As teachers and students start – or get ready to start – the school year, people have been thinking about what’s important to focus on after the chaos and challenges of the emergency remote teaching and learning of last spring. How can teachers and students enter the school year in a way that best supports students’ continued learning and their development of a strong sense of mathematical identity and agency? How can teachers best find out about their students’ thinking and understanding? There has been a lot of discussion of “learning loss” or expected “gaps,” and of how to “catch students up.” While we understand these concerns and where they are coming from, we are wary of these views of students and student learning, as focusing on “gaps” can lead to inequities in experiences and outcomes. We are thinking about ways to approach the beginning of the year that boost students’ enthusiasm for mathematics and stimulate their thinking, that help build a math community, and that give teachers the opportunity to get to know their students and what they know.
Below is some of what we’ve been reading and finding useful as we think about the start of the 2020 school year.
- In Is Learning “Lost” When Kids are Out of School?, Alfie Kohn points to the tenuousness of the research on lost learning, and explains that “none of the research on this topic actually shows a diminution in learning — just a drop in standardized test scores (in some subjects, in some situations, for some kids).”
- Mark Chubb encourages teachers to focus on building a community of learners rather than on filling gaps in How Not to Start Math Class in the Fall – 2020. “The first few weeks need to be a time to build community, engage in rich learning experiences where we can notice student thinking and create opportunities for collaboration and discussion norms.”
- In Hearing Tests, Tina Cardone suggests focusing on communicating with previous-grade teachers, gathering actionable data through formative assessment, and using targeted assessments with students for whom you genuinely don’t know what they know.
- Heather Hill writes about ways to support students whose learning has been strongly affected by school closures and the pandemic without resorting to “a heavily remediation-focused approach to addressing unfinished student learning.”
- Rebecca Brooks suggests that we think about recovery instead of catching up in The Myth of “Catching Up” after Covid-19. “‘Catch up’ implies a narrow emphasis on curriculum goals with a focus on getting all children to the same end point as quickly as possible. ‘Recovery’ acknowledges that the impact of this crisis has been far wider than ‘missed learning’ and that we will need to begin where children are, rather than focus on where we would like them to be, and how to get them all to that same point as quickly as possible.”