To his amazement, Mr. Eric Chong discovered that his students at Simon Sanchez High School had not heard about learning loss. He sprang into action. Each student had to figure out how to address the stupefying impact of both pandemic-driven and summer learning losses. Their academic life depended on it. While daunting, the students quickly realized that it was not too late to mitigate their losses and sprint forward during the coming weeks of the long summer break.
COVID-19 has caused most students to lose one full year of learning. Compounded by learning losses experienced by many prior to the pandemic, the threat to academic progress looms large. The impending academic sinkhole has to be bridged. Consequently, the 2021 summer must be viewed as the most important summer ever. Turning learning loss into learning plus is of the essence.
The challenge? Persuading high school students that it is up to each of them to make the transformation happen. Without teachers pushing and prodding, and while some parents will be encouraging, each student has to take reign of their own educational journey and become a self-motivated learner. Students have to be intentional about turning learning loss on its head. Only then, could Mr. Chong’s class of juniors at Simon Sanchez take a big bite out of learning loss.
Being the great teacher that he is, Mr. Chong took steps to engage them. He built their awareness and capacity to understand what was at stake through a sequence of strategies for achieving success. First, they had to define learning loss, understand the different types of losses and figure out which action steps would most effectively mitigate their own underperformance.
He assigned his students to write a brief but well-documented paper on the topic. Once they named what was causing them to fall behind, they could explore which action-steps to take to move forward. Together, they discussed the threats to their becoming college- and career-ready. They now had the context for considering how best to transform learning loss into learning gain.
Mr. Chong invited me to speak with his students on what they needed to do to stop learning loss and reverse their academic trajectory upward. I joined them using Google classroom and they were ready to listen. He took the steps to prepare them appropriately. The sequencing and timing for my engagement were spot on. These Sharks were raring to kick learning loss in the teeth. They were tasked to listen and take heed.
Mr. Chong introduced me to them. I had previously volunteered to work with seniors on their TED Talks, so he was familiar with my style of being direct and to the point. The students were respectful and attentive. I performed. My voice and gestures punctuated important highlights of my message. I spoke, they listened. They were instructed to write a reflection on my presentation sharing how they would incorporate what they heard into their actions going forward. Since they had done the research and had been put on high alert, they wrote their hearts out.
Each member of the class sent their reflections to me by email. I, in turn, wrote back to each of them personally on how I was affirmed by their responses and proud of their commitments. I have never, in all my years of engaging with students, received such a range of meaningful reflections. Their messages to me spoke volumes about their quest to take responsibility to become smarter through reading. They understood the need to grow their vocabulary. They revealed in various ways that they got the message loud and clear, learning to learn and bridge losses was in their hands. Reading throughout the summer, looking up new words, discussing ideas and making sense of what they needed to know to prepare them for college and career became a roadmap and an urgent priority.
They decided to be the best Sharks that Simon Sanchez has ever let loose on the real enemy blocking their climb to the head of the class. Once each student decided to become the single most important person advocating for their own success in school and in life, the climb to readiness for their final year in high school was within their reach.