Returning to School 3. Identifying & Responding to Lingering Learning Gaps

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Returning to School 3. Identifying & Responding to Lingering Learning Gaps

The word pandemic brings frightful images and evokes strong feelings including fear and loss as well as hope and even guffaws . Hollywood has done its part with “Outbreak” and “Contagion,” as well as “Idiocracy” and “Sharknado.”

In addition to interruptions in learning, there are social and emotional ramifications of school closings including isolation, stress, economic challenges, limited access to technology, and inconsistencies in home-schooling. Even when students don’t face these dilemmas, it can be perplexing to figure out what each child knows and complicated to accurately measure progress, identify lingering gaps, and determine appropriate interventions. 

Many learners become frustrated when they find themselves in a “learning pit,” as James Nottingham describes it. ( Like teeth that weaken from too many sweets, brain synapses can be altered from too little cognitive stimulation or too much emotional overload.
One of the resources I frequently turn to is “Knowing What Students Know” from the National Research Council. It informs and advises on numerous assessment topics from the neuroscience of learning to effective use of data. A fundamental take-away is that there is no single “best” practice in assessment. Instead, it is necessary to rely on a spectrum of assessments from factual recall, to analysis of evidence, and demonstrations of learning.

Accurate assessment is grounded in these ABCs:
   A. Alignment of assessment with standards, teaching, learning, and local assessments.
   B. Balanced, practical, and purposeful, assessment strategies for substantiating student learning.
   C. Coherent, meaningful, and useable responses to students’ evidence of learning.

Closing lingering learning gaps relies on these four practices for deciphering and diminishing them:
1. Determine the size of the gap. Lagging by one lesson requires different remediation than missing months of learning. Focus on the diagnostic aspects rather than solely summative outcomes.

2. Rely on multimodal summaries and reviews (i.e., reading, doing, observing, listening) that incorporate opportunities for all students to catch-up. Another option is to give students a choice of the best ways for them to learn and display their learning.

3. Transfer ownership for closing gaps to students, perhaps using a standards-based annotated checklist where students can rate their current level of achievement, describe what they do not understand, and choose strategies and resources to help them move forward.

4. Understand the cause of the gap. Content knowledge can be strengthened with a whole class review or individualized resources, reflection, and analysis. Encourage those who have higher levels of mastery to help peers. When learners face overwhelming social and emotional challenges, do not hesitate to seek professional support for them and you.

1. What elements of assessment have you mastered?
     How can you share (i.e. explain, demonstrate) your experience and expertise with others?
2. What skills and knowledge are most valuable to you?
       Which ones do you want to develop further and how will you do that?
3. What questions do you still have and skills you would like to develop?
     Where can you find the resources and guidance you need to move forward?

“I am still learning.” Attributed to Michelangelo, age 87

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