While school may be out for the summer, parents, teachers, and administrators still have a lot on their minds regarding the potential learning loss caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to difficulties with distance learning, traumatic events, and inequitable access to technology, there are a significant number of students who have fallen behind.
As the 2021-2022 school year approaches, teachers and administrators have their sights set on accelerated learning strategies to address learning loss. To give a better understanding of what the upcoming school year could—and should—look like, Big Ideas Learning, a leading publisher of content-rich math programs, defines accelerated learning, highlights its benefits, and offers tips on what educators can do to diminish the academic gap and prevent students from falling further behind.
What Is Accelerated Learning
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, accelerated learning has been associated with two different ideas:
- Preparing gifted students for higher education
- Bringing students up to speed with their current grade level based on what they already know.
The COVID-19 pandemic has called for immediate attention to the latter.
Accelerating student learning requires that educators provide intentional, practical, just-in-time support to students. It's critical to note that "acceleration" does not mean rushing through content; instead, it means discovering where students need help so that teachers can assist them in continuing grade-level work.
What Isn’t Accelerated Learning
While the two are often associated, accelerated learning is not remediation. Yes, the two can have the same goal: to support students who are struggling to keep up. However, the classroom approach is significantly different between the two ideas. Both approaches require teachers and students to revisit previously taught material; the difference is when and how this is done.
Remediation often takes place after students have not been successful with grade-level content. Accelerated learning instead suggests brief pauses before instruction of new content to assess students' prior knowledge and take action by building pre-requisite skills into lessons. Through this approach, educators can focus on successful instruction of grade level content and minimize the need for more interventions down the line.
“Rather than concentrating on a litany of items that students have failed to master, acceleration readies students for new learning. Past concepts and skills are addressed, but always in the purposeful context of future learning.”
- Learning in the Fast Lane: 8 Ways to Put ALL Students on the Road to Academic Success
The Benefits of Accelerated Learning
It’s important to realize that accelerated learning isn’t just a new education trend. Implementing it can translate into various benefits for students and help close the academic gap caused by COVID-19. In fact, research shows that there are many benefits of accelerated learning which include, but are not limited to:
1. Increased Coverage of Grade-Level Content
David Steiner, Executive Director and Professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Education, says that: "[remediation] has done damage by locking students into long-term learning gaps that worsen each year. They never catch up." The New Teacher Project (TNTP), an organization that seeks to offer fair and equal educational opportunities, concurs.
Because accelerated learning focuses on connecting prerequisite skills with current learning, the process significantly increases the amount of time spent teaching new content. While remediation spends a great deal of time on below-grade-level content before moving forward with new concepts, accelerated learning focuses on just-in-time support. In essence, teachers will increase instructional time spent on new content and less time on remediation.
2. Deeper Conceptual Understanding
According to Learning in the Fast Lane: 8 Ways to Put ALL Students on the Road to Academic Success, when students connect prior knowledge with new learning, they are able to grasp the new concepts more readily.
Through accelerated learning, students are taught prerequisite skills to strengthen their background knowledge, but this is not done in isolation. By connecting prerequisite skills to current content, students deepen their understanding. This allows students to recall information, make connections to new concepts, and engage with rigorous content.
3. Increased Student Success
In partnership with Zearn, TNTP found that students who participated in accelerated learning programs completed 27% more lessons than students who took part in remediation. Accelerated learning sets students up for success in learning new content by addressing gaps in pre-requisite skills.
When students are prepared with the necessary background knowledge, they are equipped to learn new content. This increases student confidence and creates a more positive experience as they engage in productive struggle with appropriately challenging tasks. Thus, accelerated learning increases student success by preparing students for learning of new content.
What Can You Do to Accelerate Learning?
Big Ideas Learning suggests that teachers focus on instructional strategies that have a high impact on student achievement as indicated by the research. Strategies like classroom discussion, feedback, and teacher clarity are shown to increase student achievement by more than one year. These strategies are in the hands of teachers and are easy to incorporate into daily instruction.
When it comes to accelerating learning, TNTP recommends that district leaders, policymakers, and curriculum directors:
- Ensure students have access to high-quality instructional materials
- Ensure educators receive the training and ongoing support they need to effectively implement those high-quality instructional materials
- Leverage their role in the educational system to elevate strategies for accelerating learning rather than remediation
- Monitor whether decisions made at classroom, school, and district levels are equitable for all students
- Ground their additional supports in evidence-based activities proven to accelerate learning
- Engage families, caregivers, and stakeholders in their administration’s learning acceleration strategy
Accelerate with Big Ideas Learning
The unique and vastly different learning experiences of students across America during the COVID-19 pandemic have only heightened the need for accelerated learning as a viable method to successfully engage all learners. As the 2021-2022 school year approaches, consider how you can implement accelerated learning best practices in your school or classroom.
Learn more about the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) and how Big Ideas Learning is here to help educators better understand what is available to them and their schools through these funds and how it can be used to accelerate student learning.