I have been reading a lot lately about the idea of a COVID Slide during distance learning. Similar to the Summer Slide, it is predicted that many students will need significant intervention to help narrow learning gaps widened over the past year.
Much of what I have read indicates that we don’t have much more than a vague idea of the depth of learning loss students are facing. One report states that, “Little is known about the effectiveness of learning at home for the entire student population...for a significant proportion of pupils, learning during school closures was apparently almost non-existent.” OECD The same holds true for many of the schools we work with at Organized Binder. It is as if they know that losses have occurred, they have received funding to strategically address the issue, but at this moment they don’t have an accurate way to gauge the severity of it. I mentioned this in a previous article but it feels like we are collectively holding our breath in education to discover the challenge we are facing when we return to school in the fall. However, if we wait to address learning loss it may prove to be too late.
One thing is clear, we cannot put the work of mitigating learning loss entirely on the shoulders of teachers. Teachers, of course, will likely be most integral to this work, but it is unrealistic and unsustainable to assume that teachers will design and create interventions to help narrow learning gaps and teach their classes. Instead, we must equip teachers with resources and interventions to employ within the context of their classes.
To meaningfully address student learning loss will take funding and programming. We should strive to add resources to educator’s toolboxes to equip them for the task. I have discovered a handful of interventions like summer catch-up pods, after school learning clubs, and adding more technology like the Microsoft Education Suite. Although well intentioned, these efforts are neither classroom-based programs nor those that offer support to students alongside classroom instruction.
The most encouraging initiative I have discovered is occurring in Victoria, Australia. Their Tutor Initiative Program has allocated $250 million to engage over four thousand education professionals as tutors to provide additional and targeted support for “students to catch up on learning they may have missed due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.”
My new friend, Arnya Te Hira Smith, an accomplished education professional in Victoria, is a tutor in this program and is already seeing the impact. “For me, this is an individualised learning and teaching dream!!! I am able to personalise, co-create by offering lots of choices, and work with classroom teachers to enable frontloading (pre-teaching) of new literacy concepts.”
I cannot express how impressed I am with this initiative. There are three key takeaways that I believe make it successful:
We will not narrow learning gaps widened by the pandemic if we do not adequately fund initiatives. We will not mitigate learning losses with a blanketed approach like purchasing a new online set of tools for all students. Finally, we cannot task classroom teachers with assessing and designing ways to address losses in the fall - that is too much to ask. This third point is really critical if we are going to sustainably approach this work and not further burnout our teachers. We must either equip teachers with a proven program they can implement within the classroom context (Organized Binder can help here), or provide support programs and personnel to work alongside them (like the Tutoring Initiative Program), or ideally, both.
Schools can begin to assess learning losses by simply reaching out to teachers, families, and students. Polling stakeholders to get some initial feedback will prove incredibly insightful as schools strategically program for summer mitigation and the fall transition back to school. For US schools a good starting place is to get a pulse on how engaged your LCAP subgroups were throughout distance learning.
Regardless of where to start, the time to do so is now. I hope we can all be as proud of our response to learning loss as Arnya is of the initiative in Australia, "I've never been so impressed with our Victorian Public Education system. It's quite reassuring that we see big shifts like this because it really is a display of empathy."
My hope is that we approach this work in the spirit of the Tutoring Program in Victoria, “We need the help of teaching professionals in 2021 to ensure no student is left behind.”