As a teacher, you care about your students, and you know each one of them is unique. They each have their owns strengths and weaknesses, different interests, things that set them apart and make them special. They also have different family situations, economic backgrounds, and living conditions.
So, the fact that remote learning this past spring has resulted in uneven learning and devastating learning gaps for some comes as no surprise. And even for kids who may not have struggled so much with learning — they haven’t been able to see their friends and participate in school events and activities. Added to that is the mental health burden this has placed on many.
This end of this past school year has been a huge undertaking for teachers, parents and students. This one we’re just beginning may be even harder, as decisions are made and then changed over and over again.
But for teachers, your goal hasn’t changed. You still care about your students, and want them to succeed, whatever success looks like for them individually. So how can you get there, from where we are now? Let’s look at some data to see where we’re at, which will help pinpoint how to get to where we want to go.
Where we’re at: the Data
These data points will help demonstrate what students really need, and then we’ll take a look at how those needs can be filled, but our goal is to make one message loud: now is the time to start planning for remediation, intervention, and enrichment. But we’ll get to that.
There are only a few months of data to pull from, but the evidence clearly shows that students are experiencing significant learning loss. And because students lack equal access to technology, and have varying home lives, these losses detrimentally affect those already at risk.
Research by the NWEA that has now been widely shared projects students learning gains to be only 63-68% for reading, and a jarring 37-50% for math. Typically teachers expect some learning loss due to ‘summer slide.’ But to lose nearly 30% of their learning in reading, and half of that in math is dramatically greater than any summer slide. It’s something now coined the ‘covid slide’, and it’s really just an estimate. Some experts think that in reality, things are worse.
Where it stands with students now, these numbers mean that many kids will be equivalent to one full grade year behind as they begin school this fall. For other students, who may have been completely disengaged, this may be more like two full grade levels.
All in all, students have lost roughly 30% of their in-person school year. The number above is an estimate based of the U.S. average school day of 6.6 hours, and an estimated 300 daily minutes of instructional time. If schools shut down around March 16th and the school year would end June 12, this gets you to about 19,500 minutes of in-person instructional time lost. Obviously this is an estimate and this number will change from school to school, but think about it. Many schools shut down in March, and kids never went back to school. So March, April, May, and the better part of June were done entirely remotely.
Schools and teachers rallied to get remote learning off the ground, and to be there for their students. But for many, remote learning simply wasn’t feasible, and some kids either didn’t engage or wouldn’t attend at all.
Chronic absenteeism was already a huge problem in the US, especially for students in high poverty communities. Has learning from home in any way closed this gap? No. Many of these same students lack access to needed technology and the internet. Some may be in homes where they are taking care of siblings and simply don’t have time. Some may be in abusive households.
In a poll of 849 teenagers, by Common Sense Media from March 24 to April 1, about 41% of students had completely gone dark, never logging in for a remote learning session.
While this dramatic percentage may have something to do with some schools being on spring break or not fully having remote classes set up yet, the numbers are still staggering. When you consider that these students have now lost 30% of, not just their in-person learning experience, but their entire learning altogether, a grim picture forms.
Home access to a computer
About 17% of students nationwide do not have a home computer. That’s 11 million kids.
Many schools provide laptops or tablets to their students so that they have a device they can use at home, but this isn’t every school. Some students still fall through the cracks.
Home access to the internet
14% of children ages 3-18 don’t have internet access at home. That’s something like 9 million students nationwide. This means that nearly 1 in 5 students doesn’t have access to the internet. And these numbers certainly aren’t distributed equally nationwide. Students in high poverty areas and those already at a higher risk of falling behind are the ones who have least access.
Many students’ mental health has taken a nosedive since the start of COVID-19. Kids are anxious, and dealing with the onset of or worsening depression. Students aren’t able to get the support they may have had in school, and many are dealing with abuse or neglect at home.
School is one of the biggest providers of mental health services. One analysis from 2012-2015 states that “among all adolescents who used any mental health services in the year, 57% received some school-based mental health service.” So what happens when that is taken away?
Even for kids who have a stable home and resources to succeed at distance learning, the disruption of remote learning, time away from friends, and uncertainty about the future creates stress. Stress can disrupt our ability to focus, feel empathy, and manage our emotions. It also impacts academic performance.
Student with disabilities also must have their needs served. Without the one-on-one, in-person care they receive in the classroom, this is becoming a crisis of its own.
So we know where things stand, and all off these issues may seem overwhelming. The data only tells a piece of the story. As a teacher, what you see every day with your students does not represent a statistic — you are seeing the real-time impact the pandemic is having on your students, your colleagues, and yourself.
Undoubtedly, your goal is to do the best you can to help your students. To reach a goal, it helps to really hone in on the problem you want to solve, and the specific place you want to go from there. From everything we’ve seen, the problem is clear: all students matter, and as it stands, all students aren’t getting what they need.
So from here the question is…
Where do we want to go?
Somehow, these learning gaps need to be filled. Ultimately, the goal is to ensure students are learning at grade-level. That means that not only will their prior-year skills be mastered, but the essential skills they need this year will be met as well. Included in that goal is ensuring high-quality care for students social emotional needs as well.
This looks like: students having equitable access to the materials they need in order to successful in their learning whether at school or at home. Students having the social and emotional supports in place to that they are equipped to cope. This is whole-child learning we’re talking about, that would be flexible and adaptable to student needs while upholding high standards and levels of rigor.
Right now the inconsistency of remote learning and the disparities in resources have been frustrating for students and parents alike. Consistent content and expectations from teachers, quality of work, and regular communication are all things that students need to thrive. Whether in or out of the classroom, this remains a goal.
All of these things may seem like a tall order in the already stressful circumstances teachers and school leaders find themselves in. As a teacher or principal, as you think about and plan for the new school year, your head may be spinning.
So, how can you ensure all students’ needs will be met? Let’s take a look at some of the current options school are looking at to close learning gaps.
How do we get there?
Getting from where we’re at now, to where we want to go, is not going to be an easy or linear journey. There isn’t one universal solution. Each school has its own specific needs, and each state has its own specific standards, which is what makes this such a challenge.
But when the goal is student success, which means working to close learning gaps and meet social emotional needs — there actually really aren’t that many options.
When talking about helping students regain learning loss to reach to point of mastering grade-level curriculum, there are really only two options.
You can either hold students back a grade level, or you need to come up with time somewhere to help them get back to learning at grade level.
Let’s face it, holding students back a year isn’t really an option. Considering the inequities students have faced, and the data we’ve seen, it’s ultimately unfair. It would be punishing students for circumstances that have been out of their control.
But now there is a dilemma. The goal is for students to be learning at grade level, and to have supports in place to help them heal and grow. But students are going to be at different learning levels when they return, again with some possibly even more than a grade level behind.
As with holding students back, it also wouldn’t be fair to teach students content that wasn’t at grade-level. In a recent Solution Tree webinar entitled Mind the Gaps, educator and consultant Mike Mattos said, “the finish line is the same,”. In other words, kids still need to graduate.
Some unique scheduling models have emerged this year as school are trying to designs a schedule that will accommodate all students, while also being flexible enough to help them make a quick shift from in-person to remote learning, or vice versa.
We work with schools across the country that, over the past weeks, have shared a wide variety of bell schedules with us, and we want to share them with you. These are schools that have carved a space of time out of their schedule that enables them to give students more targeted support and enrichment opportunities.
But there us one thing stands out – teachers and administrators are recognizing that time is essential to close learning gaps. But how do you create more time? Many schools are using a flex or advisory period, or ‘Office Hours’ to be available to help students. But it isn’t to create this time in the schedule, or manage it.
Let’s talk about some common challenges, and how to overcome them.
What are the challenges to get there?
There are some challenges to creating this time period. Rearranging time in the schedule, getting buy in from staff, and then managing the time are the biggest hurdles we’ve found from schools that we talk to.
Reorganizing the master schedule is a tremendous task. Trying to figure out where to create a flex period, and how, usually involves taking time from other periods during the school day.
There is often pushback at the idea of creating a ‘flex period’ like this, since this could mean taking a few minutes from each instructional block, from lunch, or even slightly extending the school day.
This can make getting buy in from other teachers, the principal, even the students themselves and their parents difficult. They may worry that students are going to be missing valuable instructional time.
The then there is the management piece. If your school, which may have hundreds and hundreds of students, is going to be sending different students to different teachers on different days of this week, there has to be a way to know where students are going, and when. And the students will have to know who they are going to see as well. This isn’t something that can be managed by handing out paper hall passes.
And as many school are limiting class sizes, reducing how often students move from one class to the other, and conducting at least some classes remotely — how could this ever work?
Meeting the challenges
There may be challenges, but meeting them isn’t impossible. As with most things, making a solid plan and having the right tools to guide you can determine whether or not you’re going to be successful.
When it comes to reorganizing time in the schedule, staff teams would really need to prioritize exactly what it is they want students to learn. What grade-level content absolutely needs to be learned? What are standards that students, teachers, and district administrators need to meet? As a team, schools need to figure out what takes priority.
And in argument of teachers losing a few minutes of instructional time, think of this. Let’s say your school runs a schedule with three 90 minute blocks, 30 minute lunch, and then two 45 minute blocks. To create time for a 40 minute flexible block, this could mean taking 8 minutes from each 90 minute block, 6 from lunch, and 5 from each 45 minute block.
Below you’ll see a visualization of how time is simply being reorganized, not removed from the school day.
Those minutes may seem like a lot of lost time, and certainly, instructional time is vital. But it is also vital that students receive remediation, intervention, and enrichment, especially in the midst of a pandemic that is creating learning loss and worsening mental health.
In fact, instead of looking at this as lost time, think of it as gained time. How? Well, what is the purpose of this block of time? It is to give students the supports they need for success, during the school day. This flexible block of time is intended to be used for whatever it is a student needs, without requiring time after school, without teaching prior-year content, and without holding any students back. This is time gained, not lost.
And there is another benefit, that may help with staff buy-in. No teacher wants to see their students falling behind. The meaningful relationships that students and teachers have became so clear during this pandemic. As schools shut down, one of the hardest things for kids and their teachers alike was simply not seeing each other.
Teachers want more than just academic success for their students. It’s not just about the numbers and test scores looking good. As a teacher, you know that your students are real people and with all they’ve been through, they’re hurting.
This is where that flexible time can be especially valuable. Yes, it can be an essential piece to helping students get needed time for remediation, perhaps even daily. But it can also be used for building relationships, for social-emotional supports, and enrichment.
As shown in the data presented earlier, students’ mental health has suffered these past months. Making time available in the school day, or in the week, for students to meet in small groups, or one-on-one with a guidance counselor or school psychologist will help students to heal.
Making a case for the benefits of a flex period can help other teachers and school administrators, as well as students and parents, to see why this time is so valuable. To learn more about meeting these challenges, read the post here.
But this still doesn’t solve the problem that most schools are going to be doing remote learning at least part of the week during this school year. So, can a flex period be managed remotely?
Managing this time – in or out of school
School is about students. They are the priority. So using a flexible time period, whether in the school building or not, will still give them the additional time they need to catch up and recover.
But does a flex period have to take place in person? Can schools run a flex period even if school is taking place virtually? Yes, if it’s managed right.
What does a virtual intervention period, or flex period, look like? As discussed earlier, in most schools, during a flex period small groups of students meet with one teacher for what they need. This could be an ‘Earth Science intervention’ for one group, ‘Algebra remediation’ for another group, an enrichment project for another.
Platforms like Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, Skype etc. have been used by teachers these last few months to provide instruction and support for students. Video conferencing like this, even a phone call, can be used to give students one on one, or small group support just as it would take place in school, but virtually.
At Enriching Students, our goal is to help teachers get more time with students. Teachers can use Enriching Students to schedule students to a flex period for extra help, enrichment, remediation, meeting with a counselor, etc. In addition, they can take attendance for students, email them their weekly schedule, and run reports to better target how a student’s flex period is being used.
To learn more about how to use Enriching Students to manage a virtual flex period, check out our page and video here.
We work with schools across the country who are currently shifting their schedule to accommodate student needs, while keeping them safe. Below you’ll see some schedule examples you might find helpful.
At one Junior High, students are split into an A-K and K-Z cohort. On Monday and Tuesday A-K students attend school in person, and K-Z attend classes virtually. One Thursday and Friday, K-Z go to school and A-K attend virtually. This is an approach becoming more and more common for schools choosing a hybrid schedule. But at this school, they also made it a priority to create time to best support students. Four days of the week teachers are available for ‘Office Hours,’ and on the fifth the school ensures time for their PLC to meet. Students can be scheduled, or schedule themselves, to see a teacher during this time for extra help. On Wednesday all staff and students learn remotely, and a large section of the day is dedicated to enrichment and intervention.
Another hybrid example is the schedule being used at Killingly High School in Connecticut. They similarly have student groups, or cohorts, A-K attend school two days, and K-Z attend school two days. On Wednesdays they have their flex period and make time for faculty meetings. They use an 8-period schedule approach, see an example of what it looks like in the image below.
Despite the challenges that come with the need for increased flexibility, social distancing, and remote learning, these schools have still made it a priority to carve out time for teachers to spend with their students, whether this be for the extra help and re-learning that this year will entail, for social-emotional support, enrichment, or just to talk.
What is the bottom line?
Your students are priceless.
The bottom line is that students need you more than ever. As a teacher, you need time to be there for them. Time is vital to help students attain to grade-level standards and graduate on time, and it is vital to support the mental and emotional health of all students. By creating the time to meet their needs, every student will be able to learn, grow, and become the best version of themselves. And that’s what it’s all about.
Let’s build a path to close the learning gap and enrich students’ futures.
Coming Soon! Reimagining Time: a podcast for educators
We’re excited to announce that in October we will be launching a brand new podcast. Reimagining Time will tell the stories of real educators who have used their imagination to give their best to their students. Our first episode will explore how one Massachusetts high school made time in their schedule for students to get the support they need.