Wednesday, April 14, 2021

My Learning Loss Formula: Read, Write, Share

As I addressed in a post a month ago, the Henny Penny's of the world are running around clucking about how the pandemic will lead to inevitable LEARNING LOSS!!!!!  Learning Loss, as Peter Greene at Forbes, has pointed out, is the latest scare tactic being used by educational reformers to push their own agenda (standardized tests, vouchers, tutoring programs). In assessing any learning loss prescription, the first question we need to ask is, "Who stands to benefit/profit?" If the answer to that question is anyone other than school children, we should look for a different solution. 

Many educational researchers are looking at pandemic learning loss as a corollary to summer learning loss. Interestingly, summer learning loss is really only an issue for the most vulnerable in our school communities, those with limited access to literacy materials and other learning opportunities during their time away from school. Richard Allington found that simply giving vulnerable readers books to take home over the summer helped combat summer learning loss. We might conclude that it is not being in school that is most vital to learning, but rather it is about having easy access to opportunities that enhance learning.

With that in mind, I would like to propose my three-step program for combatting learning loss. I base this program on my own pandemic experience, which has been scary and frustrating, but has also opened opportunities based on increased free time.

Step 1 - Read Something

I have spent much of the pandemic catching up on my reading. I have read books that were assigned to me in high school and college that I never got around to reading before (Crime and Punishment, The Light in August). I have re-read some old favorites (Grapes of Wrath, So Long See You Tomorrow) and read books by favorite authors I had never gotten around to (Pastures of Heaven, Time Will Darken It). I have not neglected my non-fiction reading either (These Truths, Donald Trump vs. The United States, K: A History of Baseball in Ten Pitches). And I have also indulged my love of detective stories by reading the Bosch series by Michael Connelly and the Slow Horses series by Mick Herron.

As teachers, I think we should be spending most of our pandemic teaching time finding ways to encourage students to use a chunk of their pandemic time just reading. Just reading from books they have chosen to read for themselves. Engaged reading, it seems to me, is the single most important antidote to learning loss. Kids need help with this. Teachers help by sharing good books that kids might be interested in and by making sure they have access to them, online or otherwise. Reading something aloud to the students is a good start. Book talks are effective in sharing a variety of books of interest. This reading need not, of course, be limited to books. Interesting articles from online periodicals and news outlets are good fodder for engaged reading. 

Step 2 - Write Something

Writing something is the single best way to make learning concrete. When we write something, shape ideas into words, we internalize our own understanding. Writing also often spurs more reading as we try to get our ideas down just right. During the pandemic, I have used new found time to launch a new writing career based on my love of baseball. I am now writing short biographies for a website dedicated to baseball research. This work has reinforced in me the idea that writing is, in Jerome Bruner's terms, a unique form of learning. 

The pandemic, therefore, seems to me to be the perfect time for teachers to be finding ways to encourage their students to write. One good way to do this is to share your own writing. Teachers who write often spawn students who write. Your willingness to write (personal narrative, feature articles, poetry, whatever you like) and share that writing can be motivating to students. The key is to give kids choice in what they want to explore in their writing. The idea here is to just write. Just write about those things that matter to you, those things that you want to learn more about. Just write, imperfectly at first, to get ideas down on paper. To shape your own thinking.

Step 3 - Share with others

To be human is to communicate with others. Like all of us, my face to face communication has been limited over the past year. Family Zoom meetings and "Happy Hour" Zoom gatherings with friends have offered an opportunity for communication. Publishing my writing on the blogs I maintain and publishing with my newfound outlets like the Society for Baseball Research and the Internet Baseball Writers of America have provided other opportunities to share and get feedback.

Similarly, whether in person or through Zoom-type electronic meeting groups, students should be encouraged to share what they have been reading and writing. When we talk about what we have read, we must formulate our thoughts and reflect on our reading. This work requires a deeper, more deliberate understanding. Sharing what we write, first helps us to judge the effectiveness of our writing and second, gives us the opportunity to get feedback on that writing. Whether through the internet or in person in the appropriately distanced classroom, communicating about what we read and write solidifies and extends our learning.

So, there you have it. My three-pronged formula for combatting learning loss. It doesn't require a great big standardized test. It doesn't cost anything. It simply taps into what we all know is real and personal and lasting in learning.

No comments:

Post a Comment