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COVID-19 is pushing us into a new reality

I have often experienced that sinking feeling of waking with a start while dreaming about falling off a cliff or a building.  In this dream, I am anticipating the worst- the terrible finale when I crash to the ground.   Thankfully I always wake before that happens, so I never actually experience that fateful end.

My friends and colleagues have recently shared with me that they feel as if they have had the rug pulled out from under their feet and they are in a free-fall, desperately reaching for anything familiar to grasp on to in order to stop the fall, or at least slow it down.  They feel out of sorts, scared, and stressed, wondering not only how long the fall will last, but also how it will end.  No one knows the exact answers to those questions.   I, for one, am certain that we will all land on our feet, but believe we will land in a place where we have never been and that we do not recognize.

I have decided to embrace the fall and view it as an opportunity to experience education and learning in a brand new and completely different way.  I know that we cannot possibly replicate through remote learning what we had in our classrooms two months ago.  Let’s stop trying and, instead, imagine something entirely different.

What should remote learning look like?

I recently shared with administrators in my area that I have been thinking about the old saying, “Doing something is better than doing nothing at all” and have realized that in this case, doing the wrong something will have greater negative consequences than doing nothing at all.  We may not know exactly what the “right answer” is at this minute, but we can certainly agree that trying to re-create the classroom structures that have been around for 100+ years is definitely not the “right answer”.  If we inundate students with worksheets, activity lists filled with mundane and boring tasks, and busy work that does not honor their current emotional state, they will return to school with a very sour view of learning and school.  Likewise, if we create stress and anxiety for our parents who are forced to hold students accountable to inappropriate workloads, we will lose their trust and support.

We must liberate ourselves from the fear that all of our students absolutely have to cover certain content by the end of the school year, or that our students will “fall behind” if we do not push the right content.  While there is evidence that students do, in fact, experience summer slide when they are out of school for weeks or months during the summer, it is crucial for us to recognize that this evidence is collected from tests of knowledge, facts and figures, and not skills or attitudes.  Think about it for a moment….A student who is curious will still wonder and ask questions even after time off of school.  Similarly, a student who is resilient will continue to believe that they will be able to solve hard problems despite time away from the classroom.

Shifting the focus to attitudes and skills

We can use this opportunity to focus on and build student attitudes and skills that will produce a lasting impact on their learning.  The ASK model is a tool often used in Challenging Learning to guide educators in thinking about the attitudes, skills, and knowledge that contribute to successful learners and learning.  While knowledge is a part of learning, it is not central to the process of learning.  In James Nottingham’s book Encouraging Learning, he shares this quote from Albert Einstein, “The development of general ability for independent thinking and judgement should always be placed foremost, not the acquisition of special knowledge.”  The truth is, children learn best when they make connections and understand the relationship between ideas, and this is not done through mundane tasks, but rather through extended periods of curiosity and exploration.  It is the attitudes and skills that children develop that help them to be independent thinkers and learners.

What if, during this time of remote learning, we were able to develop attitudes like curiosity and wonder, resilience, ambition?  And what if, in the process of developing these attitudes, our students sharpened their problem-solving skills, their communication skills, and their thinking skills?  They would be ready to learn all kinds of facts and figures, and they just might be excited about it and willing to take the lead in finding the answers to their questions and wonders about the content that is being delivered.

Challenging Learning can help

Challenging Learning is offering FREE Challenging Learning at Home resources for parents to use in their efforts to engage students in authentic learning.  We will also be offering podcasts and webinars designed to support leaders and teachers in their transformation in thinking about what learning looks like during this time of remote learning.  It is through this support that Challenging Learning hopes to be a partner with you in bravely exploring a new reality that will have a lasting impact on learning once your feet hit the ground and you are ready to run.

The first FREE webinar with James Nottingham talking about strategies to promote independent thinking and learning will be on Thursday, 16 April 2020 at 10:00 am CST