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To Mitigate Learning Loss - Get The Diagnosis Right!

Posted by 
Mitch Weathers
March 2, 2021

“Liberating education consists in acts of cognition not transferrals of information.” 

 Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

I recently listened to Dushaw Hockett’s TEDx Talk on implicit bias. If you have not watched his talk do yourself a favor, right now, and do so now. One thing stood out for me as he spoke, the idea of getting the diagnosis right if we are going to prescribe the best treatment.

Diagnosing Learning Loss

As we look to the fall, to help our students succeed, we must begin to diagnose the Learning Loss that has occurred over the past year as a result of the pandemic. I have spoken to districts that have had only 15% of their students attend school during distance learning. In other districts grades have plummeted, students are less engaged, and teachers are frustrated. There have, of course, been highlights and new ways of teaching that are byproducts of the pandemic. But if we are doing to address Learning Loss that now exists in many students, we have to get the diagnosis right if we are going to get the treatment right. 

Learning How To Learn

My fear is that schools will fall into the trap of acceleration - trying to reteach content students may have missed, or failed, this year while keeping on pace with the next year's curricula. This will only serve to overwhelm and disengage students who may already be struggling with motivation. 

That is not to suggest that we will not have to address missed content in the fall. But as Hockett states, we don’t want to assume it has to be an “Emergency Room” approach. Instead, a “Preventative Approach” is what is going to best mitigate Learning Loss. Accelerating, or doubling up, the curricula is the ER approach. Empowering students with the skills and habits that are the hallmarks of successful learners, so they can approach their learning with more agency and dexterity, is Preventative work. 

“The chronic achievement gap in most American schools has created an epidemic of dependent learners unprepared to do the higher order thinking, creative problem solving, and analytical reading and writing called for in the new Common Core State Standards. One of the goals of education is not simply to fill students with facts and information but to help them learn how to learn.”

Zaretta Hammond - Culturally Responsive Teaching and The Brain

Narrowing Achievement Gaps

What is most troubling is that the Learning Loss experienced over the last year is only going to widen achievement gaps that existed prior to the pandemic. Studies routinely indicate that achievement gaps are higher for English Learners, students of color, as well as socioeconomically disadvantaged communities Therefore, mitigating learning loss is our social justice responsibility as educators. We must get the diagnosis right!

The correct treatment to mitigate Learning Loss is found in Hammond’s words, “ help them learn how to learn.” My challenge to you is to reflect upon what your school can do to equip the students you serve with the tools, abilities, habits, and mindsets needed to engage successfully in their education. 

Be well, 


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