There is a well-known Chinese symbol – ‘Wei-Chei’ – which means crisis; it is unique, however, for while showing a symbol of danger, the second part of the image is that of opportunity.
Finding opportunity in the present crisis is a challenge for schools; the leap to distance learning is not easy; we all wish we were back in the classroom. But from an educational perspective, things are shifting; out of adversity, creativity is bubbling to the surface and you can detect a new formula of learning bursting through the murky waters.
In Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Daniel Pink says true learning only happens when defined by three elements: mastery (working at it); autonomous (taking ownership); and purpose (giving it meaning). Working from home has forced students to adapt their approach to learning to a new environment where these elements are activated or it simply doesn’t work.
One of the aspects of child development is curiosity and out of that comes intrinsic motivation. Students are asking questions but without a teacher to instantly provide an explanation, they are provoked into problem-solving.
Some students are making choices about when and how they learn, as teachers are no longer holding their hands all day.
Inquiry-driven learning is more satisfying for learners; the teacher is there online, at the next drop-in, but children have to think for themselves and make thoughtful choices, take ownership and make it meaningful.
‘Flipped learning’ is a recent educational concept and traditional teachers have found it hard to make the transition; now they are forced to by circumstance and are positively embracing it.
There is much discussion about synchronous vs asynchronous learning, and whether learners have to be limited by a schedule.
Structure helps disorganised children latch onto certain checkpoints but maybe these can be posted on a Google site instead.
Asynchronous learning, with prepared instructional videos and follow-up group tutorials for Q&A allows learners to pave their own pathway at their own pace and take ownership of the steps.
But we must not lose the importance of human interaction and need to maintain the fine balance between dialogue, collaboration with peers and task-setting. The skill set of the children has exponentially increased in ways we would not have expected. The winner in this new formula is the independence and growth in confidence that is taking place throughout this process, building resilience in our children.
Another plus is teachers’ professional growth: they have innovated, embracing new teaching techniques. They could have just sent tasks by e-mail; instead they have reinvented themselves and turned distance learning into an opportunity to diversify. This is not surprising as most are in the role as a vocation, not just a job.
Assessment design is changing because of COVID-19. Online exams have to be explored. Parents worry about how teachers will grade their children online and teachers have to be creative.
The traditional ‘classroom’ test has been replaced by online quizzes, video presentations, students taking photos of work and project-based learning which allows for a summative piece to be an investigation that values the learning taking place along the way as well as the destination.
Academic honesty is a debatable when it comes to submitting work; how do we know parents didn’t do it? The answer is in the school’s values but also how the unit is delivered in the first place. With autonomous learning, students are proud of their learning journey and achievements.
When you look to the past, creativity has burst through crisis and despair as the shining light that gives people hope. It is the same in education; teachers and students are finding ways to develop their skills and pushing the boundaries because they are taking ownership and want to make it work. There is no doubt that the future of education will be more student-driven, less teacher-centered and richer for it.
Totty Aris, Head, Verdala International School, Pembroke
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