When I first began incorporating digital resources into my fourth-grade classroom, I’ll be honest … I didn’t know what I was doing. I was searching for tools that would transform direct instruction into digital instruction. What I didn’t realize was that the tools I was using had the power to transform not just the content, but the learning experiences of my students.
by Victor Fitzjarrald
Change is constant in education. Fads, philosophies, or software come along and promise to revolutionize the education landscape but few of those changes have a lasting impact. We’ve seen the rise of standards, of STEM, and of digital education, but these changes simply keep our concept of education rooted in the brick-and-mortar model.
Today’s disruptive climate is forcing us to focus on learning—learning in the broader context of life—rather than schooling in the controlled environment of a school building. This change is going to affect the next generation of learners, and it’s not going to be easy.
I believe this shift will change education—and, as education professionals, we have to lead our colleagues, friends, and neighbors through this path. We should welcome that challenge.
Immediate Impacts Close to Home
Standing six feet away from the parents in my neighborhood, I saw their pain and anguish as they worried that their children would always be behind.
Karen, two doors down, is parenting four kids on her own while her husband is stuck in Europe. Mark, desperately trying to set up speech therapy lessons for his son via Skype, is forcing his son to practice flashcards while a two-inch tall instructor attempts to show him the correct facial expressions. Jenny, from across the street, is still sending her son to daycare because her husband is always on call as a medical helicopter pilot.
Everywhere I turn, parents are struggling to do the things that our education system has always done for them—helping kids grow and develop. Our schools are more than just a place where students go, our schools provide nutrients, learning, and support.
In the absence of that support, perhaps the best thing we, as educators, can provide is hope—and learning is one way to bring back hope.
Return to Our Education Roots
Ironically, core constructivists, often thought of as the founders of modern progressive education, lived through their own time of quarantine and pandemic. They used that time to develop foundational education philosophies that continue to act as relevant guides to how we (both as educators and parents) can guide students through this new learning environment.
Our current challenge is to ensure that learning digitally and learning at home is good learning. And remember, learning is different than schooling. We must create processes and supports to help all learning, which means pruning out things that simply reinforce schooling.
Learning is an active and engaged process and one that we are all evolutionarily wired for. The transition here is not if children can learn, it is how we build a structure for them to learn outside of traditional schooling.
Learning Starts from Home
John Dewey, often considered to be the founder of American education, said that, “true education comes through the stimulation of the child’s powers by the demands of the social situations in which he finds himself.”
No doubt, we’re in a different social situation than we were a few weeks ago. I cringe when I see my daughter run away from neighbors because they are “too close.” But I’m heartened to see that she’s learning through the chalk messages left by her friends, the FaceTime calls with grandparents, and the shouted conversations over fences to other three-year-olds.
Yes, it is different. The learning is different. But there is still learning.
Dewey believed that “school life should grow gradually out of the home life …. It is the business of the school to deepen and extend his sense of the values bound up in his home life.”
Our job as parents, and as educators, is to help children learn more deeply about the things around them—the grass, the trees, and, yes, the tools in the garage. These are all opportunities for learning.
Questioning and facilitating learning come naturally to educators, but all parents are educators now. Here are some things you can do to engage your children in a world of learning:
- After an activity, or when you see your children interested in something, start with, “what do you notice?”
- Take that learning to another level by asking, “what do you wonder?” or “what do you think that does?” or “why is that there?”
- When we sit down for meals, I always ask “what are you grateful for?” Learning is about more than just what we observe, it is also about how we feel.
Each one of those questions has the potential to spark learning. It is your new job to cultivate that spark and facilitate learning.
Inspired by Montessori
As a medical doctor in Italy during the last pandemic, Maria Montessori focused on providing students with spaces and tools that are appropriate to the job at hand. She believed that educators should be careful observers of their students.
If you’re like me, the days of quarantine are starting to blur together. To help, I have begun to:
- Take notes and keep a learning diary that shows how my daughter is developing.
- Document her progress every day.
- Create an intentional learning zone that my daughter owns. She’s now responsible for that space and cleans and maintains it just like I do for my own workspace.
If you’re a teacher adapting to this new digital learning, help your students set up their own learning zone. We don’t know their situation at home so now is the time to help them create their own space to lead their own learning.
Educators, you are the experts, let’s go back to our roots and make sure that learning digitally and learning at home is good learning.
Over the past few weeks, every parent in America has become a teacher and educator. Today, every home is a classroom.
As our constructivist founders have always demonstrated, good learning can occur everywhere, it is our job to help create an environment and a support system that facilitates learning wherever it occurs. Once we do that, education will never be the same.