I’ve struggled for the past year with the term “learning loss”. It implies that students have lost parts of this past year that they’ll never get back. It doesn’t acknowledge the many other things, mostly non-academic, that students have learned during this pandemic.
A couple of weeks ago, I asked social media for a different phrase rather than “learning loss”. The suggestions ranged from “learning recovery” to “unfinished learning”, but none of those really stuck with what I felt like was a much bigger issue.
All of those phrases suggest that we need to return to a previous state. A state that I feel was already somewhat broken before. What we really need to do is readjust, rethink, and repurpose our goals in education. We’ve been running on old tires for so long, we are starting to drift off the road to our future.
That’s when it hit me. I did a quick look-up for a word on Dictionary.com and found the phrase I was looking for:
It’s the last part of that definition that really hit home with me. We don’t necessarily need to return to the previous position in education. We do need to restore best practices and change or replace those that don’t help with our learning performance. Our system needs a tune-up and complete system diagnostic before we go back on the road.
Check the battery
Whenever I poll teachers during my workshops, I always ask this question: “What is one word to describe this past year?” Inevitably, the words that win out are OVERWHELMING and EXHAUSTING. We’ve all been burning the candle on both ends. Students pivoting from remote to hybrid to in-person and teachers inventing new instructional strategies they never learned about in college.
Keeping our brains on without much down time will drain our batteries. It makes it harder to get up each day and harder to learn. We need a break and luckily summer is right around the corner, but we needed this break before the pandemic. Teachers and administrators have more unfunded mandates than ever before. The pandemic gave us some cover and time to press pause on those, but when we return in the fall 2021, many will be back in place. This might be a good time for districts to learn the phrase “strategic abandonment” about certain per-COVID initiatives. Our batteries need it.
Replace old spark plugs
At the beginning of the pandemic, IT departments threw everything short of the kitchen sink at students in the hopes of giving them at-home access. Many of these were short-term solutions like breaking apart iPad carts or distributing some classroom Chromebooks. As students return and funding becomes more available via ESSER and American Recovery Plan funds, districts should be thinking about replacing those older devices sooner rather than later. (For a breakdown of ESSER II funds, check out this awesome free guide)
Having updated devices in every classroom for every student helps reduce the stress on repairs and troubleshooting for both IT departments and those that most directly deal with students (their teachers). As schools shift from remote to blended learning models, having this refreshed devices will make classroom management and digital workflow much more streamlined.
Using tools like NetRef‘s classroom management tool for Chromebooks (free trial here) or the Apple Classroom tool for iPads (built in with iOS) can be a great first step in minimizing distractions and maximizing learning in a blended environment. It’s time to regain that spark.
Update air filters
It goes without saying that our schools have some major issues with ventilation and air flow. This pandemic highlighted how poor the air quality is in our classrooms. I used to teach in a portable building that was called “the Asbestos Cabin” back in my teaching days. We joked about it, but the truth is, many students and teachers suffer from seasonal allergies and absenteeism due to illness and this was widespread before the pandemic.
With a percentage of American Recovery Plan funds dedicated to better air quality in schools, districts need to invest in better systems in classrooms. This doesn’t need to be a major overhaul of ducts and air flow either. Devices like this CASPR system from Meteor can help improve air quality without an expensive remodel. Also, consider teaching outside more often when weather appropriate. We need to breathe in order to learn!
Time for an oil change
While we missed a great many things during the pandemic, one thing that was not missed was high-stakes standardized tests. Some states postponed standardized testing while others, like here in Texas, doubled down and required them (only to have the entire system crash).
As we shifted to remote learning, schools were forced to pare down their curriculum to the bare essentials. There simply wasn’t the capacity or ability to cram in all the things that we felt like kids needed to learn in order to pass a test. This was a blessing in disguise. Knowing that we couldn’t get it all in, teachers focused on essential learning tasks and by default allowed more time off Zoom to explore topics in greater detail.
This should continue in the future. We don’t need to cram curriculum down students’ throats. We need to give them learning targets and goals, but allow space and time for them to explore and dive deeper into subjects that interest them. This creates excitement and energy in the classroom and not just for the students. It’s time to upgrade to some synthetic oil when it comes to our pacing of instruction.
Balance and rotate the tires
Finally, we have to create a more balanced and diverse delivery of instruction. We’ve relied heavily on one method of delivery – face-to-face and teacher-to-student. This method has its place, but when we rely solely on this method, our tires become unbalanced. We swerve off the road in favor of that one method and it’s not helping the passengers in our classroom.
The truth is, not every student benefits from traditional in-person, teacher-led instruction. Some students thrived in the remote environment when given room to be independent and create their own pace and schedule. We should learn from this going forward and determine how we can offer a more diverse instructional delivery model.
That model should include flexibility and options. It should have options for virtual as well as in-person. There should be synchronous and asynchronous parts to learning. Student work should be more than just completing a digital worksheet or making a Google Slide show.
Here’s the great news….this is absolutely possible now and going forward.
Now that most schools have started to tackle access issues (fingers crossed that state and federal governments figure out the lack of connectivity), we can finally offer a truly blended, personalized experience to our students. One that brings deeper learning and exploration to the forefront. One that allows for voice and choice. I’m excited to see what the future holds for schools during this learning realignment. I’m eager to work alongside leaders to build a successful vision for their district in this different future.
It’s time for a tune-up.
This learning realignment is long overdue.
Carl Hooker is an educational consultant and public speaker. He’s published 6 books on mobile learning and works with districts all over the country to help with their technology integration and high quality blended learning. For more information about Carl and his work, check out his website: https://CarlHooker.com