Reflecting on what we learned

Guest post by Jessica Belanger @MrsJBelanger

Politicians, teachers, psychologists, and parents alike are discussing the learning loss occurring during this lost year. Simply put “learning loss” into Google and you can see over 1.12 billion results. The belief that this is a year of lost learning is not only incorrect, but it is harmful to the morale of school staff and parents as well as to the success of students. People who, often drastically, adjusted their lives to meet the needs of students are being told that their efforts are not enough. Students whose routine was completely disrupted are told, you didn’t learn enough.

Yes, students missed school due to required or optional temporary and long-term learning at home. Yes, students learned in a variety of, often less than ideal, environments. But no, this is not a lost year because students ARE learning – they are just learning things they can’t find in a book.

The unpredictability of learning during COVID-19 has taught students how to be adaptable, flexible, and resilient outside of the isolated, heavily structured environment of schools. With parents who are balancing work and home life, many students have been forced to take responsibility for their learning. Students have learned how to independently join meetings, do their work, seek help from teachers, and manage their time and schedule. Instead of teachers trying so hard to foster executive functioning skills in students, students are developing these skills themselves in a truer to life environment. A friend of mine had a discussion with her grade 6 class who had to transition to emergency at-home learning. She told them that they are now responsible for their learning as she can’t go to their house and make them learn and their parents can’t do the work for them. Her class changed from a class who needed to be externally motivated to work to a class that stepped up to the challenge by cracking open their agendas and joining drop-in help times. When Terence Tong, a middle school teacher, started online learning in Spring 2020, teachers “had to force students off screen to make sure students take the necessary breaks – get some water, go to the bathroom, stretch, and give their eyes a rest.” When students returned this year, “learners began advocating for themselves and taking breaks when necessary, communicating via chat message that they were going to walk around, give their eyes a break, and come back in five minutes.” Students are resilient, they learned new skills and adapted to an ever-evolving learning situation.  

Let’s not forget what skill students developed the most: technology. I taught grade 1 online in 2020. My class of six- and seven-year-olds were able to join our Google Meets with complete independence. From turning on their tablet/iPad to going to Google Meet to putting in the password (my last name) to muting and unmuting, camera on and off, screen sharing, and changing backgrounds. Never before have I had Grade 1 students even be able to spell my name, let alone type it!

It is important to acknowledge that some students struggled with this learning model. Not all students had equitable access to the resources needed for successful online learning. At minimum, online learning requires access to technology and a solid internet connection. Students do their best learning in a safe environment conducive to learning, which was not the at-home learning environment for all students. Depending on the age, parental help will make a huge difference to online learning success. Those who lacked these required resources as dictated by technology and Maslow’s hierarchy, struggled during online learning.

Students were able to learn numerous skills during this “lost year” while living through history. Right now, students are in the middle of one of the world’s most widespread pandemics in recent history. For the first time in history, excepting the World Wars, sports, schools, movies, celebrity events, and more were cancelled. Restaurants, theaters, hairdressers, and schools were closed. Living in history provides nearly limitless potential for project-based, interdisciplinary learning. Students can research the origins and spread of the pandemic; learn about the role of governments during the pandemic; compare to prior pandemics; inequalities that have become more evident during COVID; problem solve what we could have done differently at the beginning, what we could be doing now, and how we can prevent the next pandemic; and debate policies and ideas to problem solve the pandemic. Students are living through a historical event that will be recorded in thousands of textbooks and discussed in thousands of classes across disciplines around the world.

Instead of focusing on what students didn’t learn during their unconventional learning journey and capitalize on those newly developed, non-quantifiable skills. This wasn’t a lost year or a year of learning loss, it was a year of gaining different learning. 

ROUGH DRAFT:

Hi there, this is my first time writing a pitch like this, I am hoping this is what you were looking for – I am always open to feedback and constructive criticism!

My name is Jessica Belanger, I am a Grade 1 teacher from Alberta, Canada. I use genuine relationships to create capable, educated, and empathetic students. Collaboration is the foundation of the teaching profession and we have the technology to connect to others throughout the world. I am passionate about career long learning and love how easy it is to access information that can better your teaching practice.

PITCH:

Politicians, teachers, psychologists, and parents alike are discussing the learning loss occurring during this lost year. That belief is not only incorrect, but it is harmful to the morale of teachers and the success of students. Yes, students missed school due to required or optional temporary and long-term learning at home. Yes, students learned in a variety of, often less than ideal, environments. But no, this is not a lost year because students ARE learning – they just aren’t learning thigs they can find in a book.

The unpredictability of learning during COVID-19 has taught students how to be adaptable, flexible, and resilient outside of the isolated environment of the school. With parents who are balancing work and home life, many students have been forced to take responsibility for their learning by independently joining meetings, doing their work, and managing their time. Students have been challenged to further develop their executive functioning skills. While some students struggled with this learning model due to lack of tech, support, or other reasons, there were many students who developed crucial life skills.

Students were able to learn numerous skills during this “lost year” while living through history. Right now, students are in the middle of one of the world’s most widespread pandemics in recent history. Sports, schools, movies, celebrity events, and more were cancelled, some for the only the first time in history, or second time if you count World War II. Restaurants, theaters, hairdressers, and schools were closed. Living in history provides nearly limitless potential for project-based, interdisciplinary learning. Students can problem solve how we could have done better at the beginning of COVID, what we could be doing now, and how we can stop the next pandemic.

This wasn’t a lost year or a year of learning loss, it was a year of gaining different learning

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