Instead of Talking About Learning Loss, Let’s Talk About Learning Gained

Topics: Assessment and Accountability, Overcoming Challenges

As this new school year gets underway, many are looking towards students with concern. What deficits formed over the last 18 months of interrupted learning? What measures must we implement to mitigate learning loss?

Learning loss implies that no learning occurred or that students regressed. Or, as shared by Antiracist Education Now, “learning loss is deficit thinking. The narrative that students have ‘lost’ a year of learning dismisses that young people have spent the past 18 months learning what no other students have had to learn: how to survive in a global pandemic.”

What happens if we take an asset-based approach to assessing learning?

In bearing witness to this pandemic, youth have seen how communities did or did not support their most vulnerable members. They witnessed medical discovery the how the results of that work were delivered to the public with very mixed reception. They saw how the daily reporting of numbers and statistics informed public policy and discourse. They saw what happens when health and wellness is prioritized and when it is not.

And throughout the upheaval of the pandemic, still underway, our students learned.

Learners acquired new knowledge, strengths and real-world skills, many that align with district and state Portraits of a Graduate. That attainment didn’t necessarily follow a curriculum outline and learning through something so devastating is by no means ideal, but still, learning happened. We insult our learners when we focus only on learning loss. Instead, we should focus on learning gained and use that as a jumping off point for moving forward.

  • Communication: Students learned in real-time how to effectively communicate over their district and school technology. Conversation threads in online classrooms shaped a different type of communication and collaboration than had perhaps been unplanned, but certainly furthered learning and helped develop real-world skills.As educators, how can we support learners to apply these new communication skills across more contexts and in more mediums?
  • Hard Work and Resilience: Experiencing what many adults unexpectedly launched into remote working environments did, learners had to manage their online classes and homework. Sometimes they had the support of a parent or caregiver, but often they had to be their own project managers. They used goals set by their teachers, created personal goals and persevered when facing challenges.How can we help our learners take lessons learned from this past year to help develop deeper understandings of personal learning style and supports needed for success?
  • Wellness: Students gained knowledge of the urgency around health and well-being and observed the gaps that exist when healthcare systems are pushed past capacity.How can we support our learners to take what they observed and experienced and develop a deeper understanding of how to advocate for their own wellness?
  • Digital Literacy: When in-person learning wasn’t available, many of our students moved to remote environments, engaging with their teachers and peers through digital platforms. Where previously digital literacy often focused on social media and assessing the legitimacy of sources, our students demonstrated that it also applied to consuming, creating and adapting in an educational environment.How can we help our learners look at their own digital literacy, assess strengths and gaps and create plans to deepen their knowledge?

With personalized, competency-based learning, it’s essential that educators help our students know themselves as learners. We have an opportunity to help our students own their learning from the past eighteen months – learning that absolutely did occur – and apply that to their future learning journeys. We have an opportunity to help them learn from the past and affect not only their own futures but all of our future.

Helping our students apply lessons learned from the pandemic about their own learning can lay the groundwork for learning as a lifelong practice, an essential element of human-centered learning.