It’s 2021. It’s been a minute since I last posted. Three job description changes. Two sons married. Three grandchildren later. One pandemic. And still, I am learning. Over the past five years, I have had so many topics I could have and should have written about. But for now, I will start here. I was encouraged by my dear friend, Kara Vandas, to think out loud about learning this past year, and I realized I had some very strong feelings about the year – my greatest around how we adapted on-line learning from the start of the pandemic to the beginning of the end (hopefully).
We spent so much time with too many students learning from home. I feel like it’s a good place to start by recognizing what good we have learned from this experience instead of continually drowning in the idea of learning loss. Here is a small piece I shared with Kara…
As I connect with different friends and acquaintances around the nation who work in the world of teaching and learning, I hear too often how much learning loss there is with children over this past year. What I really wonder is if we, as educators, should be so quick to make such an overarching claim? And if we do, perhaps we will unknowingly bring it to be.
[Before I go any further, however, let me say that I understand some children have been in dire circumstances this past year away from school, and that certainly may have caused great trauma to them in their learning. This is not uncommon to educators; the pandemic made it even harder for us to address.]
One notion I just feel we should be more willing to accept is that the learning loss we are so quick to call out is measured by some very traditional, and not necessarily super accurate, measures of learning. I think we do ourselves, our students, and so many of our parents a disservice as to how much our students DID learn. Let’s just break that down for a minute. During our time of with on-line learning, hybrid learning, or masked-up in-person learning, our students have still been doing just that – they have been learning. To say they have not would be completely inaccurate, and I feel everyone can agree to that. The difference is that the learning our students have gained is not necessarily measured only by adaptive software, district benchmarks, or state assessments. I think it can be measured by something more. And I wonder if we should not look at some uncommon measures in order to build a student’s learner efficacy.
Self-efficacy, according to social scientist Alfred Bandura, is the belief in one’s capabilities. Those capabilities are tied to what and how one approaches what they are doing including but not limited to – learning! Bandura states in The Encyclopedia of Human Behavior (1994) that, “By sticking it out through tough times, people emerge from adversity with a stronger sense of efficacy.” Our learners certainly had tough learning through the pandemic. If we only look to measure student learning only through traditional measures of standardized testing – limited in its illumination of learning even in the best of times – we are limiting the efficacy of learning.
Perhaps it’s time to look at what we can celebrate around learning instead of what we can not. Bandura also states that, “People’s beliefs about their abilities have a profound effect on those abilities. Ability is not a fixed property; there is a huge variability in how you perform. People who have a sense of self-efficacy bounce back from failure; they approach things in terms of how to handle them rather than worrying about what can go wrong” (Self-Efficacy: The Exercise of Control, 1997). [How can that not make you stop and think?]
One uncommon measure would be to look at learner dispositions. What skills have students gained over the pandemic? How do they approach learning now that is different, stronger, and more self-directed than when they were in the classroom? Learner agency is the ability for students to understand, guide, and reflect on learning themselves. What if we looked to measure the level of agency a student has gained during the pandemic and then worked to build that skill in our learners to help navigate the academic knowledge we also wish to grow?
As we move forward out of this interesting and challenging school year, let’s find those wonderful attributes that have served our learners well and build upon those. Instead of reminding ourselves over and over of how terrible the learning loss is, let’s build the efficacy of learners by building their learning dispositions. Start with praising their grit, noticing and noting their curiosity, facilitating their adaptability. This is the way to address learning in the setting sun of the pandemic. Our learners can be resilient – if only we believe and help them believe they can be.
It is great to start up this publication again. I’m excited (and more than a little bit nervous) to put it out there again. Either way…Incipimus iterum.