Learning Loss Recovery: 2 Case Studies of Successful Schools

Previewing Success Stories

There has been an ongoing discussion of COVID learning loss: how much learning did students forget from March of 2020 to the school’s return and how effective hybrid or complete remote learning has been since then.

In a recent survey, teachers from eight different countries, including the US, reported “that students were on average two months behind where they usually would have been by early November 2020.” Also, “teachers in schools where more than 80 percent of students live in households under the poverty line reported an average of 2.5 months of learning loss.”  

That leaves districts and schools trying to answer this question –
How can we implement a realistic school plan that will address this learning loss gap? 

Learning Loss Mitigation Funding: Technology Alone Won’t Address the Gap

With the coming influx of federal funding, school districts will have the money and resources to find solutions to this question. However, Mark Schneider at the Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences cautions schools to not rely on artificial intelligence-based tutoring software and other high-tech ed-tech applications, as they have disappointing and inconsistent results; saying, “On average, the effect size is zero… the U.S. needs a lot more investment in research and evaluation of what really works in education.”

We agree completely. And while there is no immediate fix, we can start to close gaps and learning loss by implementing highly effective research-based learning strategies using two proven Acceleration school models.

get started learning loss recovery

Learning Loss Solution One: Accelerated Summer School 

The traditional summer school’s goal was to provide struggling students with additional time with content and catch them up to grade-level expectations. With decreasing budgets, summer school became an idea of the past because it was one of the first items to be removed or dramatically reduced. 

However, the pandemic has brought summer school back into the conversation, and numerous states are looking to fund or just mandate some type of summer school to provide students the opportunity to continue their learning.  

The traditional summer school model structure was to return to the previous grade-level curriculum and reteach the same content but faster. The model is based on the assumption that the second exposure to the content would now stick, and the students would “learn” the content.  

The major problem with this thinking is that when students are having difficulty understanding a concept, and we wait until the school year is over to return to that concept, they have to restart their study of that concept, not simply add to it.

summer school previewing cartoon

Summer School Myth Debunked: Moving Forward Not Backward

Research tells us that self-esteem and self-efficacy account for half of the students’ achievement. Returning to content that students were already supposed to learn will decrease self-esteem and self-efficacy. To best prepare students for the upcoming school year and give them the self-efficacy to succeed, summer school needs to focus on moving forward and not going backward.

Accelerated Summer School with a Focus on Previewing

Didn’t you say that most districts cut summer schools over the years?  Yes, I did.  However, summer schools with a Previewing focus did exist before budget cuts. Here is an example of a school that implemented Previewing Summer School. This story is based on a direct account from the building leadership during the summer program and may not reflect the current administration.

Seaford School District – Camp Blue Jay at Blades Elementary School

After attending Catching Kids Up training, the administration began changing their summer school to focus on previewing key essential concepts and skills for the upcoming school year, especially those concepts and skills taught during the first grading period. The Assistant Principal stated that “the goal was that at the end of September, these students would say, this is the best year I have ever had in school.”

Experience with a Previewing Summer School

At the time, we asked the administration to share their process and experiences from implementing Camp Blue Jay (Previewing Summer School). Here is their account:

“The first thing we tackled was designing a curriculum for our teachers to follow. The reading specialist and I created a template and outlined the first unit of Language Arts. We incorporated ideas and resources for utilizing Learning-Focused strategies for vocabulary, reading themes, phonics skills, and more, divided up into sections matching the primary skills presented for that grade level. Once the Language Arts section was complete, the lead math teacher at Blades Elementary pulled together the main math vocabulary and skills for teachers to use. All the resources and curriculum maps were provided to each teacher in a summer school resource binder. Before our first session, we had Learning-Focused come to Seaford and train our summer school staff to use the strategies outlined in Catching Kids Up. 

We received high praise from classroom teachers following the first “Previewing” summer school. As a result of the surveys and teacher emails that we received, we changed our extended day program during the school year to a previewing format as well. Teachers expressed delight at the change in some of their students. Many students who did not usually respond during class were suddenly responsive and engaged.

We added to the following summer school program curriculum and began to flesh out the math units. We invited Learning-Focused to return and train our summer school teachers in Catching Kids Up. Even though some of the teachers had the training last year, they benefited from the experience. They were more knowledgeable and were able to share their positive experiences with the new summer school teachers. Everyone walked away excited. The strategies and support we received were valuable for designing their summer units using the provided curriculum and resources. This process helped our summer school teams develop a more robust understanding of their content and the importance of previewing. 

We have supplied teachers with resources, an organized framework to plan for student learning, and Acceleration training. It works!  With resources and instructional time being in short supply in education these days, we must utilize every second with these students. “

Previewing Summer School: All Levels

The key takeaway from Camp Blue Jay at the Blades Elementary School is that effective implementation of a Previewing Summer School must include: 

  • Curriculum from the next grade level
  • Establishing essential concepts and skills for learning
  • Advance Organizers
  • Learning Key Vocabulary
  • Using Graphic Organizers
  • Linking and Building Prior Knowledge

Learning Loss Solution Two: Previewing during the Academic School Year

I previously wrote about the differences between a focus on remediation and an emphasis on previewing in this blog, Catch-Up At-Risk Students: How Do You Move Them Forward Quickly and Effectively? Here is an example of a school that successfully used this model to significantly improve student learning throughout the school year. This story is based on a direct account from the building leadership that implemented previewing during the academic school year and may not reflect the current administration.

Oxford Area High School, PA

After a yearlong school improvement process, Oxford Area High School identified the Learning-Focused Instructional Framework as the most natural fit to raise student achievement and narrow the achievement gap. Here is how the principal described his previewing experience:

In November, Learning-Focused presented “Catching Kids Up,” During the training session, the idea of previewing key vocabulary was stressed along with the importance of prior knowledge, as it is a necessary component to connect new knowledge and skills. The Oxford administration took this idea to heart. It developed a special education previewing class in which a Learning Support teacher would teach vocabulary and fundamental concepts derived from regular education courses.  Special education students would have exposure to this information in advance of the regular education teacher covering the materials in class, thus providing students with much-needed prior knowledge. Regular education teachers were asked to plan far enough to communicate with the special education teachers to provide accelerated instruction to the neediest students. For example, students reading The Scarlet Letter or The Crucible need to know what a “theocracy” is to understand the settings and conflicts in those works.  In math or science, vocabulary consists of difficult or unfamiliar terms and key concepts/formulas. Reducing complex terms like hypotenuse to more understandable language such as the long side of a triangle opposite a right angle would make learning more accessible to struggling learners. 

Although this method of instruction seems logical and easily developed, it did not come without challenges. One of the first obstacles identified was the method by which teachers communicated for planning purposes. The administration quickly learned that teacher lesson plans and student learning outcomes could significantly vary in the same courses taught by multiple teachers. The courses needed to have a prioritized curriculum taught at a similar pace if the special education teachers would create previewing classes with meaning effectively. Developing and sharing common Student Learning Maps and acquisition lesson plans was the solution. Also, the regular education teachers began to collaboratively offer a “previewing lesson plan” to the special education department delineating the key vocabulary, content, and terms that would be discussed in all similar classes within the department. This approach reduced the amount of “research” the special education teachers had to do to plan previewing classes and allowed them to focus on preparing the special education students with prior knowledge and exposure to the information.

The previewing classes, for all intents and purposes, replaced the bulk of instruction offered during our traditional Study Skills and Resource Room classes within our special education department. Instead of offering 100% remediation after a regular education concept was taught, the learning support teachers were instructed to begin the school year previewing content immediately rather than waiting for kids to fail before working with them. Previewing classes were directed to be a minimum of 60%-70% acceleration/previewing of material and 30%-40% remediation/review of information. By offering prior knowledge, exposure to vocabulary, and new experiences one to three days in advance of the regular education lesson, special education students’ learning experiences were being “scaffolded.” This idea is very similar to the Previewing summer school idea of offering a preview of the first 3-6 weeks of a target course a student will be entering the following school year versus the traditional summer school remediation program.

The previewing initiative at Oxford Area High School has been an exciting journey. In the beginning, there was apprehension amongst teachers and students alike. After refining the process and “rolling with the punches,” we now have special education students who are more actively involved in their regular education classes. We also have regular education students and parents asking how they can enroll in a previewing class because they have heard of its benefits. This year, by no coincidence, we have obtained the highest special education benchmark data in math and reading that we have had in at least the last eight years.  Previewing made a significant difference not only in student achievement but in teacher morale.  Many of our Learning Support teachers have suggested that the previewing initiative has made them “feel like part of the team” and like they “were actual teachers.” There is no doubt the Learning Support teachers were real teachers and part of the team, but previewing most importantly has made them a bigger part of the solution to achieving student success.

The most important part of establishing a previewing class is to understand that for a Learning Support teacher to do acceleration/previewing, they must know what the regular education teacher is going to cover in advance. Regular education teachers must plan far enough in advance to share key vocabulary and concepts. Communication is essential between all participants, and administrative monitoring and support of the initiative is absolutely vital.  Developing a previewing class is not an impossible task; in fact, it is rather easy as long as there is a plan and a core group of administrators and teachers dedicated to raising achievement and reducing any achievement gap like those at Oxford Area High School.

Oxford Area High School used bold ideas to catch up their struggling students, changing how their teachers prioritized curriculum, collaboration, and communication. They saw firsthand how these shifts in their school’s way of work were the necessary foundation for implementing a successful Acceleration and Previewing Model and catching up their students to grade-level.  

Why wait for your students to struggle next year before deciding to take action? Connect with us today to learn more about Catching Kids Up! training and how we can help you create an Acceleration and Previewing Model for your school! 

Don Marlett

Don has been an educator for 20 years. Before joining Learning-Focused, he taught High School and Middle School Science and worked as a school administrator. Don has participated in school evaluations focused on the implementation of High Yield Strategies. Don leads product development, provides leadership training, and coaches educators in the implementation of the Learning-Focused Instructional Framework. @MarlettDon

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