Gary Coker Ph.D
The Coronavirus has caused schools to close throughout the United States. As things begin to return to normalcy, the question is: “How should students make-up the time missed as a result of the virus”? Obviously even with the best schooling at home, there is likely to be some loss of learning.
Research is conclusive— students learn less with online classes than similar peers in traditional face-to-face school learning.
This makes sense, because learning is a social activity. The evidence shows positive effects are stronger where technology is a supplement for teaching, rather than a significant replacement. Technology is a tool for learning and should not replace the teacher.
Special students or disadvantaged students will be hardest hit. Children from poorer households or households that do not embrace the learning process in an organized manner or where parents do not give adequate help when problems arise are at a tremendous disadvantage.
Before the school closures, children who were struggling academically were placed at risk. Asking these students to work independently through large parts of the curriculum on line can create stress. Many of these students function below their grade level and when the process requires them to regulate their own learning pace a formula for disaster is created.
I hasten to add this is not an argument against on-line learning. Digital learning offers much potential for schools and students. Computer-aided tutoring shows positive results when used to support learning.
It cannot be considered academic equivalency to shift teaching online to large populations during a pandemic and expect equal results as to the teacher in the classroom.
So, what should school systems do when they re-open to help students bounce back.
When school re-opens students are likely to be behind. Some will be far behind. Many students will have a lot to catch up on to move up a grade in 2021. Local schools have several options. Getting students to repeat a year should not be one of them.
Acquisition of pre-requisite skills necessary for advancement to the next grade or level is a priority. Without these skills a domino effect can occur with social promotions and a student losing interest in school and simultaneously adopting a negative self-image.
So called catch-up programs offer the school system the opportunity to access the academic level of students relative to their grade level and provide intensive instruction in small groups before and after the normal school day. These sessions should be targeted at the most disadvantaged and struggling students in groups of two to five students. Positive results have been noted for co-operative learning with students who are advanced leading small groups.
Another option is intensive face-to-face academic programs delivered over a few weeks. This should be similar to what we once called ‘summer school.’ These programs have a strong academic focus and target struggling students.
The school calendar could be adjusted to incorporate the month of June as make-up time. Research indicates intense programs during the summer can help students gain two months of extra learning compared to similar students who do not take advantage of the ‘summer school’ learning. The impact of this type of approach is greater when academically focused and delivered intensively with small groups by experienced teachers.
No doubt schools and teachers will do their best to continue student learning while schools are closed. Through this process we will also learn a lot about how to implement on-line learning for large populations and improve along the way.