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Learning Interrupted....Not Learning Loss

Editor's Note: This is the first Edushift article from Upper Canada District School Board Superintentendent of Schools Deanna Perry

As we continue to be in the throes of the global pandemic, it is almost as though the entire education community is holding its collective breath and waiting for it to be over so we can get back to what we know and do best…learning and teaching.

We have spent a good portion of our time over the past year reacting and responding to the many challenges and changes that have occurred as a result of the progression of the pandemic. We have seen advances and we have seen setbacks and that is likely to continue as vaccinations roll out worldwide and as variant strains develop and spread. We will need to continue to be responsive to the ever-changing landscape. At the same time, it is essential to keep our eyes on the horizon because we need to be thinking and planning proactively for learning. We must be very intentional in that planning.

The language of “learning loss” is beginning to creep into educational literature, discussions around board of education tables and in the common vernacular of the education sector in general. This language is deficit language and situates students and educators alike in a position of loss. It assumes that, somehow, we have failed our students, we have not been enough, we have not done enough to ensure that they have continued to learn during the pandemic. Absolutely, without a doubt, learning has been interrupted. It is important to keep in mind that this interruption has occurred worldwide. Loss signifies that something has been taken away or not provided whereas interruption indicates that something has gotten in the way and created barriers and yet there is a continuation. Loss is finite. Interruption forces a shift in course and the need to find another way.

In the many different models of learning that have evolved in response to the global pandemic we cannot, with assurance, state that all students have experienced learning loss. In fact, for some students the ability to learn remotely from home, joining classmates on-line or working at their own pace in an asynchronous model, may very well have enhanced their learning experience resulting in greater achievement and success than in the traditional face-to-face model. For others, particularly where matters of equity are present, students may have had their experience of education cease altogether. We cannot generalize the pandemic learning experience across all student populations. We can however, with certainty, declare that all students have experienced interrupted learning.

A focus on learning loss supports a return to status quo. This lens means that when students are back in a face-to-face environment they will be judged through the lens of the curriculum relevant to their current grade and they will need to “catch up” to match what has always done in the manner in which it has always been done. A focus on learning loss means that educators are already behind before the students even arrive in the classroom.

Instead, when we focus on learning interrupted:

  • We recognize that the interruption is the only common experience that our learners and our educators have had during this pandemic,

  • We recognize that all students will have different starting points in their learning (something that is part of sound pedagogical practice at all times and critical as we move into a global recovery from the pandemic),

  • Educators further develop and use skills to assess students to determine their entry points and plan steps to move them forward in their learning,

  • The focus is on the tools and strategies and pedagogical practices that educators can use to support gap closing,

  • We recognize that issues of equity are prevalent in our education system and that they were blatantly present through the global pandemic, further marginalizing populations of our students,

  • We focus on processes to collect data and use that data to develop plans, identify supports and resources to support all students, particularly those communities that have been particularly disadvantaged (e.g., lack of suitable internet, inability of parents to support remote learning during school closure, loss of income in the family home as a result of COVID, and etc.),

  • We understand that there is a clear way forward based on a response to intervention model and firmly rooted in knowing the learners, pedagogical practices and the learning environment, and

  • We focus on what students can do, not what they can’t do.

Moving forward, there is a need to refocus the education agenda in a way that capitalizes on the many new things that we have learned during our ongoing experience of the pandemic that can support student achievement and wellbeing. We need to use that learning to enhance the education experience for our students and the professional development for educators, focusing on differentiated learning and universal design. We need to understand that every student and every educator has been impacted by the pandemic and that experience means we can’t simply fall back into the same practices and patterns that we had before. Learning was interrupted and with interruption comes a reset. We need to seize the opportunity that we have to reset and re-energize teaching and learning. Instead of focusing on what we have lost, emphasis needs to be on what we have gained and how we can use it for the benefit of our students." ?

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