Now What? — A six-part series focused on education fixes as we head back to school in person.
One of the biggest question marks swirling around schools reopening this fall has been how much learning students have actually lost since the start of the pandemic.
While early reports claimed students had fallen months behind during remote learning, more recent data paints a less worrisome picture. However severe it is, schools need to address gaps in student learning, but how they do so could have long-term repercussions.
With some schools set to rely on old approaches like holding students back a grade or employing remediation to reteach everything a student missed, research has shown that these methods are ineffective and can actually exacerbate learning loss.
Instead, experts are recommending an approach known as accelerated learning. The term itself is a bit of a misnomer since it’s not about simply speeding through curriculum. Rather, it’s about keeping students motivated through grade-appropriate work; or another way of thinking about it is “just-in-time” interventions — the right type or amount of support at the right time — to fill in gaps in learning.
For example, instead of spending weeks covering an entire missed unit in math, teachers can look ahead at the grade-level standards to determine what are the most important skills students need to have and cover that material in a class or two. Or a language arts teacher might see an upcoming text that she thinks might be too challenging for students. Rather than removing it for easier work, the teacher can design scaffolds — specific supports — to help students with understanding key literary concepts and filling in missed background knowledge.
“What we’re talking about are just best practices to teach children that haven’t been employed systemically,” says Bailey Cato Czupryk, vice president of practices, diagnostics, and impact at TNTP, a New York-based education nonprofit and vocal advocate for accelerated learning.
Data from a recent TNTP study in partnership with Zearn, a nonprofit organization whose online math platform is used by one in four elementary students nationwide, found that students who experienced learning acceleration struggled less and learned more than those students who started at the same level but experienced remediation.