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Inside Areté Blog Series

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Factory model education

Resurrecting the Walking Dead: Creating Zombie-Free Spaces to Bring Post-Covid Learners Back to Life

As students and schools dust off their Covid cobwebs and prepare to return to in-person instruction, now is a good time to think about what we’re returning to

The system we’re used to was designed to teach future factory workers to be compliant (and passably literate) during the Industrial Revolution. The factory-style classroom, with its obsessive concern for efficiency and standardization, continues to churn out dispassionate worksheet doers and bubble fillers while failing to nurture genuine intellectual or creative energy. Our adherence to this broken system is stultifying our workforce (and electorate!) at a moment when we desperately need innovators, disruptors, and game changers. 

Most classrooms still focus on teacher-led lectures with students as passive receivers of information. It’s what Paulo Freire calls the “banking model”: teachers deposit facts into students, then withdraw them through exams or other uninspired  assessments. Naively, we see this and call it “learning.” In fact, such classrooms not only often fail to instill much-needed higher-order skills but also produce zombie-like, task-driven students who “get the grade” but secretly hate learning.

In particular, gifted, high-ability and high capacity students — our best hope for a  zombieless future —  are easily turned off when the class environment isn’t stimulating and coursework is inflexible and unresponsive to student choice.

Luckily, by crafting personalized learning environments, sensitive to each student’s passions and abilities, it’s possible to de-Zombify the classroom so all students can thrive. Curious, passionate kids come alive again intellectually, socially and emotionally when they’re in the right space with the right educational philosophy and classroom practices:

Here are five keys to a Zombie-free classroom:

  • Allow students passion-driven choices in what and how they learn. Give bright kids the space to pursue what excites and fascinates them.
  • Stick to hands-on, project-based and inquiry-driven learning. Far from being “soft” approaches, these research-backed pedagogies lead to greater challenge, lasting understanding, and deeper learning.
  • Maintain a collaborative learning environment with small seminar-style classrooms that foster discussion, confidence, teamwork and leadership.
  • Give students their own “voice and choice” with self-directed learning projects.
  • Keep the student/teacher conversation going with constant feedback and meaningful assessment as part of the culture and fabric of the school.

These elements are what makes Areté’s seminar-style classrooms so successful, and so blissfully devoid of “Walking Dead Syndrome.” In this intimate setting (with a typical class size of six or less), learners are able to engage with the teacher, themselves and others authentically as well as interactively. Extraordinarilypersonalized, the Areté classroom amps up individual challenge while encouraging effective teamwork and collaboration.

We encourage parents to open their minds to educational models that genuinely trust students as engaged, excited, valued co-partners in the learning process.

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