children will need to be comfortable with a range of technology.   

Vanessa offers a number of ways that we can help learners to gain these vital skills. 

  • Parental guidance – If students’ parents are digitally literate, you could suggest that they sit down with their child and go through the digital platforms. Then, they can explain the key features of video conferencing platforms, as well as any apps or platforms that the school uses.  
  • YouTube tutorials – YouTube can be a great tool for learning as it features a number of tutorials. For example, there are great videos on how to use Zoomhow to use Padlet or internet tips for kids, which learners can watch to get an idea of the technology basics. Try showing these in class, or recommend them to parents.  
  • Teachers guide learners – We can dedicate a lesson to helping students understand and use the platforms at the start of the new school year. Checking in with them regularly is essential to see if they’re experiencing any difficulties and help them to overcome these. 

What can I do to support my child’s social development?

Children have had to socially distance themselves from one another or stay at home. This has caused many parents to worry about their social development and ability to interact with others when they go back to school.  

Vanessa suggests that we should aim to dedicate the first few lessons to getting the kids talking to each other. Instead of focusing on the curriculum, we need to communicate and reconnect. Ask students to discuss their summer holidays and get them interacting with one another through games and project work.  

Moreover, it’s important that we create a positive environment in the classroom. We should encourage the learners to communicate their feelings and concerns about social interaction. Rather than ignoring what’s happened over the last year, allow children to talk openly about it and share their feelings.  

What extra English activities can we do at home?

In order to support the students in their learning journeys this year, some parents are wondering what else they can do at home to help their children.  

Apart from English classes and homework from school, families can enjoy other activities together. Try recommending the following to parents:  

  • Have storytime – You can suggest that parents read children’s books to learners in English. This will help them gain new vocabulary, expressions and grammar. Disney Kids Readers is a great way to get them started, as they’ll connect with the familiar characters in stories adapted to different levels.
  • Watch videos, TV series or movies – YouTube offers a variety of videos directed at English language learners such as Sam and Mel English for Children or  English Singsing. Furthermore, you can suggest that families watch TV series or movies in English with subtitles to help learners with their listening skills. 
  • Play interactive games – Ask parents to play interactive games with the children at home. There are a number of games available online, such as Games To Learn English or ESL Games Plus 

Additionally, Vanessa suggests that these activities could be a joint learning experience for both children and parents. They could set aside 20–30 minutes per day to do one of these English activities and watch their progress together. The important thing is to make it fun!  

Advice for going back to school  

A final piece of advice from Vanessa to those going back to school is to live in the present and not worry about the past or future. The crucial thing is to enjoy the moment and celebrate the fact that we are going back to school and a new year lies ahead!  

Vanessa is currently working with Pearson as a Live Classes Trainer. You can find her on LinkedIn and listen to the podcast to find out more.  

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