Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Learning Loss in the Time of the Pandemic

 April 21, 2021

Over the course of this past year of the pandemic, one of the greatest concerns I hear many people sharing is the issue of learning loss.  Some students didn't go to school at all at the end of the year last year either virtually or in person.  Some students haven't set foot in a classroom since last March and are continuing all of their education online for the whole of this school year.  And that has many parents (and some teachers) worried about what that will look like when kids return to whatever sense of normalcy we are striving to return to in our educational system. "Our kids are falling further and further behind," is the resounding lament.  "Our kids have lost a whole year of education!"

Falling behind.  Behind whom?  The reality is that yes, many of our kids have not had the full curriculum generally ascribed to a particular year or grade level in school, though it is woefully inaccurate to say that students have gotten no education in the past year.  (I say this as I know every colleague I know is working endlessly to try to reach and teach our kids in person, on zoom, and more often than not, both simultaneously.)  However, this is true of districts across our county, our state, our country, our world.  This was a global health crisis that affected the normalcy of life worldwide, including the landscape of education.  So if time stopped educationally for a year (it didn't), or even slowed somewhat, it in effect did so for ALL of us.  So where are the people who are speeding ahead of the rest of our students as all of this learning loss is taking place? I would even argue that schools across the world that opened up in person in some form before our school did were still wrestling with issues of social and emotional well-being in the wave of this pandemic that superseded some of the traditional learning.  Our kids are not falling behind other kids.

Perhaps what is meant instead is that our kids are falling behind the prescribed timetable of learning.  In first grade, one learns this.  In fifth grade, one learns that.  By eleventh grade, one should have learned these.  Yes, we have these parameters and benchmarks in place.  We have goals and articulated frameworks by which our students are intended to progress.  Goals are good and they are necessary. But they are created by humans.  They are artificial and moveable.  Grade level goals and standards, at the site, state, and federal level have been modified many times, in response to student achievement, educational access, and intellectual/emotional development and maturation.  Every time those achievement goals are modified in keeping with current understanding of all of those factors, the system has adjusted--from grade-level expectations, to standardized testing, to higher education requirements.  These benchmarks are not set in stone; they are man-made and can certainly be readjusted to reflect a realistic response to a global event that affected all of us, including our school-aged children.

I am not suggesting that we go backward, or that we throw out all the articulation that has been done from grade level to grade level in our schools.  But a slight readjustment of the traditional curricular plan might not be such a terrible response.  Nor would it tragic.  Nor would it be especially difficult. Nor would it be permanent, as these goals and benchmarks do, and have, changed over the years.  We have created these timelines, and we are creating a false sense of panic if we lament over the fact that students might fall slightly short of these yearly goals this year and next when we are the ones who can easily redraw the lines of demarcation.

Regardless of whether or not we do, in fact, reconstruct our current construct, we teachers will continue to do what we have always done in our classrooms:  figure out where our kids are, meet them there, and do all that we can to bring them forward to the next levels of learning, understanding, and processing.  I don't worry about learning loss in my classroom; I'm too focused on learning growth.

No comments:

Post a Comment