As a teacher in a Victorian school, we are now preparing to transition back to face to face teaching across the state, in line with the rest of the country. It has been an unprecedented time in Victorian education, as the global pandemic of COVID-19 and government-mandated closures of schools, businesses, cafes, gyms, sporting venues, public gatherings and group activities has impacted enormously on everybody.
Educators have undergone a huge change in pedagogy within a relatively short period of time. Professional Developments sessions, technology up-skilling, extra meetings, and hours upon hours of generating suitable learning engagements appropriate to deliver online has been the focus for educators. Integrating and embedding digital technologies across the curriculum, enhancing opportunities for learning and appropriate delivery of curriculum to ensure all students are engaged and educated within this new world that we have suddenly been thrust into. It has been an enormous undertaking for teachers, students, schools' administration, and parents. It is fascinating to reflect upon what we have observed over the past two months in the virtual world of teaching.
The wellbeing of students is something that obviously has been a central focus for many educators. The isolation restrictions coupled with curriculum delivered without face to face seemed extremely concerning for many of us within the school community. Hence the need to make strong connections with the students and allow them opportunities to virtually meet with teachers and peers has been an essential part of the remote teaching and learning puzzle.
Many schools ensured appropriate opportunities have been provided where students can meet in small groups and discuss concerns or share anxieties with others. Often sharing personal thoughts within this virtual setting seemed easier for some gifted students, as they could speak to the screen, and feel a sense of understanding within a safe space. They made comments about feeling less uncomfortable with talking face to face with teachers and peers in person. Some talented students found having conversations, by listening, without video was much more comfortable for them. They would then turn on the video when they had something specific to say and this gave them more confidence. The skill of listening is very important and in all aspects of learning is a prerequisite for student learning for themselves. They need to listen and can also find comfort in listening to others share similar opinions, concerns or anxieties under these unusual circumstances. Student voice begins with the initial ability to listen to each other in order to learn, for each other and for themselves. Learning is usually in a social context, however during this time, there has been more opportunity to custom build connections with individuals remotely. The well-being of students coupled with the ability to have some autonomy and student voice within the learning opportunities, has shown to have positive effects on building strong relationships and developing these in a safe, productive, and cohesive manner.
Many characteristics of the gifted students were demonstrated through the remote learning as there tended to be aspects which enhanced and heightened the personality and ability traits of such learners. Behaviours such as comprehending at a faster pace, solving problems rapidly, and learning in different ways compared to other children in the broader classroom along with being strong problem solvers and critical thinkers were on display in the remote learning setting. The students embraced online learning as they could take more control for their own unique learning style and really flourish within this setting. Within a classroom situation a gifted student’s curiosity may not necessarily be encouraged beyond the planned tasks, for lack of time and resources, often these students might re-direct the conversation or miss-interpret the learning outcome expected for a particular lesson, as they grapple with making multiple connections beyond the class expectation, yet do not have the time to explore all their options.
During on-line remote learning many students could ask complex questions and express their curiosity in a more conducive manner. The essence of that student and the pace in which the individual student selected to spend on each task was more open for them and the remote setting provided much more flexibility for their own voice to be heard and autonomy to take place.
The gifted learner could move faster with content understanding and apply that skill to broader areas, making deeper connections. Such students could intrinsically understand problems and could conceptualise their own understandings effectively and make ‘far transfers’ from one area of knowledge content to another at a complex level. For instance, in a 60-minute period of developing understanding, knowledge to enable skill development through inquiry in real-time teacher classroom contact students would attend to the work and have a completed outcome by the end of the session or series of sessions. However during remote learning students could use their own time driven by their own student voice in regards to time allocation, which could expand into many more hours. A student could finish learning a skill or new concept during synchronous live lessons attending virtual classes together via video conferencing with peers and teachers and then make their own decisions to expand, apply and transfer this knowledge and skill to other passion areas of choice, during asynchronous lesson time. Therefore, such students could work in a self-paced, student-led manner by gaining more knowledge and inquiring deeper into similar areas and expanding their own thinking from the initial lesson. The students can then gain insight into what they have learnt and their own metacognitive processes. Best practice suggests that all lessons and learning engagements need to be modified, differentiated, and adapted according to individuals, moreover the remote setting enabled this to happen in a more realistic and authentic manner. In this setting student voice became more obvious because of the extremely unique situation, where learning outside the classroom gave students extra ever expanding time. Students could therefore dedicate specific amounts of time on certain aspects of their curriculum, which allowed them to travel to more in-depth research within the content.
When linking the unit of inquiry to specific skills for the gifted learner using an inquiry approach to learning, through the transdisciplinary themes, the students are engaged in leading their own task according to the skills individually taught. The Primary Years Program (PYP) is an International Baccalaureate curriculum framework offered to students age 3 to 12 years. The programme is guided by six transdisciplinary themes that are of global significance. Students develop conceptual understandings, deepening their skills and knowledge across developmentally appropriate curriculum that is broad, balanced, conceptual, and connected. (International Baccalaureate, What is an IB education, 2019, 5) The inquiry process was evident through personal passion and self-directed in-depth study, when student voice was taken into consideration.
When looking at critical thinking tasks, students were able to share who they are and what they believe in when analysing media propaganda and various writing devices. These students had the time and place to understand more about themselves and come to the realisation that they can make a difference, locally and possibly internationally. As the gifted learner often displays more abstract thinking and involves hypothetical possibilities, rather than present realities, having time and space to hear their own voice and take their own learning down a variety of avenues, exploring greater depth of understanding and recognising multiple relationships and exploring all options has been an extraordinary experience for such learners. Working independently as a preference is also a common trait amongst gifted learners. This is something that is appropriate at times, but this should be shared with the skills of collaboration, however given the unusual circumstances of a global pandemic, suddenly these students are working alone, but with support, communication, and structure from the teacher.
The students would enjoy the live lessons, watching the teacher present and involve themselves in class discussions on their own terms, participate in collaboration, planning and feedback, nevertheless what made them really thrive was when the students would taking the skills, concepts, new content and make this personally relevant moving through their own level of discovery and curiosity. More time for them to develop their own voice allowed them to become absorbed in the mastery of skills. Such experiences enable the educators to understand how capable students are of providing rich, nuanced accounts of their experience that could potentially inform school improvement. (Simons, Catharine, Graham, Anne and Thomas, 2015, 2)
Individual students were able to feel safe speaking up and sharing thoughts about their own values, perspectives, opinions, and cultural backgrounds. Working collaboratively and facilitating remote live discussions enabled students to feel more confident and lifted under-engaged voice, as students could direct their choices and passions. Planning and implementing a structured, inquiry based program which covered individual content, highly ambitious students thrived when having their own voice to acknowledge them as individuals. Collaboration and decisions made together with the learner and teacher regarding the structure, timing, format, content, and detail enabled the gifted learner to achieve a level of autonomy. This in turn encouraged students to feel empowered, motivated, and valued during the remote learning phase. If relevant and meaningful curriculum offerings are to be made to students, then it is appropriate to move beyond the question of why students must speak but to consider how students engagement in the construction of their own schooling experiences might be made more explicit. (Macdonald, 1999)
Globally, education over the past two months has been extremely unusual and something that we did not expect to find ourselves in. This unprecedented time in our lives and the ongoing effects both medically, emotionally and economically will continue for many days, weeks, months and years ahead. However, amongst all the negativity and uncertainty, there is something to celebrate here, for the education of these students during the 2020 school closures.
With such a dramatic turn of events and a quick swift shift to delivering education remotely, students have excelled and now have a unique experience that they can reflect upon in the future. This incredible experience has taught such learners, not only organisational tools, understanding of various learning platforms, portals, intranet, skills with uploading, navigation, videoing, voice recording, editing, but it has essentially given student voice to many individuals who may not feel they had one previously. Students have taken ownership for their own learning and this will have consequential effects for them to establish learning goals and work towards these, feel individual control to succeed in their future schooling, and are more likely to continue the already established excellent communication and collaboration with teachers. Through online digital learning opportunities practices have been created where a mutual responsibility and understanding of shared collaboration has taken place. Students and teachers have created this environment, being attentive and open with one another in the remote setting. Thus, proving a mutual understanding and promoting student advocacy and shared, respectful accountability. (Fielding, 2004) Importantly, these students are likely to reflect and appreciate that they can now demonstrate such life skills as organisation, using initiative, goal setting, self-monitoring, reflection and productivity, along with being self-directed and motivated. This experience has taught them to encourage and enable further prospects for themselves to make future authentic decisions, in partnership with adults, which allows individual learning to have a level of autonomy and power to meet the demands and appropriately engage in opportunities of the 21st century.
Fielding (2004), New wave student voice and the renewal of civic society: London Review of Education, 2 (3), 198 – 216
Fielding, (2001) Beyond the Rhetoric of Student Voice: new departures or new constraints in the transformation of 21st: Forum, 42, 2.
International Baccalaureate, The IB Primary Years Programme, 2012
International Baccalaureate, What is an IB education, 2019
MacDonald, (1999) Did we hear you? Issues of student voice in a curriculum innovation: Curriculum Studies, 31 (1), 83-97.
Simmons, Catharine, Graham, Anne and Thomas, Nigel (2015) Imagining an ideal school for wellbeing: Locating student voice. Journal of Educational Change, 16 (2). pp. 129-144.
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