Do We Address “Learning Loss” or Something More Important This School Year, Namely Mental Health?

Many stories on the internet, TV, and radio are about “learning loss” and the “COVID slide.” Should these perceived phenomena be major causes of concern, or should other priorities, like our students’ mental health, take precedence? (Day 3 of the 30-day Writing Challenge)

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Are Learning Loss and the COVID Slide Even Real?

According to Rachael Gabriel in this article for the Washington Post, the answer is no. She says the following in the article, which resonates strongly with me.

It is loss of a previously imagined trajectory, leading to a previously imagined future. Learning is never lost, though it may not always be “found” on pre-written tests of pre-specified knowledge or preexisting measures of pre-coronavirus notions of achievement.

Essentially, “learning loss” and the “COVID Slide” are measurements against standards created long before there was even a hint of a pandemic derailing our ability to pace instruction as we had before. Additionally, as Gabriel said, the assessments were not true measures of learning, for they did not address much of the learning that occurred this year.

We need to devise new ways to assess student readiness for the next grade level, college, or career. The exams we had before are not valid. We are testing students whose education was constantly interrupted, and who needed to navigate new technology and processes, with the same test administered to students who learned under much better conditions.

Please tell me, how that is fair?

The Ways We Educate and Assess Need to Change

Everyone wants to get back to “normal,” but we also know that we are not going back to the “normal” we knew pre-pandemic. Let’s face it: this school year will be only slightly less weird than last year.

We should revisit everything put in place pre-pandemic: standards, instructional strategies, content, rubrics, assessments, etc., and ask tough questions about them all. Meanwhile, we need to serve the students in front of us and ensure they get all the help they need to become healthy, happy, successful, and productive members of the community.

Here are the questions I have come up with so far.

  • How can we incorporate Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) into an already-crammed curriculum?
  • What do students need to know and be able to do in this current environment?
  • Should we revise the grade-level standards by moving some up and some down?
  • What instructional strategies work best now?
  • What content should we teach and what can we put aside?
  • How can we revise assessments to better meet the needs of our students and accurately measure their learning?

Let’s Work Mental Health and Self-Care into Our Curricula

As a literature and language arts teacher, it’s probably easy enough to weave mental health and self-care topics into a curriculum. Heck, most writers we teach can also teach us valuable lessons about these topics.

I propose this: instead of drilling the “cold read” and spending so much time on text-dependent analysis that takes the author out of the interpretation, let’s spend more time discussing these authors and the challenges they faced, along with how those challenges presented themselves in their writing. Study how the biography and the text itself inform us about the human condition. Let’s return to the time during which preparing to read the text was as important as reading it, and bring back an author’s biography as a “must know” instead of a “nice to know.”

My word, we could spend a whole year on Fitzgerald. How lovely that would be.

Adjacent to this proposal is the need to revise assessment. In AP® Literature and Composition, for example, going deep into a text would not afford the students enough time to practice those dreaded multiple choice questions. Oh, dear. (That was sarcasm.)

You know, ditching MCQs would be a great idea. Instead, why not have the students produce original papers based on their research and interpretation of a text they have studied extensively? Wouldn’t that be a better way to evaluate a student’s progress and learning?

I think other subject teachers will also find it fascinating to contemplate how they can weave these topics into their curriculum. I would love to read replies from teachers everywhere!

Thank you for reading my third article in the 30-day writing challenge.

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