High school teachers can focus on what they learned from pandemic instruction to support students’ learning in the classroom this year.
A common term currently used in educational communities around the country is learning loss. This refers to the supposed loss of learning that has occurred during the pandemic due to virtual or hybrid learning. While there were certainly changes in learning, there hasn’t been enough reliable quantitative data to support the idea that there was significant learning loss. In my experience, the term has a negative impact on students and teachers.
The Term ‘Learning Loss’ Can Have a Dangerous Impact
There are dangers in perpetuating the idea of learning loss in conversations about education. I think it’s important to avoid the assumption that learning didn’t happen in the last year. The idea that students have missed content causes teachers to feel forced to make up for lost time and assign lots of work for students to catch up on that content. Many students are in the process of adjusting to being face-to-face again.
So this, combined with the anxiety of feeling behind on their content knowledge, can create stress. But instead of focusing on this supposed learning loss, teachers can focus on the teaching methods that worked for them and their students when they were forced to be resourceful during an unprecedented health crisis.
What We Learned From Remote Teaching
1. Independent learning should be encouraged: In an environment where students and teachers feel like they’re out of control, encouraging independent learning helps return a sense of control back to the classroom, and students can thrive when they’re given independence in their learning. Project-based learning (PBL) is one successful strategy that teachers can use to support independent learning. According to PBLWorks.org, PBL is “a teaching method in which students learn by actively engaging in real-world and personally meaningful projects.” It fosters student voice and choice, thus creating independent learners.
I used PBL as an instructional tool in my senior English 4 class. We read Lord of the Flies, focusing on the theme of magic/innocence. The essential questions for our unit were “How do childhood experiences and our ideas of magic impact our lives?” and “How can we convey ideas through different forms of writing?” I tasked students with creating an amusement park that represented their idea of childhood or magic. This included multigenre writing components as well as a product that served as a visual representation of their park. I let students have choices in how they showcased their learning for the unit.
2. Being flexible has a lot of benefits: Instruction during the pandemic has required teachers to adjust their curriculum to be more flexible, and it’s important to maintain that flexibility in order to accommodate learners. Along those lines, teachers can rethink the idea of deadlines when accepting work in order to meet their students’ needs. Seeing the human in the student helps to relieve stress associated with deadlines and lets students create products of their own learning without fear of repercussions.
Flexibility isn’t easy to implement at first. It’s a complete mind-shift for teachers and students. First, I establish relationships with my students based on respect, and in order to maintain this relationship, they turn in their work. Flexible deadlines also work for me because my classroom is based on choice. I find that students are more motivated to complete assignments because they can choose what they learn and how they produce the evidence of their learning.
Of course, there’s a point where deadlines can’t be extended. For example, when grades are due for the district report cards, I don’t have flexibility anymore. I make my students aware of this so they don’t miss the opportunity to turn in their assignments.
Teachers can also show flexibility by creating innovative ways to reach learners through digital applications. Consistent and authentic digital technology integration in classes helps students ease back into a face-to-face environment and prepares them for the future. We’ve seen a noticeable shift in society to daily reliance on technology. Whether it’s communicating through email, presentations, or videoconferencing for meetings, students are going to need to be adept in maneuvering technology. Creating opportunities to use technology in the classroom helps students practice using digital tools.
You can easily implement tools like Pear Deck and Wakelet to enhance learning and instruction in the classroom. Pear Deck enables teachers to engage learners in interactive presentations and accommodate their students’ needs, while Wakelet allows students to be flexible in their presentation and collection of resources.
I use Pear Deck daily to display class content through a Google Slides presentation. With this tool, I can monitor who’s actually viewing the presentation, and my students have quick access to the linked documents for class. I find Wakelet especially useful for helping my students organize their content for projects. My AP language and composition students used Wakelet to creatively organize the writing and research components for their rhetorical analysis projects. Grading their projects was less time-consuming because all of the components were located in one place.
3. Communication is key: Communication was the key to success of learners during the pandemic, whether students were in person, virtual, or some combination of the two. Creating a connection with students and parents with consistent communication helped decrease anxiety over what was happening in the classroom.
One of the best strategies that I continue to use is weekly emails to parents. Every Friday, I send an email to my students’ parents. I detail what we did during the week, what assignments were graded, and what was happening with school policies in regard to masking and quarantine policies. It also includes what we are going to do in class the next week. This act of consistent communication helps parents feel connected to the teacher and their children’s learning.
Another successful strategy is to have students write weekly check-in emails. I start by having students just introduce themselves in their emails. I prompt their responses by asking specific questions about what they do in their free time—if they have a job, are on a sports team, etc. After the first email, students have the option of free-writing an email or using basic other prompts to inspire responses. In using this strategy, I’ve found that teachers can assess students’ academic writing and use these emails to inform their grammar and writing instruction.
On a deeper level, teachers can also use these emails to assess students’ emotional well-being and create positive connections and strong relationships with their students.