Pandemic learning loss has sparked renewed interest in accelerated learning, a style of teaching that uses a scaffolded approach to help fill in what students have missed with smaller segments of instruction.
Instead of retention or requiring pupils to learn an entire year’s worth of material, acceleration provides students with catch-up materials throughout the year. But the approach requires a lot of planning and preparation from districts, schools and educators.
“The whole point is, as possible, to give them just the information and skills they need,” said David Steiner, executive director for the Institute for Education Policy at Johns Hopkins School of Education. “That’s easier for me to say than for schools to do.”
Accelerated learning can take a lot of forms, noted Steiner, a former commissioner of education for New York state. The strategy is being adopted as an alternative for remediation, which can include holding students back or forcing them to repeat a year of their schooling. That option is one that Steiner said “never works.”
With accelerated learning, students who need support in a specific subject, such as math, are taught only what they need before a lesson they haven’t learned yet.
“What we know is that you don’t need to know everything you missed to access next week’s lessons,” he said. “Instead, we say, ‘Here is a finite body of information that makes next week’s lesson accessible.’ That’s a very different system than you teaching everything they missed. It’s an ‘as needed’ strategy and a ‘just in time’ strategy.”
But one of the first elements needed to put accelerated learning in place is what Steiner calls “a really good set of diagnostics,” which should be given more than once a semester. The data from these tests can help educators support students based on their individual academic needs.
That help can include something as specific as tutoring. But, Steiner said, tutors need their own training to ensure the methods they use with students align with lessons taught in the classroom.
“Otherwise a child will be totally confused,” he said.
Steiner also acknowledged that time is needed to put a strong accelerated strategy into place and requires tremendous effort from people at the school and district level. He points to Baltimore City Public Schools in Maryland, and Hamilton County Schools in Chattanooga, Tennessee, as districts adopting an accelerated style of intervention.
“The bottom line is it does take a system, with the district office working with district schools and principals at the schools, thinking of personnel as a team,” he said. “It's not the simplest thing to do.”