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Ten Strategies to Help Accelerate Learning
It is unquestionable that the drastic and constant changes in instructional settings have led to lost teaching time and resulted in unfinished learning. The question now is: How do we address these challenges? Savvas author and educator Zak Champagne believes that while there’s not a one-size-fits-all approach, these ten strategies will help accelerate and move learning forward.
“Our students are resilient, and with our support and dedication, we can help them make up for lost time and continue to have positive [academic] experiences,” wrote Zak in a recent whitepaper. He went on to offer these ten strategies that focus on community, positive language, engagement, and providing access to grade-level content with adequate support.
Begin with connection and community.
No matter what mode of instruction you are currently using or what you may be using in the future, begin by building connection and community. Every successful classroom begins with community, and each and every student regardless of their circumstances deserves to feel a part of the classroom. Quite simply, if we want students to be engaged in the content, then they need to feel connected to something. That something may be the teacher, their classmates, the content, or some combination of those. But connection is fundamental to content. So, as you work to help students make up for any unfinished learning, work to make sure that they feel connected.
Extend grace, trust, and understanding.
We may never know all of the individual experiences that have impacted a student’s journey through this pandemic. We must offer grace, trust, and understanding as they enter our classrooms. We must extend grace as they make their way with grade-level content and understand that there may be unfinished learning that is impacting their ability to participate. We must offer understanding that this is NOT their fault. Their unfinished learning is not attributed to a lack of trying. Most importantly, we should trust the students. We should trust them to engage with grade-level content even if they have some unfinished learning. We must trust them to participate in a space with which they are comfortable. This will take time, but if we truly want them to be successful academically, we need to trust that they are going to do the very best they can given the circumstances.
Use positive language.
Avoid language like COVID slide, learning loss, below grade level, low student, and other phrases with a negative connotation. These phrases can communicate to students that this is their fault. In addition, communicate positively with the students. Honor how hard they are working and how they are working to make up for learning time that was lost during the pandemic. Praise students for what they do know instead of communicating what they don’t know or how behind they are.
Focus on Engagement.
If we want students to be able to make up for unfinished learning, we need them to be engaged during class. One way to increase engagement is to create learning experiences that are memorable and positive. Consider instructional routines in mathematics. For example, 3-Act Tasks, Solve and Share, Notice/Wonder, and Number Talks are non-traditional ways to engage students in the content. These tasks are highly engaging and generally allow students to apply a variety of mathematical concepts as they work. They also have a low floor, meaning that all students can begin to engage in the content without support. Utilizing the Solve and Share each day will be critical to formatively assess how students are engaging with the content prior to formal instruction. This information is critical for teachers to adequately differentiate and help each and every student continue to grow academically.
Solve & Share from enVision® Mathematics ©2020, Grade 2
Give all students access to grade-level content.
Don’t focus all of your energy on remediation. Work to provide grade-level content to each and every student while incorporating content that may have been unfinished. Focusing on content from previous grades as a replacement for grade-level content perpetuates inequity and will continue to widen the opportunity gap. For example, consider using lessons that expose students to the grade-level content, but be aware that you might need to give examples from the previous year or provide extra scaffolding to address unfinished learning. You can also use small-group instruction for students that need extra support.
Focus on conceptual development.
Spend critical instructional time focusing on developing an understanding of key concepts rather than procedures and tricks. It can be tempting to focus on mnemonics, for example, and other tricks to catch up on lost time. This will only perpetuate a surface- level learning of the content and create inequities among students. Invest the time to build a deep conceptual understanding, and students will continue to grow more quickly in the long term.
Consider supplemental materials.
Continue to use your core curriculum to build a deep conceptual understanding of grade-level-appropriate lessons and simultaneously empower your students to understand where they need extra practice. Consider the supplemental materials you will need to provide so that they can take ownership over that learning.
“Our students are resilient, and with out support and dedications, we can help them make up for lost time and continue to have positive [academic] experiences.”
Emphasize the core content at each grade level.
Achieve the Core (2020) released a document entitled, “Priority Instructional Content in English Language Arts and Mathematics.” This resource names instructional content priorities in mathematics and ELA/literacy and breaks down each priority by grade level (K-8) and standard to help teachers understand what grade-level content requires intentional focus. This work can help make sure that as we make up for lost time, we do not unintentionally skip content that will impact future academic understandings.
Embrace clear content, appropriate assessment, and professional learning.
Students and teachers should be very clear on the content they’re teaching and the expectations for learning as we work to make up for unfinished learning. We must also rethink how we assess students given their learning experiences during this pandemic. And, professional learning for teachers on how to implement effective instruction is critical.
Slow down and have fun.
Trying to combine two years of learning into one is not advisable. This will undoubtedly frustrate both students and teachers. Rather than trying to make up by just doing more and more lessons, we encourage you to slow down and have fun! Take this opportunity to get to know your students in new and exciting ways and remind yourself how fun teaching can be! When you are enjoying yourself, students will enjoy themselves too. And when everyone is engaged in learning, deep thinking can occur. Take this opportunity to slow down, and enjoy the teaching and learning together with your students.
- Charles, R.I., Bay-Williams, J., Berry III, R.Q., Caldwell, J.H, Champagne, Z., Copley, J., Crown, W., Fennell, F., Karp, K., Murphy, S.J., Schielack, J.F., Suh, J.M., Wray, J.A. (2020). enVision® Mathematics ©2020 (Grades K-5). Paramus, NJ: Savvas Learning Company LLC.
- Berry, R.Q., Champagne, Z., Milou, E., Schielack, J.F., Wray, J.A., Charles, R.I., Fennell, F. (2021). enVision® Mathematics ©2021 (Grades 6-8). Paramus, NJ: Savvas Learning Company LLC.
- Instruction Partners (2020) Guidance for Accelerating Student Learning. Retrieved from https://instructionpartners.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/Guidance-for-Accelerating-Student-Learning-2.pdf.
- Student Achievement Partners (2020) 2020–21 Priority Instructional Content in English Language Arts/Literacy and Mathematics. Retrieved from https://achievethecore.org/page/3267/2020-21-priority-instructional-content-in-english-language-artsliteracy-and-mathematics.