Should Teachers and Students Be Looping?

Infinite loop


Here's an idea from

"Imagine you had to begin each school year with a brand new staff.

Every year, every professional and every support specialist working in your school had begun his or her first year there. Every principal, teacher, custodian and food service worker wouldn’t know the routines, the curriculum or the procedures you expected them to follow.

There would be no building upon last year’s successes. In addition, the personalities of individual staff members and their impact on the culture of the school would be unknown to everyone as they started the year.

As an administrator, you wouldn’t anticipate high productivity until staff members learned what was expected of them and how to work together to benefit the students. For most administrators, the idea of 100 percent staff turnover is an unpleasant one to consider. Successful schools (and districts) depend on continuity of staff, curricula and programs from one year to the next in order to continually improve.

Some educators are discovering that this continuity on which schools rely also can work in the classroom. Instead of starting each school year with a completely new group of students, some teachers are staying with their students for a second year at the next grade level, a practice that is known as 'looping'."

Having been in classrooms for 45 years in secondary schools and also college, my first reaction would be to consider personalities. What about the teachers or students who don't work well together? Do you force them to endure another year together? Parents already have a lot of say in those decisions. This would cause more input from them. I had a year when I moved with my students from grade 8 to grade 9. there were advantages and disadvantages. But it's an interesting approach to consider.

The Long Summer Slide of 2020

It is known as "summer slide" - the learning loss many students experience during the summer break from school. The topic is often associated with younger students in K-12 but if you have ever taught college students or adult learners (especially in sequential courses) you have also seen it occur.

In 2020, the typical two-month recess became six months for some students because of COVID-19 class cancellations and possibly less-than-ideal attempts at online learning.

Will we see a greater slide this fall than in other years? Will a high school student whose second half of French II, Algebra, or another course be really prepared for the next course this fall? I have friends who teach in secondary schools who fully expect in the fall to have to spend the early weeks (months?) reviewing and catching students up on work before moving forward. They did this in past years, but expect a greater need for remedial instruction for fall 2020. 

When students are not engaged in learning for an extended time, they slide. It would be true if they skipped a semester of took a gap year or were ill for several months. From what I have read, this is particularly true with math, science, language, reading, and any sequential course that builds on a prerequisite.

There has been a lot of research on summer loss the past century which shows young people can lose up to several months’ worth of school-year learning over the summer break, and some studies also show that older students have greater gaps. It is particularly concerning that summer loss seems to be greatest for low-income students for a number of reasons.

There are those who question the whole idea of summer slide, but in my 45 years in classrooms (secondary, undergraduate, and graduate levels) I have seen that loss when students returned in September, even in their work and study habits. 

What is the solution? The standard answer is to keep students engaged in reading and educational activities. But every parent will tell you when school ends motivating students to do things that closely resemble schoolwork is very difficult. Plus, this year many parents were doing more schoolwork support the past few months than ever before and also want a break.

College students might be wise to use some free MOOC offerings to supplement courses from this past semester or to prepare for fall. But again, after a semester fully online, more online learning may not be very appealing.

Image by Paula Deme from Pixabay

Should the Class Lecture Be Saved?

lecture hall
Photo: PxHere

Last semester in the Chronicle of Higher Education there was an article that asked, "Can The Lecture Be Saved?" This semester in the midst of shuttered campuses there has been far fewer traditional lectures. By "traditional" I mean the long ones you might have sat through in a 90-minute class or the dreaded 3-hour graduate class.

In general, I think lecture times have decreased in the past 20 years. Building online courses during those years, I have always strongly encouraged faculty to chunk their traditional lectures into shorter mini-lectures. Student attention spans have decreased, perhaps partially because they are used to videos online from YouTube stars to Khan Academy being 20 minutes or less.

Faculty have also been told that lecturing is bad. Educators have gone through "flipping the classroom" and “active learning” and have been told that they should not be the "sage on the stage" but rather the "guide on the side." Still, a lecture can transmit the knowledge level that even Bloom knew was necessary for learning. He believed that knowledge “involves the recall of specifics and universals, the recall of methods and processes, or the recall of a pattern, structure, or setting.” A lecture is one way to deliver that.

That Chronicle article says that faculty should not feel guilty about doing some lecturing., but the secret is to make it interactive. Part of that means that instructors break up their lectures with other activities that reinforce what students learn through the lecture, and also encourage them to apply it. A term used is "interactive lecturing."

In my discussions the past two months with teachers in high schools and colleges, the sense I get is that their online classes are very much not lecture-based. When they do present content via video (and for some just audio) it is shorter than a "lecture" and less formal. 

The article focuses on how Claire Major, a professor of higher education administration at the University of Alabama, arrived at her own teaching style. Some of what she recommends is on this interactive lecturing quick reference chart (pdf).

The structure she tries to use for each class is a good, simple instructional design to consider online or in a physical classroom.

She includes "bookends" to begin and end class. I liked using a 5-minute writing task at the very start of class (sometimes as students entered the room). I learned this many years ago as the "anticipatory set" of the lesson. It might be a question to gauge their knowledge of one of the session's topics or it could be to be at Bloom's comprehension level by asking them to explain, summarize, paraphrase, illustrate to any other action to show that they can comprehend or interpret information based on prior learning.

Major's "overlays" are used to encourage students to pay attention during the lecture portion of the class. Like her, I sometimes used cloze activities (AKA guided notes) that could be completed by listening to the lecture. I knew them from my K12 teaching and brought them to a number of college teachers as a way to check comprehension as a self-check for students or for me to check their comprehension.

Similarly, her "interleaves" are activities during class to help students apply what they just learned. The "think-pair-share" exercise is hardly new to most teachers. Hands-on activities and group work easier in a physical classroom than online. But online you need to structure activities to be completed by students before allowing them to continue with a lesson. Most learning management systems and some screen capture and video programs have tools to include checks for comprehension points in a lesson.

Should the lecture be saved? Yes, saved for when necessary, and redefined.  


The Post-Pandemic Campus

empty classroomAn article in The Chronicle of Higher Education (unfortunately, "premium" for subscribers even in these pandemic days) is called "How Should Colleges Prepare for a Post-Pandemic World?" by Brian Rosenberg. His general advice is to "anticipate and plan for change rather than merely hope that it will not arrive." Change has arrived.

This article may be for higher education but almost all of these thoughts apply to K12 schools too.

Here are my highlighted excerpts with some commentary:

  • College is staggeringly expensive. Students and their families are going to be hard hit. Plus, colleges that have lost enormous sums of money will be attempting to recap but from families that have lost income and savings: Most colleges will need to provide more financial aid and possibly fewer services with fewer people.
  • When the lockdown is over there will still be a period of voluntary separation. With no vaccine, many people are still going to be hesitant to travel, return to campus, interact in groups in classrooms and labs. I suspect there will be more gap years than in the past.
  • Distance learning was forced upon us. Some of it was fine. It had been fine in many courses before all this. Some of it was lacking. It was done in a panic without much time to prepare and with faculty and students were not ready for it and never wanted to be online before. Schools need to really evaluate what worked, what didn't work and what they will change next time this kind of longterm disruption occurs. And it will.
    What courses and subjects can use the online model to be less expensive but still highly effective? Of course, most schools still charge the same for an online course as a face-to-face one, so there is no savings for students.  way to teach. Can a hybrid model of in-person+online lower cost? These are not new questions to ask, but too many schools have still never addressed them - and the answers may be different in 20121 than they were in 2019. 
  • Is distance learning "good enough" in a world of sharply diminished resources? The author suspects that for many students and families the answer will be yes. I agree.
  • So, how should schools prepare for the post-pandemic world? It is better to anticipate and plan for change than merely to hope that it will not arrive. One change might be rethinking the traditional academic calendar - "which is almost unique in its inefficiency."  The author suggests the "simplest way to lower the cost of college" but it is not the easiest way - eliminate the long breaks and make it easier for students to graduate in three years.