Introduction by Dr. Sherry Seston
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted education and learning for millions of students in Wisconsin. Luckily, many school districts had a some experience in virtual and asynchronous learning and were able to continue delivering educational activities during the stay at home order last year. However, most students admit to not learning much in the spring of 2020, no matter what their official transcripts say. The changes and uncertainty of Spring 2020 and the anxiety they caused prevented much meaningful learning from taking place. In the current school year, each district, school, and child has had a different experience. Some learners have actually flourished at home and enjoy the freedom of virtual school, while others are failing – feeling inadequate, disengaged, and alone. Even students earning “good” grades have confided in me that they feel they are learning and retaining less information.
What can we do to help students get back on their pre-pandemic trajectory? Teachers and educational systems have done a tremendous job adapting; however, each person has had a unique experience causing the delays or deficiencies to be different. I think there is a lot of reason for optimism. Shut downs have forced us to learn to use technology to communicate and learn in many new ways. Many of these practices will continue, increasing access and reducing disruptions to eduction in the future. I am afraid that care-free snow days may be a thing of the past!
Students have also adapted and many have become much more independent learners, discovering for themselves, out of necessity, that they can solve-problems and learn without constant guidance. These hard won skills will not be forgotten and will help them in the future. But still, there will be persistent learning gaps and delays – concepts or skills that were not fully explored or developed this year. One of our tutors, veteran high school English teacher Andrew Miller, wrote an interesting article that we thought would be helpful for students and parents. It is posted and linked below (with Andy’s permission).
COVID SLIDE: HOW DO WE KEEP OUR LEARNERS ON-TRACK?
by Andrew Miller (originally posted @ https://teacherstheyneed.blogspot.com/2021/03/covid-slide-how-do-we-keep-our-learners.html, March 4, 2021)
The term “covid slide” is being thrown around quite a bit lately and with good reason. The educational world is reeling from a year (two school years) of chaos, forced innovation, and fear. And now that we can stop and look back, we’re left with a crucial question: What have our students learned over the last year? Excuse me, perhaps the better question is, What haven’t our students learned over the last year? The relevant concern with parents and students is how to proceed while ensuring that our children are being assessed fairly. But is skill non-attainment a disaster for our students? I highly doubt it. Although “covid slide” is a very real concern that impacts learners, there are steps that parents and students can take to remediate untaught skills and to stay on track for success.
What is “covid slide”, and why is it serious?
From March 2020 until now, educators, learners, and parents have experienced an educational world rapidly thrust into a state of chaos. Schools emptied overnight, and within weeks educators and learners learned how to learn a different way. I would argue that the last two months of the 19-20 school year probably required us to learn how to use ZOOM when we were supposed to grasp how to solve quadratic formulas. The social aspects of formal education diminished, and students needed to learn how to find the button to raise their hand, while teachers needed to figure out how to identify that a hand had in fact been raised.
It’s easy to speculate, and safe to say, that formal education underwent a massive, unexpected, rapid curriculum change. Let’s put this simply: we didn’t learn what we were supposed to be learning. Furthermore, I don’t want to even fathom what this meant for elementary school educators. It’s difficult enough herding youngsters into a room, let alone keeping them all focused upon online learning.
Now that we’re getting back to some level of educational normality, it’s easy to jump back into our old curricula, but wait… What about those skills we never taught? That’s where skill non-attainment (I’m officially done using the “covid slide” nomenclature now) comes to bear. We’re left with a huge question: How do we keep our learners on-track if they missed important skills?
I don’t want to downplay a very important concern, but we can rebound from this and perhaps become even better thinkers for our effort. I’ve outlined, in no particular order, steps we can take to overcome the side effects of skill non-attainment.
What students can do (and how adults can help) to attain necessary skills and stay on-track.
- Remember you’re not alone: The world is reeling from this. It’s tempting to look at our skill deficits and blame ourselves, but the educational world is a community. We are not alone, and we are not defenseless.
- Communicate: All parties can and should maintain a dialogue: educators, parents, and students. This isn’t just a now thing. This is an always thing. If there is a skill deficit, all parties can and should act quickly and appropriately:
-Teachers: accommodations, reteaching, pull-out sessions, enrichment.
-Parents: teacher meetings, tutoring, study groups facilitation, home lessons, online supplements, PTO, parent coalitions.
-Students: study groups, teacher meetings, pre-prepared questions for class.
Teachers are aware of this issue and have likely spent considerable time and resources learning how to identify skill deficits. Their role is that of identifying, communicating, and finding resources to remedy those deficits.
Parents also have many resources at their disposal. They can consult a wide variety of people. Other parents are dealing with this as well, and it’s possible to reach out to them. Teachers can also help parents understand what hasn’t been learned, why it hasn’t been learned, and how to remediate at home. It’s easy to feel helpless, defensive, angry, or confused, especially if the deficit is in an AP or high-level course, but the adults at home can help remediate un-acquired skills.
Students must recognize that skills build on each other. As a student currently enrolled in graduate classes, I’ve found that study groups always help learners grasp difficult concepts. Younger students especially should be carefully monitored to ensure that any deficit is not viewed as a fault but a chance to learn something new before moving on.
- Proudly/unashamedly ask questions: This applies to students, parents, and educators. Prerequisites are no longer assumed, and we cannot assume them for a few more years. This may mean some or all of us have to admit what isn’t known. One personing asking the right question can save an entire community of learners. Everyone remaining quiet on the other hand… I don’t think that’s a viable option. Here are some sample dialogues:
-Parent “Could your frustration be related to something you missed during the COVID lockdown?”
-Student “I don’t believe I’ve seen that term before. Can you remind me what that means?”
- Command YOUR OWN education: Students and parents have an opportunity to command education again. It may seem scary at first, but there’s nothing wrong with us taking initiative and teaching ourselves. I know this does not apply to all learners and all disciplines (not many parents can help with AP Physics), but internet technology offers us an unprecedented amount of knowledge available within moments. We are ready to take some of our education back. Why not now?
- Pre-empt and act now: When it comes to our learners’ future, we mustn’t take chances. Identifying deficits in crucial skills is a high priority right now, and when we find those deficits, it’s important for educators, parents, and learners to take steps toward learning untaught skills. We mustn’t assume that someone else will teach them or that the skills will eventually learn themselves. Lastly, adults cannot assume students will proactively seek out the resources necessary. We like to hope our learners will find what they need to succeed, but it’s difficult to find a thing when learners have no idea what that thing is.
So what now?
Community. The world of education needs now, more than ever, to establish itself as a community working together. We cannot accept skill non-acquisition and move forward as if the CoronaVirusCorona Virus Pandemic never happened. It did happen and we need to recover and persevere. Everyone plays a role in ensuring our learners receive the education they deserve: an education that prepares them for forward movement and personal success. Good luck! Please share your thoughts.