The new question-of-the-week is:
What is accelerated learning? What are specific accelerated learning strategies, and do they have a place in the classroom this year and in the future?
Today, Nancy Frey, Ph.D., and Douglas Fisher, Ph.D., share their response.
I have previously shared my recommendations on accelerated learning at The Kind of Teaching Kids Need Right Now.
No to ‘Learning Loss’
Nancy Frey, Ph.D., is a professor in educational leadership at San Diego State University and a teacher leader at Health Sciences High and Middle College. She is a member of the International Literacy Association’s Literacy Research Panel. Her published titles include Visible Learning in Literacy, This Is Balanced Literacy, Removing Labels, and Rebound.
Douglas Fisher, Ph.D., is also a professor of educational leadership at San Diego State and a teacher leader at Health Sciences High. Previously, Doug was an early-intervention teacher and elementary school educator. He has published numerous articles on teaching and learning as well as books such as The Teacher Clarity Playbook, PLC+, Visible Learning for Literacy, Comprehension: The Skill, Will, and Thrill of Reading, How Tutoring Works, and most recently, How Learning Works:
We have been lamenting the phrase “learning loss” since we first heard it in June 2020. Has there been learning loss? Are the 6th graders now reading like 3rd graders? Did students forget all that they knew? Unlikely.
If we accept this phrase, and the thinking behind it, we run the risk of lower expectations for students. The logic goes, there was learning loss during the 2020-21 school year, so we need to spend time remediating that loss during the 2021-22 school year, thus not teaching all of the things we would regularly teach. Then the next year, we need to catch up again. When does this deficit thinking end?
What if students come to believe that they didn’t learn during the 2020-21 school year? Might they say to themselves, “I worked really hard but I guess that I didn’t learning anything, so why try hard this year?” Do you see the reduction in self-efficacy? And might teachers say, “I tried my best and I saw students learning, but I guess it wasn’t good enough, and learning was lost. I guess my efforts didn’t really matter.” Do you see the demoralizing experience?
We recognize that there may be unfinished learning, but we see that as a very different concept from learning loss. If we accept the learning-loss narrative, we’re more likely to focus on remediation, which would mean slowing down and focusing on isolated skills. This makes students feel punished, embarrassed, and inferior. Often, they are bored in remediation efforts and pay little attention to the experience. Instead, we should be focusing on acceleration. We’re not talking about skipping units or grades, but rather we draw on the research on accelerated learning for students identified as gifted and talented. The lessons learned from that body of evidence can be mobilized to benefit all students. There are five ideas we have drawn from the acceleration research:
- Find out what students still need to learn. Use initial assessments before any unit to figure out what students have already learned. And then, importantly, cut out the lessons that focus on the skills and concepts students already know. We can’t waste time “teaching” content students have already mastered. Instead, we need to identify areas that still need to be mastered and then design learning experiences to address those needs. For example, a quick vocabulary inventory can be used to determine students’ concept knowledge about a topic. If they can list concepts and explain them, then we don’t need to teach those ideas.
- Build key aspects of knowledge in advance of instruction. To ensure that students go from the known to the new, we need to ensure that students have sufficient background knowledge. Without sufficient background knowledge, it’s hard to make sense of the new learning. In the past, teachers had to spend time building background knowledge, conceptual knowledge, or vocabulary knowledge during class time and thus had fewer minutes for the new learning. Given all we have learned about technology, educators can now provide students access to short videos, even interactive videos using systems such as PlayPosit or EdPuzzle, to ensure that students have increased knowledge before the live lesson. In doing so, instructional minutes are allocated to the new learning, and more learning can occur.
- Increase the relevance of lessons. When students find lessons relevant, they are more likely to engage in self-regulation behaviors. We can accelerate learning when students make the choice to engage and to allocate resources (time, attention, effort) to the learning. We’re not suggesting that lessons are limited to students’ current interests, but some lessons can easily be connected to students’ passions. Other times, the passion of the teacher increases students’ perception of relevance. And still other times, teachers make sure that students have opportunities to learn about themselves and see the usefulness of the content in their future.
- Active, fast-paced lessons. Remediation is slow; acceleration is quick. There should be an urgency to the learning experiences but not so much pressure that students become anxious. And teachers need to ensure that there is sufficient wait time that allows students to think and process. Having said that, it’s important to recognize that there is a pace to a lesson that communicates to students that this is important and that the teacher has high expectations and believes that the students can accomplish the learning. In addition, students should be active during the lesson, engaged in a range of tasks such as talking over possible solutions with peers, grappling with ideas, hearing the thinking of teachers, and so on. These lessons need to be chunked in ways that respect the cognitive load placed on students, and ideas need to be revisited and practiced.
- Build confidence. Some students are less confident in their learning than they were prepandemic. As part of our acceleration efforts, we should be focused on student confidence and their willingness to stick with challenges. When students display a lack of confidence, we work to rebuild it. We show them that effort is normal. Confidence is reduced when you think you’re the only one who doesn’t understand something. Sometimes, students think that they are struggling more than they are. In those cases, they need their teacher to show them how much they have already learned. In addition, setting goals together, teaching students to self-assess, and celebrating success all serve to build confidence. Feedback, from teachers and peers, can also serve to boost confidence, especially when the feedback focuses on the ways in which students process the task and not just if they completed the task correctly or not.
These five aspects of acceleration have the potential to address unfinished learning. They also have the potential to change the educational landscape in the long term as we learn how to reduce the amount of time we spend on things students already know as well as how to leverage technology to build students’ background and vocabulary knowledge in advance of instruction. As we pick up the pace, and provide scaffolds, we can ensure that students learn more and better because we have learned and changed.
Thanks to Nancy and Doug for contributing their reflections.
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