What Our Students Learned (NOT LOST!) During the Pandemic

student working through remote learningAs a mom of three kids and a professional working in the education innovation field, this has been an intensely challenging year. While we engage in many conversations about what we lost during this pandemic, and we cannot understate the loss in terms of life, I’d like to focus on what our students learned during the pandemic.

We saw an unparalleled leap forward in innovation that enabled more student voice, choice, and autonomy. For the past decade, I’ve worked on transforming American classrooms into more student-centered and personalized learning environments. This has often been an uphill battle, fighting against many entrenched practices and resistance to change. The silver lining of the pandemic is that many of these desired shifts were forced upon our educational system by the need for remote and hybrid learning.

As school systems worked diligently to shift rapidly to virtual teaching, educators and leaders offered students more voice in decision making. Students gained flexibility with a move away from seat-time requirements into asynchronous models where they had a choice over when, where, and how they completed work. With this move away from in-class seat time, we developed an understanding that learning can take place in all types of environments and that by offering these different learning opportunities, some students flourished in ways they were not able to in traditional classrooms. We saw that when students drive their own learning, they can do amazing things. Students thrive when teachers respect their choices and understand their needs. Students could demonstrate their mastery through invention, projects, and alternative assessment methods in a move away from standardized testing.

We saw teachers engage students who were normally quiet or in the shadows by using collaborative tools such as Google Docs or Jamboard. These tools enable teachers to engage all students, sometimes allowing for anonymous posting, rather than asking for volunteers which often engaged the same group of students who felt comfortable sharing in a large group. This is just one example of alternative engagement opportunities facilitated by ed-tech tools that worked for a broader set of students.

Students gained independence over their schedules and loved it. My own daughter flourished with the additional freedom remote learning offered. As a result, we should rethink our bathroom, break, food, and other policies which honor students' ability to make good choices and create a more flexible learning environment. We also saw families gain more tools to support their students. We’ve seen families, particularly of students of color, who recognized how poorly our education systems have served their children in the past with substandard instruction and more aggressive discipline. They have discovered other educational options for their children to learn which better met their needs. These families were able to take back some control and choice, and they won’t go back to the old “normal.” We need to continue pushing for equity in our classrooms!

This collection of experiences helped us to imagine a new education paradigm. We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make a bold change and leave behind the old normal, replacing it with an improved system that offers students more voice, choice, and autonomy in their learning, preparing them for the world they will face as they enter the workforce. I hope we don’t turn back but move forward boldly. I’d love to hear your thoughts on what students learned in the pandemic.

Reach out to me on Twitter @jenniferawolfe or via email

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