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For COVID catch-up, don’t remediate–accelerate

In 2022, accelerated learning will take off as teachers work to close pandemic-related learning gaps and discover the effectiveness and elegant simplicity of just-in-time review
By Dr. Gene Kerns, Vice President and Chief Academic Officer, Renaissance
January 27th, 2022

In 2022, accelerated learning will take off as teachers work to close pandemic-related learning gaps and discover the effectiveness and elegant simplicity of just-in-time review

One of the biggest changes educators will see in 2022 is the shift to accelerated learning. Educators have been experimenting with accelerated learning for some time, but in the last year or so, as districts looked for new strategies to address pandemic-related learning losses, organizations like The New Teacher Project have released reports on the effectiveness of the approach.

The phrase got picked up by the United States Department of Education and used in much of the department’s materials related to ESSER funds and stimulus money flowing to schools to address learning disruptions. As a result, if you look at almost any state’s recovery plan, you’ll find the phrase “accelerated learning.”

And for good reason, too. It’s an elegantly simple change, it appears to be quite effective, and it’s a perfect fit for the particular challenge we find ourselves in as we try to bring students back up to speed after a couple of difficult years.

What is accelerated learning?

A good marketer likely would have renamed accelerated learning before it was introduced to the public, because sometimes it actually takes more time to teach a given lesson when using this approach. Another term that is perhaps more accurately descriptive is “just-in-time review.”

The way teachers traditionally approach students who are not ready for grade-level content is to find out where they are, and then begin teaching them what they need to catch up. The big difference with accelerated learning is that educators only provide students with the instruction or review they need to understand the grade-level content they are currently working on. It does not mean less review or covering only grade-level content, but rather that the content that gets reviewed is always material that supports the grade-level content students are currently working on.

What is the benefit of accelerated learning?

Accelerated learning is beneficial in many ways, but I’ll just give a couple of examples.

First, when most schools returned to in-person instruction last fall, some educators were saying they wouldn’t teach any grade-level content and would stick to reviewing the most important concepts from the previous year for the first several weeks. The problem is not just that students aren’t growing during that review period, but that the review doesn’t come when it’s most necessary. Why review the prerequisites for geometry and statistics at the same time if the class is working on geometry in October but statistics won’t come up until March? Reviewing only the prerequisites for the lesson they’re about to learn makes it much fresher in students’ minds.

Second, consider a student who is lagging a couple of months behind their peers and works with an interventionist to make up that ground. If it takes them two months, their classmates have progressed another two months in the meantime. This can be a huge confidence killer for students, who begin to feel like they’re running in place no matter how hard they work.

If they work only on the skills that are relevant to the grade-level content their class is currently tackling, however, they are able to go back to their class and grow along with their peers as they put that recovered learning immediately to work.

How to begin accelerating learning

One of the most appealing aspects of accelerated learning is that it’s pretty straightforward. Schools don’t need to reinvent the wheel to help students get back on track. Teachers just need to refocus what they review with students so that it supports their current grade-level content. It doesn’t require four months of professional development before teachers can implement it, because it’s simply a narrowing of the scope of material that teachers might review with students at any given time.

To effectively accelerate learning, classroom teachers need to understand what the prerequisites are for their content, and interventionists need to know what their students are currently learning in their grade-level classes. Some joint planning time for, say, all the 7th-grade math teachers will reveal:

  • The students’ prerequisites;
  • Where students are likely to struggle;
  • What formative assessment tools for those skills may be available; and
  • What review resources are helpful.

Including the interventionists will keep them in the know about what students are studying in each classroom.

Many organizations are also offering resources to help teachers accelerate learning. The New Teacher Project has a COVID-19 School Response Toolkit, for example. On other sites, educators can find free resources that maps out the prerequisite skills for each grade and goes further to identify which skills are more difficult to learn relative to the other grade-level skills.

Accelerated learning will likely spread far and fast in the coming year because it is the right strategy for the challenge we’re currently facing. It will likely take root and continue to help students grow long into the future—because it works.

About the Author:

Dr. Gene Kerns (@GeneKerns) is vice president and chief academic officer at Renaissance. He is a third-generation educator and has served as a public-school teacher, adjunct faculty member, professional development trainer, district supervisor of academic services, and academic advisor at one of the nation’s top edtech companies. He has trained and consulted internationally and is the co-author of three books. He can be reached at gene.kerns@renaissance.com.

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