by Jill Eggleton
COVID-19 came, an invisible thief. Silently and stealthily it infiltrated every corner of the globe, and it stole. It stole lives, it stole freedoms, it stole friendships, and it stole ‘learning time,’ a precious treasure of the young.
The theft of learning time translates to ‘learning loss,’ and while ‘learning loss’ is not a new buzzword in education, the COVID-19 thief has given it a new meaning.
This invisible thief ignited fear, forcing school closures and disrupting the education of students worldwide. Students lost time—time to consolidate and practice skills learned and time to build new competencies. While this time loss affected most students, it has been especially detrimental to those of lowest overall achievement.
The COVID-19 thief not only stole time; it stole teachers’ and students’ passion, motivation, and engagement—losses not so easily measured but of serious concern to learning growth.
Instead, it stirred up anxiety. Anxiety among parents who fear their child is below grade level. Anxiety for teachers who worry how to ‘bridge the gap,’ and anxiety for students who constantly hear they have lost something but are not sure what.
Concerns are indeed a reality. However, putting aside the negatives, I think we should also consider what has been gained. What have students learned in their absence from school as they have known it?
I am confident they have learned a great deal—skills that can’t be measured by a test score. Values, like resilience and contentment, gratitude, empathy, kindness, patience, and an appreciation of all that it means to be in a physical classroom environment with a teacher and their peers.
These qualities are treasures of enormous value for students as this educational crisis begins to dissipate and educators search for ways to regain the effects of time lost in learning.
There is no definitive answer to this question, as I believe there are many and varied ideas. However, I do believe summer school can be a very real solution to the problem of learning stolen by COVID-19.
Summer school provides opportunities for students to bridge the gap of learning loss simply by providing extra time. And time is especially important for the vulnerable, disproportionately affected students who have been robbed of gains they could have and should have made.
I’m not an expert in this area, having never experienced summer school as either a teacher or a student. But because of our current situation, I have given a great deal of thought to what really matters and what would be my focus, if I were to teach summer school.
I believe most importantly, I would endeavor to ignite or reignite a passion for learning.
A passion is something that can truly be lost and if it is lost, it will have an extremely detrimental effect on learning. I therefore would focus on learning that taps into the emotional part of the brain that motivates and engages students in the learning experience.
And so, I would read aloud to my students every single day without fail—a huge variety of rich literature—weird and wild and wacky stories! Stories that whisper, stories that shout. Stories that reach out and grab the heart of the listener.
As best-selling children’s author, Mem Fox, says, “There’s no doubt that reading aloud teaches. And there’s no doubt that little kids—and big ones—love being read aloud to.” In her book, Reading Magic, she goes on to relate this story about beloved Australian children’s author, Colin Thiele:
On flood days, when half the children couldn’t make it to school, the teacher—not wanting to “waste” her curriculum on so few children—would spend the day reading aloud. Flood days were magical for Colin. He claims he learned more about reading and writing by accident on those days than he did during the entire rest of the year.
I would read aloud with my students every single day without fail, the shared reading of rhythmical texts, and I would fill their heads with poetry—rhythmic gems, chosen wisely.
I know without a shadow of a doubt that this shared reading will provide my students with a great deal of information about reading. They will build a storehouse of language, words, phrases, structures and grammar. And most importantly, it will tap into the emotional part of the brain to ignite their passion for reading.
To not read daily to all children is to deny them one of the most basic and continuing motivations to literacy.-Don Holdaway
If I were to teach summer school, I would model what a writer does. I would craft my own story in front of them—always short—that is the golden rule. I would motivate my students to write every day from their own life experiences, not on contrived, teacher-devised topics that make no connection to them.
When students have the freedom to write from their own experiences, they are tapping into the emotional part of the brain. I would not expect or desire long, rambling writing, but rather short, succinct pieces. It is not the quantity but the quality that makes writing burn.
These are but three of the learning experiences I believe matter, and I would be focusing on these consistently and persistently every day for the three, four, or six weeks of summer school.
Naturally, skills instruction would be important. However, always in the context of engaging learning experiences that connect to the emotional part of the brain, the part that is responsible for motivation and enhancing learning and memory.
And if any lessons did not connect emotionally, did not spark a passion for learning, I would ask, how can I creatively adapt them to do so? As Dr. Thomas Armstrong says,
If teachers want their students to remember what they’re teaching them, the answer isn’t ‘just give them more hours, days, and weeks of skin-deep learning.’ The knowledge has to be connected with emotion, with their personal lives, with their memories, feelings, and experiences.
If I were teaching summer school, I would ask myself:
If I could achieve these things, then I believe summer school is a solution. My students would have a learning loss vaccine—an antidote against the invisible thief, COVID-19.
This school year, let JillE Literacy help you change “back to normal” to “back to better” with fast solutions for catching up skills and getting students hooked on reading.
What can Winnie-the-Pooh teach us about classroom organization and management? Find out in this article and free learning centers download from Jill Eggleton.
Do you use Into Reading in your classroom? Find out how to refresh and invigorate your Into Reading classroom with our new Companion Guide. This simple guide shows how JillE Literacy works hand in hand with Into Reading, offering resources designed to engage students, empower teachers, and make literacy instruction excel.
This month we’re taking a deep breath and getting ready for back to school (which will be here before we know it!) Check out the book and poem, and catch up on some video PD!
JillE Literacy was created by educator, author, and international literacy consultant Jill Eggleton, QSO. Since her earliest days as a classroom teacher in New Zealand, Jill has known that there is no room for struggle, pain, or boredom in reading.
Teachers need books that work as hard as they do. Today’s teachers have more demands on their time than ever. JillE Literacy lets teachers spend less time planning and more time teaching.
Engagement is key. There is no room for struggle, pain, or boredom in reading. To engage young readers, teachers need books and poems that spark emotion, imagination, critical thinking, curiosity, and creativity.
Foundational literacy skills need to be explicitly and systematically taught. You cannot read if you can’t decode accurately. However, you cannot learn to read by just learning to decode. JillE Literacy embeds explicit instruction and repeated practice in foundational literacy skills throughout every text, uniquely using highly engaging books and poems rather than the usual dull, decodable texts.
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