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Don’t just recover learning. Empower future learning.

Posted by 
Mitch Weathers
March 15, 2021

I received an email this morning that read, “The most current research indicates that staff, family, and student social and emotional wellness; equity in education; and learning/academic recovery should be our highest priorities as we transition back to learning recovery and acceleration (remediate “learning loss”).” I agree wholeheartedly but I would like to embellish this list with the goal of not just recovering learning but also empowering future learning

How To Recover Learning?

The path forward to recover learning is to equitably get to what promotes learning in the first place. We must do this work at scale, with fidelity, in every classroom around the country. Research is also very clear that,

“By helping students develop the noncognitive skills, strategies, attitudes, and behaviors that are the hallmarks of effective learners, teachers can improve student learning and course performance while also increasing the likelihood that students will be successful in college.”

UCHICAGO CCSR Literature Review, Teaching Adolescents To Become Learners.

If we focus our efforts on helping students, those most impacted by the COVID Slide, to develop as effective learners we will address learning losses while we empower future learning

Learning In The Present AND The Future

The key is strategies that “improve student learning and course performance (present) while also increasing the likelihood that students will be successful in college - aka empower future learning. We accomplish this by giving students the opportunity to develop as learners while they catch up on missed coursework. This is an important distinction because if we assume that learning recovery is solely the work of making up content, we miss a golden opportunity. Gaps in coursework have to be addressed because success in subsequent classes depends on it. One way for students to get caught up with missed coursework is effective summer programs. Regardless of how or when missed work is taught and learned, done in isolation from developing students as learners, will fail to close gaps. 

Moving Faster Is Not The Answer

My fear is that we will default to an acceleration model to help students catch up. It makes sense, if one is behind then move faster to catch up. The trouble is, the students who have been most impacted by learning loss due to the pandemic are those experiencing existing achievement gaps. A report from OECD states, “There is considerable anecdotal evidence that children from disadvantaged backgrounds and pupils with learning difficulties have a particularly difficult time coping with the home-learning phase.” The COVID Gap, or Slide, will widen learning and equity gaps for our most fragile students. If our answer is to “speed up” we may overwhelm them even further. Incorporating Dweck’s advice is necessary, “...simply raising standards in our schools, without giving students the means of reaching them, is a recipe for disaster. It just pushes the poorly prepared or poorly motivated students into failure and out of school.” Mindset:The New Psychology of Success.

Change Happens At The Classroom Level

To “give students the means” to recover learning look to what promotes learning in the first place - the noncognitive skills and habits the develop student agency allowing them to approach their learning with dexterity. However, to be effective we have to drill all the way down to the classroom level to engage in this work.

“Learning—at least the learning that is the focus of the formal educational enterprise— does not take place in schools. It takes place in classrooms, as a result of daily, minute-to-minute interactions between teachers and students and the subjects they study. So it seems logical that if we are going to improve the outcomes of the educational enterprise—that is, improve learning— we have to intervene directly in this black box of daily classroom instruction.”

Tight but Loose: A Conceptual Framework for Scaling Up School Reforms 

At Scale

There are two main strands to mitigating learning loss. First, we must empower students with the skills and habits that are the hallmarks of an effective learner. Second, we need to help them catch up on missed material. However, we must approach these two strands in conjunction with work around SEL and through an equity lens on an individual teacher level. With that said, in order for this classroom-level intervention to be equitable, we must also be certain to do this work at scale to guarantee that all students, regardless of income, or race, or learning differences, have the same opportunity to recover. 

With Fidelity

Classroom-level reform, implemented at scale, but done so with fidelity. Addressing learning loss can’t be a piecemeal approach that is different from state to state, city to city, and school to school. There will be regional and local influences that will make for variation in programming, but I believe to make learning recovery equitable we  should equip schools, and every individual teacher, with proven interventions and protocols. Teachers need tangible tools and resources that they can fairly employ with fidelity to engage students in recovering learning. If we get this right, if we address learning loss with fidelity, we can collect data to measure our efforts around the county. 

When we equitably approach the two strands of mitigating learning loss, developing academic skills and habits and helping students catch up on missed course work, at scale and with fidelity, we can successfully narrow achievement gaps widened by the pandemic and empower future learning

Be well,


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