The District

From Learning Science to Learning Recovery: A Forward-Looking Framework for Education Leaders

The Newsela Team
Jun 17, 2021

With millions of dollars being invested into recovery plans as students return to the classroom, it’s time to invest in re-engaging our students. Newsela co-founder and Chief Academic Officer Dan Cogan-Drew explains the need to move away from the deficit-oriented mindset of “learning loss”, focusing instead on an approach rooted in learning science. Read an excerpt of the whitepaper below.

Right now, school districts are facing a tremendous challenge: balancing the safety of reopening schools with charting the right path for learning recovery. At the same time, there’s a rare opportunity to redesign education systems to better serve all students. The conversation has justifiably moved away from returning to “normal” — there’s no denying that the old order wasn’t working for many, like the half of students who reported feeling disengaged from school. The next shift must be moving the conversation away from “learning loss.”

Reducing students’ experience of the past year to “learning loss” fails to acknowledge the magnitude of what they collectively went through, and instead introduces deficit-oriented language that echoes historical deficit-oriented characterizations of low-income communities. The term also over-generalizes and over-simplifies the problem, which can lead to heavy-handed solutions that lack nuance. There is urgency to act, but we can’t let that urgency lure us to the quickest fix.

The current focus on academic progress (or lack thereof) is representative of a larger systemic issue that existed long before the pandemic: that the design of our learning environments create impediments that stand in the way of a student’s desire to engage in classroom learning. If we do not address the root of this problem, our learning recovery efforts cannot be successful in the long run. 

In this moment, schools and districts can make important decisions that will have a direct impact on the readiness of all students to engage in learning. Within the scope of curriculum and instructional materials, there are specific principles of learning science that can be applied to inform decisions. Using Transcend Education’s set of learning science-based principles that define the conditions in which people learn best, this paper recommends district leaders align their learning recovery plans to these conditions in order to have meaningful and long-lasting impacts.

  • Ensure students and teachers are emotionally ready before diving into academics. Focus on relationships and integrate SEL skills alongside core instruction so students are in the right mindset to learn. 

  • Use assessments thoughtfully to understand where to resume teaching. Avoid high-stakes assessments or ones that are not adaptive to a student’s level, which can negatively impact students’ mental well-being and self-concept. 

  • Look forward and plan for acceleration. Don't try to reteach everything students may have missed. Focus on the essentials they need to be successful moving forward with content that adapts as they build skills.

  • Ensure your academics reflect the values of your SEL program by using instructional materials that are engaging, relevant, and inclusive. 

  • Center your plans around the teacher and create social learning experiences that we know are the foundation for academic success. 

As we return to the classroom this summer and fall, we need to remember that the goal of these efforts is not to return the design of our learning environments to the way things were pre-pandemic. Turning back the clock will return us to a time when students felt disengaged and teachers felt disempowered to change this. Instead, we need to look ahead, to a time when every piece of instructional content will be designed for inclusivity, accessibility, backed by the learning science of motivation and engagement, and available in every modality to the next generation of citizens. Let’s see this problem for what it is — a failure of engagement, not of learning lost — and proceed as fast as we can, as slow as we must, to build back to a better normal. 

Read the full whitepaper here.

The Latest from @Newsela

What is the delta variant? Why is the delta variant a concern? Will booster shots be needed? Answer students' questions about the delta variant, using this article:
August 3, 2021, 1:30 PM
Olympian Simone Biles is no stranger to the spotlight. ✨ Beyond the headlines, follow Biles' journey from her first gymnastics class to becoming the most decorated American gymnast.
August 2, 2021, 5:14 PM
Teachers know their students best, and that's why our content can be customized to meet the needs of each class. Brush up on customizing an assignment and its instructions in the Educator Center. ➡️
August 2, 2021, 1:00 PM
Sports play a key role in shaping American society- and American history at that! 🏅 This essay explores the importance of sports history, from professional athletes serving as inspiration to minorities and women overcoming prejudice.
August 1, 2021, 6:00 PM
Reluctant readers getting you down? Improve engagement by pairing high-interest novels with related Newsela articles. Learn how Newsela Fellow Keith West's project resulted in greater student interest and investment in reading. 📚
August 1, 2021, 3:00 PM
Too often, literacy instruction relies on outdated texts. Newsela ELA’s Debate and Discussion collection uses highly engaging texts and real-world topics to help students develop a foundation for building evidence-based arguments.
July 31, 2021, 6:00 PM
Consider building an audio library to increase student interest in nonfiction texts. 🎧 Newsela Fellow Melody Isabela explains how to support students with additional audio scaffolds for reading comprehension, here:
July 30, 2021, 7:00 PM
Set students up for a year of meaningful learning with a Back-to-School Scavenger Hunt! 🔎 Students will familiarize themselves with Newsela and learn how to make the most of the many features. Check it out:
July 30, 2021, 1:30 PM
Blue Origin's commercial spaceflight included the youngest and oldest person to visit space- and billionaire Jeff Bezos. This article explains their trip through the atmosphere and the future of private space programs.
July 29, 2021, 8:00 PM
Start your learning pathway to becoming an expert in all things Newsela! ⭐ The Newsela Certified Educator Program is a self-paced training program worth 5 hours of professional learning credit. Take the first step:
July 29, 2021, 6:46 PM
Mindset matters. Teach students the importance of a growth mindset through science! 🧠 This Text Set features a multiday lesson around growth versus fixed mindsets and the role the brain plays in creating and retrieving new information.
July 28, 2021, 6:08 PM
Get inspired by our Newsela Fellows and try something new this school year! Learn about each Fellow and their passion project on Newsela's YouTube Channel.
July 28, 2021, 4:36 PM

The best lessons start with the best content.

Ready to bring great instructional content to your students?

Contact Sales