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Using Unhomework to Supercharge Lockdown Learning - Part One

Part one of a two-part blog by Associate and primary teacher Mark Creasy on how to improve motivation and develop independent learning through supercharging homework during lockdown.

Tackling Lockdown Learning

The start of the January lockdown brought many changes for teachers across the country and has left many stating that this past half term was the toughest they could remember.

From a personal perspective, teaching a different class to the one I had during the previous lockdown, meant I had only had one term to get to know them. Plus, with the lockdown starting immediately after the Christmas holidays (give or take a day!), this also made it tricky to adequately prepare the class for this different way of learning.

So, where to start?

If you have read my book Unhomework, How to Get The Most Out of Homework Without Really Setting It, you will know that I believe that children should be able to have as much control as possible over the direction their learning takes.

This comes from my belief that, to create learners who take control of their learning outside of the classroom, they truly need to have this opportunity inside it.

Yet, on the face of it, lockdown learning would seem to mitigate against this, as they were at home, with limited access to me, working with different resources and levels of access to the Internet, supported by parents with different amounts of time and capacity, as well as different environments and family set-ups.

Whilst I was able to craft daily learning and activities that allowed the children to select the way they wanted to present their learning, taking into account the different resources and support they would have at home, I felt this wasn’t enough and I wanted more.

As I reflected on this over the first few days of the Lockdown II in early January, I realised that I wanted to give the children a chance to ‘show off’ and to do so without restraint. This feeling came from our daily online Google Classroom ‘check-in’ conversations and through the live lessons we had, where I soon realised that my class, pretty much unanimously, were experiencing:

  • Confusion over when this would all end.
  • Distress at missing each other, as well as their families.
  • A sense of powerlessness – it was happening to them. Again.
  • Upset how the winter weather and darkness was affecting their moods and the opportunities for getting out of the house.

What was needed. I decided, was to give my class complete control over an aspect of their learning - indeed of their lives - when they had so little agency over everything else that was happening to them.

Designing a Learning Focus

In the past I have made use of the Genius Hour concept to kick off Unhomework projects in the classroom, but could it work from a distance? What’s the worst that could happen…?

I spent a few days creating a project brief for the children, mapping out suggestions on how they could choose to manage their time. I had decided that a four-week timescale would be ideal with target completion date being the final day of the half term. However, I have also been teaching long enough to know that there was the distinct possibility that this would either be too daunting a prospect for some children, or that others (having never worked like this) would have poor time management skills and so try to leave it until the last minute

This structure below, therefore,  would provide a map for to keep them on the right track:

Suggested Timings – managing your 4 weeks:

Week 1 - Subject & Read and Research.

Week 2 - Read and Research (continued), ‘Zoom in’ to your project.

Week 3 - Collect information and (begin to) Create.

Week 4 - Create & present

Each week I would update our virtual classroom, pointing out where we were on the schedule. Even so, as you can see below, it was an incredibly open project for the children to undertake:


Create a project of your choice and present it in whatever format you wish.

Yes, you can REALLY decide:

  1. what your project is about.
  2. how you present your information.

I also knew that some would want some extra challenge (always keep an eye on the stretch) and gave two potential extension possibilities:

Extension 1 - Present your work in more than one way.

Extension 2 - Use your project to create a quiz.

The challenge had been set - and accepted!


Click here to find out how Mark got on in achieving his aim of creating motivated, independent learners despite the challenges of lockdown learning.

To enquire about booking Mark for CPD, either online or in the flesh, please get in touch. Details below.

In the meantime, you can also hear more from Mark about how he set about lockdown learning and creating independent learners in this discussion with Jonathan Lear and Ian Gilbert, one of over twenty recordings from our WhatNowWeek webinars from May 2020.

About the author

Mark Creasy

Mark Creasy

Mark is a Year Five teacher who also has experience in secondary - a rare breed. He is the author of Unhomework, one of the many ways he helps teachers rethink why and what they do.

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