Let’s try a different approach to learning during the stress of the pandemic
Let a child's interests and desires run a course as an antidote to the difficulty of the times
Many of us want to write about our experience during the pandemic, but we are too busy and too exhausted to add one more thing to our overwhelmingly packed daily agenda.
It is 5 a.m., the time I have been waking up since schools went online due to the pandemic. Yes, you guessed right; I am a teacher, rather, a professor of education. Maybe that is why I take the time to write, because I am writing on behalf of the teachers who are my students, their students, my children who are also students, their teachers, and the millions of parents and teachers out there.
Who said we could continue with the curriculum during a time of pandemic? Who said that the stress related to thousands of deaths and the fear of being infected or infecting others, of losing our jobs, of not keeping the peace at home, wouldn’t be an obstacle? I am proposing that it is, and that we need to adopt a different approach to school and curriculum during the three or four months this lasts.
Using students’ funds of knowledge – Let learning flow
If research has already shown the benefits of accessing students’ funds of knowledge, why continue with a curriculum established months or years prior to the pandemic? Maybe this is a time to stop and ask our students and their families, “What could you learn at home during these weeks?” Why not begin with the family’s own plan: is mom, dad, or caretaker at home? Is student alone? Based on that, what home learning experiences can there be? Is cooking a common event, can students document the meal process, what can they learn from it? How about a list of observable daily chores, what do each imply? Any favorite games or activities? Can students document, log, explain, retell, activities and even video games? Why are those activities preferred over others? Are adults working from home? Can children learn by observing what caretakers do for a living, and why and how they do it?
Learn from connecting remotely – What else can I learn about you?
Some weeks back, my seventh grader was assigned to complete a “packet” (which seemed more like a digital booklet) on a Middle Eastern country of her choice. Since she had chosen the Emirates, and much of the information she needed was not available in the child-friendly pages I allow her to access in the internet, I put her in touch with a friend who moved there some years back.
The ongoing Skype sessions were a total success and I think that what my daughter learned from my friend went beyond from what she learned from completing “the packet.”
The reality is, this pandemic did not hit everyone equally; while many of us scramble to be everything to everyone, others are sitting at home trying to be imaginative and kill time. Maybe some of them are the ones with whom our children can and should connect and interview – learn about their schooling: how is it different from the student’s? What about the region where they grew up – customs and geography, their most lovable or scary experience, etc.
If you had time to become an expert, which expertise would you choose?
There is always something that fascinates us.
Children, specially, have a favorite topic or science they wish they could uncover. A middle schooler might be intrigued by the coding behind a videogame, a high school student might want to build a computer, develop a new or speedy way to shoot hoops, or learn to cook real recipes. Maybe there is a character with whom a child is obsessed, and this interest can be unpacked. I claim that this is a good time to let that desire run its course and serve as the best antidote against the stress of the pandemic.
One way or another, we are all grieving. We might not be sheltering from bombs, or camping outside of war zones as refugees are, but we are still experiencing a certain lack of control that resembles the anxiety of those extreme situations. This is not a time to continue with the curriculum. It is a time to foster new ways of learning.
Elena Sada is an Assistant Professor of Education, Bilingual and Multicultural Education at Eastern Connecticut State University.
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