How do I know that online classes work?

I had a great conversation with one of the parents whose child attends my online school. It was very important for me to know her view, as she was one of the first parents who decided to join this experimental mode of teaching and learning online.

We spoke about the pressure on the parents who have more than one child and how difficult it is to balance work, schoolwork and daily care of the household. I asked her what is most important for her at the moment as a parent. She said: “so my son can concentrate on what he likes doing and enjoy being himself”. That reflection was followed by additional feedback for me:

“what you do in your online school is teaching with the flow that the children shape, and it is something unique that they do not have in the mainstream school where the structure is more rigid, and where a student cannot spend a whole day on creating a collage or reading one book. Any why not?”

It is true that my practice is underpinned by “the flow” of energy between all the participants of the learning process. I care a lot about the exchange of energy and interaction in the class. I prepare tons of material every week for the class, hoping that I will use them in a prescribed way, but then at 9am in the morning, a student wants to tell us all about his discoveries in the garden and all of the sudden all kids want to learn about warms, plans and compost. Well, they don’t care that it was the topic prepared for the next month:) When they express curiosity and energetic involvement, I respond to it then and there.

Learning about water animals thematically takes us to the ocean, rain forests, respiratory systems in reptiles, the extinction of dinosaurs, the disappearing ice-cream, pirates, Britain`s got Talent, and back to a tortaise!

So I ask them to draw a leaf on the spot and we talk about his the plants breathe and where the green colour comes from. By that time, the children are already flowing through the imaginary forest full of animals, so we start imitating their sounds and discussing difefrent types of animals living in the jungle. Well, this leads us to the world map and colouring all the oceans in blue against the earthly colour of the continents. We finish by planning a recycling strategy for the family and going back to the warms and compost, and budgeting the shopping for the next week of all good healthy food that the kids are ready to have right now – LUNCH BREAK!

The responsive, interdisciplinary, flowing pattern of the lesson is not easy to achieve in the school divided by subjects, teachers and rooms. If it happens, it is characteristic for the primary school and then it changes into a more academic style of teaching, where sitting in one place and concentring on one problem at a time is required. This style continues in Higher Education and then in the workplace. It turns out that solving cognitive problems with cognitive skills is still the most valued ability for which students and workers are appreciated and also paid more than for manual or creative jobs. Do you remember the advice from your own parent on having “a decent job”, what did they have in mind? This pro-cognitive bias has been strained recently by unprecedented outbursts of creativity of the millennials who don’t want to work 9 to 5 and prefer being influencers or digital nomads. They are also sought by big companies and small start-ups which need to see their own limits pushed and the boundaries broken, if they want to catch up with the rest of the world. If the world is tormented by a global crisis, such as COVID, new ways of thinking and doing are required on the spot. If education is to respond to the challenge, we need courage, confidence, experimenting, reflection, and the permission to “flow”! It does not mean we will be playing LEGO all day and having fun as if there is no tomorrow. The “flow” is not a flood (it can break a few idea banks though!); it can be determined by the learning content for each level and evaluated by suitable measures. But the delivery can be responsive, intuitive and empathetic, adjusted to the unique energy in each group. Would we ever meet the objectives in this way? Well, it depends what the objectives are and how they are evaluated. I will write about it soon.

As a teacher, I believe that the untamed, boundless, and non-directional energy flowing in children needs to nourished and awarded now, so they can become compassionate, confident and innovative adults in the future.

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