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High-Yield Strategies to Normalize 2021-22 School Year

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(Image credit: Pixabay)

This summer, superintendents and central office teams are planning and preparing for school leaders, teachers, and students to return to a healthy and safe environment and they are also thinking about strategies to ensure all learning needs are met. Returning to a more normalized learning environment will no doubt be the priority for many districts this fall. 

This year also marks the task of measuring the impact the pandemic has on district achievement. With this in mind, there are two areas of focus that can aid in normalizing school and nurturing achievement. 

Meeting Social and Emotional Needs 

Districts recognize the stress this pandemic has on children and many are preparing teachers to recognize and support the social and emotional needs of learners as they return to school over the next few weeks. A focus on social-emotional learning helps students develop self-awareness, self-control, and interpersonal skills necessary for success in school and beyond. 

CASEL is a tremendous resource for SEL, with well defined competencies and resources for teachers to implement these competencies into their classroom practice. Harmony SEL is another organization that offers a no-cost solution to implementing the CASEL competencies. 

A key component of SEL is self-regulation and one way students can self-regulate is to become more aware of their progress in their own mastery. Formative assessment is an incredible tool to help students develop self-regulation for their learning practices.

Tending to the Assessment Gap 

Teaching and learning has been the focus for states and districts throughout the pandemic while assessment has received a pass due to the circumstances. However, assessment is the only way we can determine what students have mastered, so without authentic assessments we can’t be sure exactly what kind of learning loss exists. 

A recent study presented at the March Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education conference focused on “the assessment gap.” Author Joseph M. Woodside noted that this assessment gap actually limits the ability to accurately gauge impacts on learning loss. A very interesting and thoughtful reflection of where districts are as we return to schools this fall.  

Many districts will begin benchmark testing in the fall to see where students are in their learning pathway, but before it takes place, somewhere between October and December, teachers should be incorporating formative assessments into their daily practice. 

Formative assessments come in many forms. Educational software or digital curricula use these  to determine a student's completion of a particular learning pathway. Teachers also develop their own formative assessment to measure learners' progress and could easily use these assessment strategies to build self-awareness for the learner. Ultimately, the data collected from these types of assessments help inform the teacher’s design of learning activities and how best to introduce concepts to the students. Involving the learner in their own assessment review builds key SEL skills and helps inform them of their overall progress toward mastery. Not only do formative assessments provide data to inform instructional practices but these also help teachers and students better prepare for a benchmark assessment. Recalibrating the use of formative assessments as a learning and instructional tool can be very beneficial to both students and teachers in every grade level. 

To help teachers get started with formative assessment this school year, check out Kathy Dyer’s blog that highlights digital tools and apps useful for formative assessment. Another great resource is the National Council on Measurement in Education where there are a wide variety of resources from pre-assessment to feedback. And of course, Tech & Learning also offers a list of the best free formative assessment tools and apps

Learning has the chance to look and feel different this year. Helping students understand their place in their own learning is something we should each strive to do better. Focusing on SEL and assessment can be very complimentary and it can help grow today’s learners into resilient successful adults. 

Dr. Kecia Ray

Dr. Ray's career includes designing technology within the Frist Center for the Visual Arts and directing technology research through Vanderbilt University School of Medicine Science Outreach programs. As a district administrator for Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools, she led the award-winning design, implementation, and evaluation of instructional technology programs, including instructional design for online and blended learning environments, redesigning physical learning environments, redefining school libraries, and establishing the first virtual high school to award the diploma. She leads K20Connect and other passion projects supporting K20 education around the world.