With the end of a stressful year in sight, many educators and learners are looking forward to the end (hopefully) of a marathon of unprecedented challenges. While teachers faced obstacles to learning with amazing flexibility and grit, most of the education community is nervous about the learning outcomes from the 2020-2021 school year.
As we plan for summer, here are a few considerations to set students for ongoing learning.
Remember that in education, one size rarely fits all learners. Language, economics, and other factors mean that not all students have the same level of resources in the summer months. Keep equitable offerings in mind as you plan summer activity and resource options, and as you plan during the summer for back to school. As outlined in the Council of the Great City Schools’ publication, Addressing Unfinished Learning After COVID-19 School Closures:
While school closures have impacted all students, some students, such as ELLs, students with disabilities, students with learning or attention issues, economically disadvantaged students, foster children, and homeless youth, will be disproportionately affected by school closures and the unanticipated, rushed switch to distance learning. When schools are back in session, the temptation of education systems will be to pull these at-risk students out of classrooms to provide enhanced support and remedial coursework. But now more than ever, it is essential to ensure that each and every student has equitable access to engaging grade-level content and instructional rigor.
All students should have equal access to learning and growth 12 months a year.
Shore Up Unfinished Learning
More than ever before, educators worry about how distance learning and other logistical complications from the past school year have impacted student learning. Even if the data is available and accurate to identify learning needs, the task of shoring up foundational skills and grade-level concepts is a daunting one. The advice of the Council of the Great City Schools is as follows:
In reviewing district grade-level standards curriculum leaders need to be asking not “What are the topics that need to be covered in this grade?” but “What is the importance or purpose of this topic?” It is also an opportunity to clearly illustrate examples of the level of rigor the district intends as the target for student grade-level work, and the associated language demands. At the same time, it is necessary to keep in mind that standards describe outcomes, not inputs. It is up to teachers, with support and guidance from the district, to decide which inputs are most important for building student knowledge and skills and warrant the greatest time investments.
Hence, in preparing summer instruction, materials for at-home learning, and strategies for a strong back-to-school, focus on a deep understanding of critical concepts rather than trying to cover all aspects of each.
Encourage Active over Passive
Over the past year, educators, parents, and students have been especially restricted in their movements and activities. These constraints may have increased any anxiety that a student already had.
According to Reid Wilson and Lynn Lyons, therapists who specialize in anxiety, one of the best tools parents and educators can use with their anxious children is to be optimistic and positive. Educators can also help by supporting students as they take small risks — nothing dangerous, but to try things that make them a little uncomfortable.
Not all summer activities are centered around core standards, and that’s okay. Enrichment in the summer can help with student anxiety and burnout, as well as giving students practical background knowledge for when they are back in the classroom.
With summer activities, remember to be active. This can be physically active through sports, nature interactions, or other ways of moving your body and seeing other places, but it can also be intellectual. The more that the student is acting on curiosity or is engaged in an activity, the more they will learn from it.
Focus on Creating Rather than Consuming
Akin to being active is being creative. If a student is making, building, exploring, or questioning, they will learn more than if they are being passively entertained.
Summer is a great time for crafts, building, and unstructured creativity. Not only is it an opportunity for incidental learning, but creativity and problem solving are valuable characteristics in and of themselves. According to Sara Sparks in a Feb. 2020 EdWeek article, “In the past year alone, creativity topped lists of the most valued skills for students to develop in polls of parents and teachers, as well as surveys of employers in professional groups like LinkedIn.”
Use summer materials, activities, programs, and at-home connections to encourage students to be curious and to grow their skills as makers.
Well-Being for Students, Teachers, and You
Providing materials, resources, and a culture that supports wellness is as important for educators as it is for students. As the school year finishes, don’t forget to take time to celebrate accomplishments, set reasonable goals with a growth mindset, and support a little bit of self-care. The year has been a challenging one, and celebrating even little wins and breaking big dreams down into achievable goals can help all of us to recover and be ready for a new year and a new learning adventure in the fall.
Council of the Great City Schools. (2020). Addressing Unfinished Learning After COVID-19 School Closures.
Sparks, S. (2020). A Creativity Conundrum: Can Schools Teach Students to Innovate? https://www.edweek.org/teaching-learning/a-creativity-conundrum-can-schools-teach-students-to-innovate/2020/02
Wilson, R. and Lyons, L. (2013). Anxious Kids, Anxious Parents: 7 Ways to Stop the Worry Cycle and Raise Courageous and Independent Children. Health Communications, Inc. Deerfield, FL.