To say the pandemic has caused havoc in schools is an understatement. Teachers are burning out, kids are way behind in their academic progress, and mental health issues are at an all time high. We need to do something to turn this around or things are going to get even worse.
Teachers are stressed and taking medical leaves and there are not enough replacement teachers around to pick up the extra load. That means that classes are being covered by district staff, administrative staff and teachers that should be on their preps. This can't continue. We need to find some solutions to fix this.
Online learning was not equitable and so some kids were ahead of the game after spending months learning this way, while most kids were getting further and further behind. There could be many different reasons suggested for this: lack of access to technology, lack of one to one support, parents not feeling qualified to help or feeling overwhelmed with managing multiple children and their assignments as well as their own work loads, especially if they were working from home for different businesses. These are some of the suggested reasons.
For some children, working online didn't happen. Some kids were not tuned in to learning and they didn't even attempt to do the work. Others were too stressed by the online format. Others may not have had the necessary access to the technology. This caused wide learning gaps when the schools reopened and kids returned to in person learning.
As a volunteer in the school, I am still seeing the repercussions a couple of years later. Many kids in grades 3 and 4 are still struggling with basic facts, decoding written material, and basic writing tasks. They are requiring extra support, but there isn't enough to go around.
The tendency is to lower the expectations and teach to the lower end of the group, but this is not really a good option. Kids still need to be challenged and they need to be able to eventually handle more difficult work. Instead of lowering expectations, teaching in a different way may be better.
Gone are the days of being able to teach whole class lessons most of the time. Instead, kids need to be given instruction that they can use and grow from there. One of the best ways to do this is to do small group targeted teaching.
It requires more work at the beginning to get differentiated groups set up, but by using this approach, those that are struggling will have more success and begin to move faster towards approaching expectations. Those that are at level will get more meaningful instruction, and those that are exceeding levels will have some more challenging work that will keep them motivated to learn.
One option that might work is buddying up with another same grade class. Then kids could be regrouped together so that they are able to work on similar areas with differentiated materials that better match the needs of the groups.
This is a method that has been used for guided reading groups at a couple of schools I've worked at. The key is to get enough people to keep the groups small enough to make them work successfully.
Guided math groups could also be an option for differentiating instruction.
There is no quick fix for closing the gap or getting everyone up to expectation levels, but it's important to look for ways to keep kids engaged and learning. Those that are struggling will otherwise give up and those that are already meeting or above expectations will lose interest and motivation to keep pushing themselves.
I wish there was a magic wand that could change this, but there isn't. Teachers, you are doing so much to try to help your students in a tough situation. Hang in there. Even when some days feel somewhat hopeless, there are kids that are moving towards lightbulb moments. Celebrate those moments with them and count them as successes.
About Me Charlene Sequeira
I am a wife, mother of 4, grandmother of 9, and a retired primary and music teacher. I love working with kids and continue to volunteer at school and teach ukulele.