Campaign warns traditional “skill and drill” approaches are detrimental, calls for focus on student engagement in learning recovery plans
New York, NY – May 10, 2021 – Newsela, the leading instructional content platform used by 37 million students in the U.S., launched its “Learning Found” campaign, which aims to flip the discourse on “learning loss” away from old-fashioned and outdated “skill and drill” methods of instruction to focus instead on forward-looking solutions that make students want to learn again. The campaign asserts that what we think is a “learning loss” problem is actually a student engagement problem that existed before COVID-19 and will persist if not addressed urgently.
This past year has seen an historic level of commitment and investment in our education system. “Learning Found” is a warning shot that highlights the consequences of getting this moment wrong. There is real danger in education leaders over-rotating on the need for self-paced remediation and repetitive skills practice in response to the current crisis. Employing a “skill and drill” approach, devoid of a teacher-led social classroom, is only going to disengage and demotivate students further.
In its new white paper, Newsela calls out the need to base recovery plans on learning science, which defines the conditions in which people learn best. Massive decline in student engagement is a result of too many impediments standing in the way of a student’s desire to engage in classroom learning. These impediments can range from societal such as racism and poverty, to institutional, such as the design of learning environments, including instructional content that is unengaging, not relevant, and does not promote inclusiveness. Schools cannot remove all the barriers, but they do have the power to make important curricular decisions that will have a direct impact on the readiness of all students to engage in learning.
“We are very concerned that outdated structures of institutional learning will impede the realization of well-intentioned recovery plans,” said Dan Cogan-Drew co-founder and Chief Academic Officer of Newsela. “Teachers and students have gone through a grueling year. The last thing we should do is recreate learning environments that isolate students and feed them rote exercises with a catch-up mindset completely outside of the context of teacher-driven lessons. We must be focused on acceleration, not remediation so that every hour in the classroom counts.”
National research, conducted by the EdWeek Research Center, affirmed the critical role student engagement plays in addressing “learning loss,” with 95% of educators stating it as an important component of their recovery plans (83% very important.) The research found that interactions among students and teachers were two of the top three indicators of meaningful student engagement.
There is growing concern that the actions schools and districts are considering do not reflect their priorities of student engagement. Ninety-three percent of district leaders and principals believe their reliance on self-paced computer interventions, which focus on skills practice and remediation, will be the same or more in this upcoming school year. These “skill and drill” tools isolate students from their peers and teachers, a sharp contrast from the conditions we know lead to student engagement.
Educators are unsure of how effective these remediation-focused tools are in driving student learning. According to the survey, fifty-three percent of all educators think these types of tools are neutral or ineffective, with district leaders and principals believing the tools are more effective than teachers do.
One factor that may be driving this behavior is concern around high-stakes assessments. Our research found that eighty percent of educators say state assessments play a role in their approach to addressing learning loss and only 8% believe that improved test scores are a sign of meaningful student engagement. Over half said they would change their recovery plan approach if their state assessments were waived this year.
As part of its campaign to demonstrate how critical student engagement is, Newsela conducted an exercise that separated a classroom in two to see how students would respond to different learning approaches. One class learned through informed debate, which resulted in a highly energized discussion and the other, a “skill and drill’ program, where students clicked through materials on a computer.
The student reactions to the “skill and drill” approach are a sobering example of what could happen if school administrators succumb to pressure to focus on test scores at the expense of meaningful classroom learning.
Cogan-Drew added, “As designers of learning environments, we know what meaningful learning should look like, but we also understand that school leaders and teachers are under immense pressure and stress right now. It is our hope with this campaign that educators take a pause and ask themselves some honest questions about what it would look like for every student in our community to be fully engaged in learning, how that looks different from learning pre-COVID, what stands in the way of our vision for an engaged learning environment, and what we’re ready to do about it.”
To learn more about the “Learning Found” campaign, visit the microsite at LearningFound.com.
Newsela takes authentic, real world content from trusted sources and makes it instruction ready for K-12 classrooms. Each text is published at five reading levels, so content is accessible to every learner. Today, over 2.5 million teachers and 37 million students have registered with Newsela for content that’s personalized to student interests, accessible to everyone, aligned to instructional standards, and attached to activities and reporting that hold teachers accountable for instruction and students accountable for their work. With over 14,000 texts in our platform and 10 new texts published every day across 20+ genres, Newsela enables educators to go deep on any subject they choose.