As we rebound from our COVID teaching experiences, there are several things that we will need to do so that we ensure that students continue learning. There is a great deal of media and political attention to the "learning loss" that supposedly occurred.
- Did students lose their learning? It's not as if the 7th graders are suddenly reading like 4th graders. Is there actual evidence of regression in academic skills?
- Or do they have unfinished learning? Perhaps they didn't learn everything that they might have. Maybe there are skills and concepts that they still need to be taught.
- And what about unexpected learning? Are there things that students learned that we didn't expect,such as 2nd graders logging into Zoom and problem-solving technology glitches.
Yes, educators need to talk a lot more about learning needs yet refrain from falling into a trap that involves deficit thinking. If we keep focused on "learning loss" we risk accepting the deficit thinking it implies and lower our expectations for students. Instead, we should be talking about learning leaps and how we can accelerate students' learning. There are several aspects of curriculum, instruction, and assessments that will serve us well as we change the narrative. But all of them start with student agency.
Students' agency involves the belief that effort and impact or outcome are connected. Students need to see the relationship between their efforts and the good things that happen (learning, experiencing success, seeing relevance). Some students have a damaged relationship with learning and you can help rebuild their agency and thus their belief that they can learn. Sadly, some of our students have internalized the "learning loss" narrative and believe that they did not learn, and perhaps cannot learn.
At this point, you're going to need to make the relationship between effort and outcome explicit for students. You might say, "When you x, I saw y happen." Or you might say, "Take a look at x. You did it! It's because of your y." Really, anything that we can say or do to show students that their efforts result in good things will increase their agency. And, as students experience greater success, their effort increases. After all, who doesn't like that feeling of success?
In addition to the explicit connections you can make, it's important to provide students with opportunities to self-assess and reflect. Of course, they’ll need tools to self-assess and practice doing so, but when they do learn to self-assess, students can monitor their own progress, make adjustments to their learning, and seek feedback.
You can also collaborate with students about their goals. When students have learning goals, they learn more. When you talk about the learning goals and help students understand why they are important, they are much more likely to focus on the goal and allocation effort toward reaching that goal. Talk about agency! When students have goals, put forth effort, and experience success, their agency grows in leaps and bounds.