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Finding the Silver Lining

A new initiative seeks to explore the opportunities for innovation and renewal in our schooling, surfacing ideas to help shape the future of education
Sun through the clouds

What will schools look like coming out of the current crisis? To spark that conversation, Professor Chris Dede and four faculty from other universities have launched the Silver Lining for Learning Initiative (SLL), a  blog and series of webisodes that analyze the ground-up innovations coming directly out of classrooms all over the world in response to COVID-19.

While many schools are having to implement emergency remote learning plans, Dede observes that a “desperation” instructional format is not sustainable, as school closures may potentially extend into the upcoming school year. “We know that teaching by telling and learning by listening is a really weak form of learning,” Dede says. “We know effective learning involves learning by doing, collaboration, mentoring, and coaching.” Dede hopes that, if teachers share ideas, this crisis may generate new, more effective models of learning that disrupt the current models of both distance education and classroom instruction.

Here are some highlights Dede has observed through the initiative that may help educators manage the disruption to the current schooling model:

Be practical

One of the problems the pandemic has unearthed has been that of technology and internet access. “If we look particularly at marginalized students — rural students, students from low socioeconomic backgrounds — the one device that the home is likely to have is a cell phone,” Dede says. “Social media are optimized for mobile devices — that’s their natural place. So creative teachers, instead of imposing an external medium, are taking the media kids and parents use anyway and starting dialogues in those media.”

  • But take equity seriously. However, conversations around equity still need to happen. “Society has spent substantial resources attempting to ‘level the playing field’ in public education, but forced remote learning is now highlighting how inequitable the conditions and resources are in students’ homes,” Dede writes for the Learning Policy Institute. Instead, he imagines that personalized, blended learning (partially face-to -face and partially across distance) where each student gets what they need could provide a way forward, even once schools reopen. 

"We know that teaching by telling and learning by listening are a really weak form of learning. We know effective learning involves learning by doing, collaboration, mentoring, and coaching."

Emphasize compassion, not compliance

Since the educational system is now forced into remote-learning, Dede suggests letting teachers, particularly those who may have been overlooked when testing and results were stressed, lead the innovation. “I think the source of innovation is going to be teachers who have different kinds of students and find ways to creatively help those students, strategies that were not possible in the classroom environment because the traditional instruction is all about compliance. In this emergency, it’s all about caring. Reducing compliance and stressing caring is the key to unlocking the innovation,” he says.

  • But support unlearning for all. In order to make this change sustainable, leaders need to be on board to help support improving, assessing, and scaling new learning models. It’s easy to drift back to the old model, with all its problems and barriers, so leaders will need to implement professional development and provide a space for reflective dialogue around making some of these changes permanent. 

Rethink assessment

New models of learning will naturally need new models of evaluation. Many schools have switched to pass/fail grading and have suspended high-stakes testing. Instead, teachers are relying on diagnostic, formative assessments to measure learning from day-to-day and figure out what students need to learn next. “We need to look at successes that are happening and talk about that with parents so, when we go back to the classroom, there’s a lesson learned about the power of these alternative types of assessments,” Dede says.

Model resilience

The pandemic’s major legacy, ultimately, may well be the result of how we show young people how to handle challenges. “We need to model that you can thrive on chaos, that there are opportunities in difficult times, and that being creative and open to new ideas is the way to surmount these challenges,” he says. “That modeling is going to be the lasting legacy because, when kids come back into the classroom, they’re going to bring a set of [learned] dispositions that are very important.”

Key Takeaways

  • Innovation is happening at the ground level — pay attention to what teachers who serve students with diverse needs are doing.
  • Remember kids learn from what we do. Model for young people that while, these challenges are difficult to navigate, they may also provide an opportunity.

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