How can we better re-engage learners affected by the pandemic? It goes without saying that the past few years have been challenging for teachers and students. Education was forced into survival mode for all parties and learners were forced to become mature, task-oriented adults in an instant. As educators, we had to consolidate learning tasks into easily consumable chunks and find a balance between standards/rigor and ease of completion for the learner.
Many of the forced instructional models leading up to and during the height of the pandemic highlighted an already growing concern for educators and districts: our learners are losing academic resilience at an alarming rate. This year, as learners finally re-emerged and re-engaged into face-to-face instruction, teachers were excited to focus their lessons around collaboration, risk-taking and vulnerability. But I believe doing so in today’s environment is like asking a retired gymnast to repeat his/her best routine on the spot.
For learners to feel safe taking risks it is our responsibility to build a foam pit for them; a low-risk environment where they can challenge themselves without the fear of long-term consequences. Here are two strategies to rebuild the learner’s confidence in risk-taking:
1) Reassess your assessments
Reassess your assessments by changing our grading policies and wherein the learning process we choose to praise them. To allow learners to feel safe taking risks, we must eliminate situations where failure is hard to recover from. Consider every major assessment one takes in his/her professional career: SAT, ACT, MCAT, LSAT, Teacher/Principal Certification Exams. You can take every one of those, multiple times, for full credit. So what life lesson do we think we’re teaching with no recovery?
Consider more formative assessments, which are meant not to be graded, as ways to recognize areas of learner strength and/or growth to guide your instruction. And when assessing them, focus less on their performance as a comparison to the mean, and more as its representation of the appropriate path of growth for that learner. When the learner truly challenged him/herself to earn a B, celebrate that B! Show all your learners that you praise the effort, not the result.
2) Gamify Your Classroom
Gamify your classroom by implementing the qualities in games that lower the stress and fear for the player. Consider the qualities of first player online games with mass appeal and apply them to your classroom:
a) Target is Clear
Normalize the habit of writing clear learning objectives on the wall, and make sure all learners understand exactly where the learning process is taking them.
b) Continuous Feedback
By shifting to more formative assessments, learners can immediately recognize how they are doing and where they can self-correct while they are learning.
c) Same Expectations
Regardless of experience and previous success, all players start fresh. Imagine what that mentality could do for the learner with less than impressive academic statistics but a natural connection to the topic discussed. Or how freeing it would be for the high-performing student with constant pressures to maintain perfection.
d) Positive Peer Response
Build a classroom culture in which supportive collaboration is expected daily; where students’ need to communicate and connect to their peers is nurtured.
Before district leaders can begin to assess the gaps in academic learning that the past few years have caused, we must first address the gaps in our students’ well-being that have led us to today’s classroom challenges. What is commonly blamed on laziness or apathy is often simply kids unwilling to take a risk in the incredibly challenging environments that we as educators have created for them. If we take a step back to the educational psychology courses we’ve all taken, we will remember the phrase that should become the mantra for reengaging today’s learners: Maslow before Blooms.
About the Author: Ramy Mahmoud is a National Science Specialist for Savvas Learning Company and a lecturer at the University of Texas at Dallas teaching Educational Technology and Curriculum and Instruction in Science. As a former high school biology teacher of 16 years, Ramy is passionate about engaging all learners to think critically and connect learning to the world around them. Follow Ramy on Twitter @ramymahmoud21.