As schools settle into handling the impact of the COVID situations, we are finding ourselves having to adapt to change at a minute’s notice. This can be a challenge for all schools where the schedule has been prepared to allow for the learning journey to follow its natural course across a period of time.
Education in the past has relied on all the factors being stable, students in the classroom, teachers there to teach and a written curriculum that is followed. Now, we are faced with disruption. In the current status quo, students or indeed teachers could be abruptly told to stay home and self-isolate for two weeks.
There is an expectation from parents that schools will manage this with minimum upset to their children and education. But from the school’s point of view, it is a mammoth task as we move from a teacher in control of the classroom, talking to students face-to-face, reading the vibe of the lesson, aware of what has been learnt and what needs consolidation, to online learning and a different setting.
At Verdala International School (VIS), we have tried to manage this disruption with an online platform that allows a smooth transition from learning at school to being able to access learning from home. We’re not offering lessons via camera. Instead, the children follow the same curriculum topic from home but through an independent learning programme. We are already using this approach at school anyway, as we include project-based learning in much of our curriculum.
Thus, the leap to working from home is not so far from the classroom. In educational terms, there is synchronous learning (working at the same time as the teacher is teaching) versus asynchronous learning (learning with guidance from a teacher but working at one’s own speed and time). Asynchronous learning is quite alien to those of us who grew up in classrooms where every minute of lesson time was monitored by a teacher. In asynchronous learning, students are given a chance to explore a concept on their own, have the freedom to make choices about what to do next and develop their own projects within a subject area. This project-based learning allows for assessments to include a range of criteria that assess knowledge, skills and communication.
At VIS, we have identified this in our definition of learning, as we value the journey of inquiry, which underpins all our teaching. If any of our students have to stay home, we will implement the distance learning system; while this does remove them from the daily routine at school, it nevertheless challenges them to step up to the same educational journey as their peers are tackling in the classroom, just using a different toolkit. We talk to them every day to make sure they can access what they need, but also to ensure they feel connected and can ask questions.
An interesting aspect of this is indeed the ownership of learning, as during this period the children recognise what they can do, and where and how to get help as they learn to reflect on their learning needs and vocalise their questions.
With two-week self-isolation periods now possibly part of our norm, it is not possible for us to have the same expectations as we would of a curriculum taking place in the classroom. We need to adapt our practice but also turn this into an opportunity; if we cannot have the ‘same’, let us make the ‘different’ work in ways that will benefit the 21st century learner.
When our children move into their future working world, their lives may well not be institutionalised; it is more likely they will be working in a fairly unstructured setting that expects performance and demands a return by a certain deadline. So it will be up to them to step up and take initiative.
This academic year, we may have to move into brief periods where our children have to work from home; this is an opportunity for us to empower our students to develop a skill set of independence and ownership of their learning that can boost their self-esteem and confidence in their own learning journey.
Totty Aris, head, Verdala International School, Pembroke