3 Approaches to Uncovering Learning Loss and Learning Gains … TO WHAT END?

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From sardonic opinions to marketing tactics, system leaders have been deluged with a torrent of commentary and predictions about learning loss. The leadership challenge right now is to sort out the obvious reality of losses that have occurred because of the pandemic from nebulous abstractions of loss. It is tempting to slide back into content coverage and testing to determine how our learners have fared which will likely result in more rigidity in the four program structures that are the nest for teaching and learning:  schedules, learning spaces, learning groupings, and personnel configurations.

This is a “right now” leadership moment to articulate and own the approach for your system over the next few years. In effect, we are asking you to call it out directly, transparently for all your school community members to see so that they understand the heavy lift that requires regardless of what approach you choose.

Approach 1- RECOVER. Over the course of a few years we can recover by focusing on coverage of established curriculum with limited revisions to content but more deliberate incorporation of virtual learning tools and management systems.  Requires the purchase or design of intensive benchmark assessments, increase in instructional time, and an explicit focus on remediation to get back to grade level work.

Related Actions. While the existing school vision or portrait of a graduate are an aspiration of what we hope for every student, the clarion call is how to get students back on grade level driven by testing results. The Curriculum and Instructional Design Choices would be governed by these questions: What to cover? What to reinforce?  Assessments would be those used in the past to reaffirm coverage of curriculum and retainment of basic skills. There is an increased focus on the use of standardized testing and purchased products to determine remediation and intervention strategies. This also might impact how students are scheduled and grouped as well as opportunities they have access to such as recess and electives.

Approach 2- REFRESH. Over the course of a few years, we can refresh curriculum and pedagogy by continuing specific practices that were borne out of necessity during the pandemic. Requires intensive PLC and vertical level work, commitment to future forward goals, increased use of formative assessments, and leveraging the four structures for innovative ideas to flourish. 

Related Actions. The school vision or portrait of a graduate are revisited and perhaps modified to  the range of learning environments students and staff experienced navigated during the pandemic.  For example, future-forward goals, framed as roles for learners, can be added to our aspirations such as student as digital citizen,  self-navigator, and innovative designer.  These goals become the north star to help navigate our curriculum choices for refreshing courses.   Grade level, department, and vertical teams of faculty will be focus on a deliberate review of  scope and sequence and asking:  What to cut out? What to cut back? What to consolidate? What to keep? Limited attention is given to structural shifts with basic adherence to previous schedules, and spaces (both on-site and virtual), grouping of students, and faculty.  There may be a willingness to experiment with innovative ideas such as adding a new space to create and collaborate or  periodic scheduling changes to make space for a more intensive study or  exhibition of learning. For the most part,  the curriculum is refreshed but the program structures are maintained. 

Approach 3- RESET. Over the course of a few years, we can reset and design new possibilities by making curricular and structural choices to create contemporary opportunities for our future forward goals. Requires deliberate examinations of existing practices, policies, and structures to inform next iterations of schooling for our community. 

Related Actions. Actively seeking input from all perspectives in the school community to update learning goals and opportunities with a particular eye to new roles and responsibilities for learners.  A reset of the curriculum will be directly connected to streamlining of subject area courses and cultivating faculty partnerships to develop interdisciplinary and  phenomena based learning experiences. The driving questions might be:  What to cut out? What to cut back? What to consolidate? What to keep? What to create? Critical is that equal attention is given to resetting the structural nest to create the best possible learning environment choices based on actual learner needs versus habit. The four structures, schedules, learning spaces, grouping of students, and personnel configurations, are essential to  new opportunities for learning experiences whether it is a pathway model, innovation lab, mentorship program, design corner, global forums, or place-based projects.  

Clearing a Path for Thoughtful and Responsive Plans

When facing challenges we are constrained by what is in our bank of options but also be able to examine a range of options moving forward. Key is partnering with all members of the community in developing and laying  out possibilities in making choices in curriculum and the structural formats that directly impact your students.  

To be clear, reassuring families and faculty is critical,  but yielding to the tendency to “go back and pick up where we left off  not only may be counterproductive, but potentially damaging to the health of our school community.  For example, pressuring teachers to cover 18 months of curriculum in 10 months  may create a new wave of teacher burnout and retirements/resignations which would prompt further learning loss.   Teacher shortages for the upcoming school year is a reality.   As noted in the NY Times: Desperate to stanch staffing shortfalls, districts large and small are   increasing pay for substitutes and even advertising for temporary positions on local billboards. Some states and districts have also suspended college course requirements, or permitted abbreviated online training, for emergency substitute teachers. 

Given the global nature of the pandemic and the varied restrictions within and across countries, it is difficult to ascertain how events will unfold in the months ahead. Determining when post-pandemic school life will clearly emerge is not possible, but the need for thoughtful and responsive plans could not be more timely.

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