The world has seen two school years that will be recorded in history books. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted education systems internationally, and the negative impact on schools and families is undoubtable. However, can we leverage this disruption in the field of education to evolve more quickly? online learning can be powerful, but certainly isn't the best for all learners - we know it’s particularly tough on our youngest students. Yet there is an interesting positive with regards to the constraints that online learning places upon schools: we might not be able to "cover" as much content as we were going to, but might that not be a good thing? Just because something is covered does not mean it is learned - and our job as educators doesn't end at something being taught.
It is true that the various curricula such as the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Program require a significant degree of coverage, and indeed there are facts, skills, and concepts that we strongly feel are of the utmost importance for students to acquire. However, coverage is the lowest level of learning. We can see this in that the verbs associated with coverage such as “identify,” “recall,” “recognize” are at the bottom of Bloom’s Taxonomy and in Level 1 of the Depth of Knowledge framework.
Furthermore, content is now ubiquitous. Today, a kindergartener with a smartphone has access to more information than President Clinton had during his presidency. If we can Google it, it is no longer the priority for learning, and most importantly, coverage is not learning. COVID should be the catalyst for schools to examine the low relevance of covering content. More coverage is no longer the goal.
It goes back to the most important question in education: "What do you teach?" Do you teach a subject to children, or do you teach children that subject? That small difference changes the world for our students. At AISE, we teach children: we teach them Math, and Reading, and Writing, and Art, and Music, and languages, and how to be healthy, and communicate effectively, and be passionate change makers, how to think for themselves, analyze and critique. We teach them how to be good friends, how to be kind, and how to learn.
We are teaching children a positive disruption of going online is that we must critically examine the role of content in our educational program. At AISE we are using this opportunity to make more room for hands-on learning, application, relevance, projects, and the development of our students’ character.
A related area of disruption is “student protagonism,” the concept of student-as-the-main-actor in their own learning. In this model of learning, the teacher is the coach, and the student is not just the learner, but is the lead actor in their course of study. The key elements of protagonism include: motivation, engagement, agency, empowerment, choice, voice and relevance.
Moving online has, in some cases, created difficulties for student engagement. While screen time can be enchanting and hypnotizing, true and deep minds-on engagement is not something most educators were trained for during their teaching certification. Schools could try to recreate their physical classrooms in a digital space, and those that are, are struggling to keep students engaged. Rather than use the digital space as one might use the physical space, what if we designed the digital learning environment to prioritize protagonism?
What if the global connectivity of the Internet meant we designed learning in ways that students could safely engage with peers and experts around the world, connecting and making a real impact?
This is the question being asked at AISE as we develop strategies for protagonism. A classroom where protagonism is alive leverages intrinsic motivation, a student’s natural interest and feeling of purpose, to power learning. This might look like project-based learning, or a science experiment, a service project, or creating an original artistic product. Our teachers are designing learning experiences and authentic assessments where students’ work makes a real difference in the world. AISE students are designing their own service learning experiences, tutoring younger students, addressing climate change and issues of sustainability, as well as impacting social justice through changing how people think. AISE high schoolers are spending the year working on social entrepreneurialism, creating businesses that will both make money and make the world a better place. By engaging with the world outside of school digitally, the pandemic has made it easier, not harder, for students to be the main actors of their own learning.
COVID has been hard on schools, educators, families, and most of all, students. However, by re-examining the role of content, and exploring the new frontier of protagonism, we can use these disruptions to accelerate innovation. We can teach students relevant and important skills that will serve them and the world around them as they grow up, truly making the world a better place, serving the common good, which is, in the end, what true education is all about.
Kapono Ciotti is passionate about the science of teaching and learning and has put this practice to work as Director at American International School in Egypt – Main Campus (AISE – Main. Kapono is an international trainer and professional development coach, teacher, and a culture and place-based curriculum writer, focusing on culturally appropriate pedagogy. With the Pacific American foundation, he has written for the Kai E’e, Malama Kaho’olawe and Aloha ‘Aina curriculums and facilitated numerous trainings for Department of Education, Charter, Independent and International Schools. He has over 12 years of classroom teaching experience before moving into senior administration in non-profit, high school and elementary school. Kapono spent 15 years as a facilitator for the National Association of Independent Schools specializing in issues of diversity in education, and a contributor to national movements in project-based, and 21st century learning. Kapono Ciotti earned a PhD in International education in 2018 from Northcentral University, holds a Masters degree in Social Change and Development from the University of Newcastle, Australia and a Bachelors in Language and Cultural Studies from The Evergreen State College, Washington.