How will pandemic ‘learning loss’ affect your classroom this fall?

  • Depending on where you teach, your recent school year was a combination of pandemic closings, virtual classes, and in-person teaching with masks and social distancing. Physical classrooms had fewer students; in-person attended on different days of the week; teachers had to manage students who had varying levels of available technology at home.

    And “learning loss” became a real issue, especially for Black and Hispanic students and students with special needs. Even if schools return to a more normal routine in the fall, teachers will have to assess whether – and how far – their students are behind.

    A survey of nearly 1,000 teachers, administrators, and support staff this spring found that more than 97 percent of teachers say their students lost ground over the past year when compared to previous years. The Horace Mann Voice of the Educator Study in March 2021 also said that 57 percent of teachers estimate that their students are lagging more than three months in social-emotional learning, and 47 percent said that the gap has widened between students who perform well and those who struggle. The gaps were most significant in high school, the survey said.

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    A TIME magazine story at the end of 2020 quoted the McKinsey & Company reported that students may be as much as nine months behind in some subjects, such as math, and that students who belong to minority groups may have lost as much as a year. ““While all students are suffering, those who came into the pandemic with the fewest academic opportunities are on track to exit with the greatest learning loss,” the report said.

    In addition, “Learning disruption can have real, measurable consequences for the country,” the Horace Mann survey reported. “The Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco estimated pandemic-related economic disruptions may increase the number of high school dropouts by about four percent over 10 years, resulting in a measurable economic impact over time. Some educators are already seeing the beginning of that trend: One high school teacher said their school has multiple seniors who have been largely absent this year and are in danger of failing. ‘They are working outside of the home and helping their families make ends meet. Some have been sick or lost loved ones to COVID. It’s hard to focus on learning’,” respondents said.

    What can you do to help level the playing field for the students in your classroom this fall? How can you best help yourself meet their learning loss with successful educational challenges?

    Brain-Based Tools for the Classroom, a three-credit course from Dominican University Online, can help you address the needs in your classroom with innovative teaching methods. By using more than 30 brain-based tools to encourage and enhance learning, you’ll find more ways to meet the learning-loss challenges students are facing.

    “This course allows teachers to obtain an understanding of proven methods of brain-compatible instruction into the K-12 classroom,” the course syllabus says. “The course will help teachers understand how the brain, mind, and body function in the learning process; demonstrate methods to reinforce students’ memory and concentration; and illustrate ways to enhance learners’ outcomes across a broad range of skills.”

    Course objectives include:

    • How to identify and assess different levels of brain-based learning activities;
    • How to develop brain-friendly plans, routines, and coherence for the classroom; and
    • How find and create new motivational strategies for your students.The course uses Michael Scaddan’s book, 40 Engaging Brain-Based Tools for the Classroom (Corwin Press, 2008, $34.95). Scaddan explores the concepts of enhancing relationships, reducing stress, harnessing energy and memory, and promoting understanding through learning styles, learning preferences, and goal setting. In a section called “Putting it All Together,” he discusses framing, prewiring, loops, feedback, mind maps, and reflection.Teachers and students shared many experiences during the pandemic, and one of the prime common ones was stress. Scaddan cites research that shows that the negative effects of high stress include weakened creativity, impaired memory, and decreased ability to prioritize, among others. “High stress is a barrier to learning,” he writes. “It sends signals to the amygdala, the ‘flight-or-fight’ response center in the brain, and reduces flow to the thalamus, which receives input from all senses except smell.“Although some stress is necessary in the classroom as a motivator, only when high stress is minimized will the brain allow cognitive learning to take place,” Scadden summarizes.Through seven modules, Brain Based Tools for the Classroom evaluates “macro strategies” for brain-based learning, focuses on fostering a brain-friendly classroom culture, and opening pathways for the brain that promote understanding and learning among students. The course is self-paced, completely online, and participants have nine months in which to complete it.

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