As we face an unknown future, which is going to require problem-solving and innovative thinking, it is clear that skills such as collaboration and creativity are no longer simply “soft skills” that can be added on when needed. They’re now a necessity for our society to adapt to new challenges. But with our students at a distance, how do we continue to develop these important skills? Surprisingly it’s not that different in a virtual space than in a” brick and mortar” classroom. Best practices in teaching and learning still stand; however, the tools and mediums we use will require some adapting to.
Create meaningful tasks
Under the time crunch to frantically adapt to our ‘new normal’ behind the screens, our default is often to revert to basic instruction. In a virtual learning setting this relates to uploading worksheets to complete, daily letters to students with isolated tasks listed, or perhaps long lists of links to online video tutorials for students to watch. Now more than ever our students need meaningful tasks to engage in. Basic tasks that simply ask for rote memorization and where information is solely exchanged in a one-way input/output don’t engage students, nor do they force students to think. Meaningful and complex tasks provide opportunities for students to flex important muscles such as those necessary for critical thinking.
Think about your immediate surroundings–who and what is being impacted the most by the current situation? What problems can students solve? There is no shortage of content and possibilities here! Then consider how your content can help students grapple with these real-world issues. Investigative methodology is one of many frameworks that can provide students with ample opportunities to engage in meaningful tasks and the “teacher win” is that this approach can easily be adapted to online teaching.
Align tech tools to skills
Virtual learning requires us to leverage technology like never before, but we must be careful that technology is being used intentionally as a tool to build student skills, rather than the tools driving the instruction. Weaving the concept threads of the core subject to make a tapestry of learning is the most appropriate approach to learning where experience can be gained through investigation. This approach I believe will help embed learning lifelong.
Investigation allows exploration that reveals the objectives of a concept step by step. Completion of the investigation towards the learning outcomes enables students to cross stages and reach goals according to individual ability. The teacher’s job is to trigger the investigation by encouraging students to explore. The three predominant skills for any learner would be to acquire techniques of computing, expressing and presenting.
By depending on increased screen time for learning, we as educators are also contributing to our students’ unhealthy childhoods. On the other hand, impacting through values and creating habits of learning through investigation can transform learners into leaders and innovation can easily creep in. The internet can provide information, but it is just that–information. Diving into this ocean and not being able to swim would be hazardous. Reflecting on such a situation would be to create ideas and investigate with predetermined objectives and learning outcomes.
A suitable example of this is stated below:
The investigative tool for learning all the below mentioned concepts is Mela/Fair.
The above table has the threads of all subjects which will have to be weaved together to form projects delivering the desired learning outcomes with regard to the concepts chosen/planned in the lesson plan for the month.
To reach the learning outcome, the clarity of the concept can be given through an hour of online class on Monday. The next three days can be dedicated to learning offline by using the investigative method to reach the outcomes which might involve computing and expressions. On the fifth day there can be an online class for presentation of the learning outcomes. The sixth day can again be an online feedback session. This methodology can also be initiated by providing sufficient textual references for the student to learn, absorb and investigate. Validating the investigation process is the teacher’s task and giving a positive feedback to prepare the student for the next project should be the teacher’s role. Feedforwards* can be used as a method for preparing the student to move on in his learning journey.
I hope that by sharing these strategies and methods of teaching I have not added to your always growing “to-do list”. I hope that my fellow teachers look at this as an exciting opportunity to prepare students to succeed in a future that needs critical thinkers and creative problem solvers who can communicate innovative ideas to keep our world evolving.
The author is an educator and has deep interest in the integration of lifeskills with literature for a purposeful and peaceful life. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
* Feedforward is the process of giving feedback even as the project is going on so that students can correct/improve what they are doing immediately.