With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, educators have had to adjust rapidly to a vastly different reality of how we provide schooling to our students. With little time and little preparation, and much dedication, worry, and creativity, educators are “flying the plane as we build it.” A major disruption has forced a major rethinking, and a retooling of educators and education.
While it is true that some tinkering has been done around the edges of education (think 21st Century Skills, project based learning, challenge based learning, personalized learning, online, virtual, and blended learning, maker space, genius hour), there has been little call for a dramatic revamping of education until recently. And yet some of us have been pondering what this bold new frontier might look like.
In this Teach Thought article, The Inside-Out School: A 21st Century Learning Modelauthor Terry Heick gave an interesting glimpse into what this new frontier might look like, and what we will have to do to prepare for it, communicate about it, deliver it, foster habits of mind around it, ponder it, and evaluate it. The Inside-Out Learning Model is based on the works of many educational thought leaders: the work of Lave (Situational Learning Theory), Bruner (Discovery Learning), Holmes (Communal Constructivism), Vygotsky (Zone of Proximal Development & More Knowledgeable Other), Kolb (Learning Cycle), Thorndike, Perkins and Wiggins (Transfer), Costa and Kallick (Habits of Mind), Paulo Freire, and the complete body of work by Wendell Berry.
The article begins by talking about learning activators, and considers things such as “project-based learning, play -- both directed and non-directed, video games and learning simulations, mentoring, and an examination of academic practices.” There has been much discussion in academic circles about all of these activators, and many of us in gifted education have participated in these discussions, and have tried many of these options, as we try to understand motivation and engagement in our unique students.
The article then moves into the area of changing habits, and this delves into some of the habits of mind that are necessary for effective education, whether traditional or novel. According to the author, we need to consider these things: to “fertilize innovation & design, acknowledge limits and scale, reflect on interdependence, honor uncertainty, curate legacy, support systems-level and divergent thinking, reward increment, and require versatility in the face of change.” Those of us who work in the field of gifted education have wrestled with many of these habits of mind as we try to change educational systems for our often non-traditional learners, and instill productive mindsets into these learners.
The third area that is highlighted is the necessity for transparency. Teaching in new ways will require us to be transparent between communities, learners, and schools. The author suggests that we will need to “make learning standards, outcomes, project rubrics, and performance criteria persistently visible, accessible, and communally constructed. Gamification and publishing may replace grades.” In the last several decades, many schools have begun considering these factors as they move toward new ways of constructing curriculum, learning outcomes, and measurements of learning. New ways of teaching require new ways of assessment, and I have seen many of us in gifted education tinker with new ways of assessment .
The fourth area to be developed is self-initiated transfer. The author describes this as “applying old thinking in constantly changing and unfamiliar circumstances as constant matter of practice, constant practice of prioritizing big ideas in increasing complexity within learner Zone of Proximal Development, and project-based learning, blended learning, and Place-Based Education made available to facilitate highly-constructivist approach.” As a gifted and talented educator, I find this area most promising. All learners, including gifted learners, benefit greatly when they are challenged at their level of understanding, and are encouraged to transfer and apply their current learning to new learning.
The fifth area addresses mentoring and the community. Promising practices in this area include “accountability via the performance of project-based ideas in authentic local and global environments, local action linked to global citizenship, active mentoring via physical and digital networking, apprenticeships, job shadows and study tours, and communal constructivism, meta-cognition, cognitive coaching, and cognitive apprenticeship among available tools.” While many schools have made forays into this kind of support from the community, a full scale-up will require much more commitment from everyone, and the payoff will be worth it.
Because education will be changing, the roles of everyone will change. Here are some ways that the author cites, “Learners will become knowledge makers, teachers will be experts of assessment and resources, classrooms will become think-tanks, communities will become not just audiences, but vested participants, and families will serve as designers, curators, and content resources.” As I think about the magnitude of this kind of change, it becomes apparent that schools will be teaching whole communities of learners about new ways of learning. This will prove to be a monumental task! My experience has shown that, while teachers and administrators and sometimes school boards understand the need for change, parents and community members need extra support in this transition. This is not the way they remember school!
New learning will necessitate new ways of assessment for and of learning.The author suggests these shifts that will need to be made: “Constant minor assessments will replace exams, data streams will inform progress and suggest pathways, academic standards will be prioritized, and products, simulation performance, and self-knowledge will delegate academia to a new role of refinement of thought.” While I have seen progress on some of these fronts in recent years, we still have a long way to go.
The next area that the author tackles is thought and abstraction. He states that, “In this model, struggle and abstraction are expected outcomes of increasing complexity & real-world uncertainty. This uncertainty is honored, and complexity and cognitive patience are constantly modeled and revered. Abstraction honors not just art, philosophy, and other humanities, but the uncertain, incomplete and subjective nature of knowledge.” Again, I feel that this change will be wonder-full for gifted students. So often they are the wonderers, the thinkers, and the tinkerers, and are intrigued by ambiguity. This shift in the educational paradigm may free our creative kids to dream and actuate.
Finally, the author states, this educational shift will expand literacies…it will encourage learners to “analyze, evaluate, and synthesize credible information, promote a critical survey of interdependence of media and thought, encourage a consumption of constantly evolving media forms, promote media design for authentic purposes, require self-monitoring sources of digital and non-digital data, and facilitate artistic and useful content curation patterns.” It seems to me that this is the kind of thinking that many adults use everyday in their lives and their work. When our young learners begin to build these educational habits, they are preparing for their futures.
At this point in time, I have no idea where the current disruption of learning will lead. I hope that many of the predictions in this article will come true for all learners. I know that many of them will be highly welcomed by our gifted learners.
As always, I welcome your thoughts. Together we grow.
Jackie Drummer, Past President
WI Association for Talented and Gifted
Gifted in Perspective
A column designed to link the gifted perspective to other perspectives, and to make you think.