Many educators believe that students “learn what they are taught”, which is why we have reading and math tests to show how they are learning. This is a huge misconception: Students learn so much more than what they are taught. They learn how to think, how to unravel knotty problems, how to solve complex problems, how to communicate effectively, how to manage their time, how to guess what others are thinking, how to decide what is important, and how to learn from mistakes.
When we talk to our students, let’s focus less on ‘learning loss’ and more on their learning leaps.
In the winter and spring of 2021, as the year of distance and hybrid education continued, I began to notice a decline in attendance, especially among my highest achieving students. The students told me they were waking up late, but when I advised them to set an alarm, they said the thought of getting out of bed was too much for them – not because they were lazy, but because they had symptoms that resembled depression. Some of my students missed class because they were in virtual therapy sessions.
About 15% of the 60 students in my two grade 8 math classes – that’s 9 or 10 kids – regularly see a therapist for academic anxiety. That’s an alarming number. I know that this fear is amplified for them by the fact that in the news and on social media they constantly hear and read reports of knowledge loss. A simple Google search on the term coronavirus knowledge loss yields a list of 410,000 research articles, many of which focus on how to bridge the gap created by the pandemic.
My 13- and 14-year-old students internalize the damaging narrative that they are falling behind. My eighth graders, many of whom will be first-generation college students, are very concerned that because of this one school year, they will no longer be able to get into good universities, find good jobs and provide for their families. As a teacher, I know this to be no less true. I know how hard we all work to make sure my students learn at the same level as students who don’t have the pandemic.
And yet, I recently had a conversation with four of my students about how depressed they were because they let their families down due to their lack of knowledge. Regardless of what their report card says, these students see the news and think they are retarded. Telling students that they are behind and falling short is a misconception and a disservice to them and their pursuit of excellence. The students I teach this year are different and learn differently than the students I taught in the 2018-2019 school year. Among their peers, however, my students have similar results.
When I read that a student is late, my first question is: by whom? When I look at my 60 Zoom squares, I see that my students have mastered complex skills, such as B. Solve a system of equations by using a computer program to create a graph. My former classmates, on the other hand, could only solve systems of equations with graphs on paper. The term knowledge loss implies a deficit and that the students lack something. Instead, we need to use asset-specific language. I think we need to talk less about learning loss and more about the progress my students have made over the past year.
They demonstrated a technological prowess that I wasn’t even aware of. When we started the year, I assumed I would never see the students’ work unless they took pictures of it, but together the students and I found a way to do eighth grade math at a level similar to the paper and pencil method. I’ve seen them take selfies on their Chromebooks and use a computer program to pretend to do a pencil sketch.
My students have been able to adapt and develop in a way that will only increase their chances of success in an ever-changing technological world. They are making great strides in their education through the COVID-19 pandemic; they are not losing anything. No 13- or 14-year-old should feel like they are falling behind because of unclear standards. Let’s make sure we use the right language and make the right comparisons. The COVID-19 pandemic has given us an opportunity to rethink training, and also what we mean by mastery.
What is a sign that an eighth grader is ready for college? For me, that’s a solid knowledge of solving algebraic equations and graphs; a desire to be an active member of society; a thirst to learn and succeed. If these skills can be mastered, I know my students will succeed. So let’s stop thinking students are in need and talk about getting involved. Our children are listening and we have a duty to celebrate their work and not overlook their achievements. Instaphotos photo, licensed from Canva.