It’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic and shift to virtual learning has caused many K-12 students to lose valuable learning time. Educators have worked day in and day out to keep students learning and growing, but obstacles like inadequate Internet access, strapped budgets, lack of professional training, and social and economic stresses on families have made the past year a challenging one in education.
We believe brighter times are just around the corner, though, and we are turning our gaze towards how to not just catch students up, but to accelerate learning for them in the coming months and years. Together, we can choose to see this moment is an opportunity to spend focused resources and efforts towards not only bridging learning gaps but also enhancing students’ educational experiences and better equipping them for success in a digital world.
It’s an exciting goal – but how do we take realistic steps towards learning acceleration in our schools and communities over the summer and next academic year?
Here are a few learning acceleration strategies to consider as you evaluate how to support students in your school or district.
Create a Learning Acceleration Leadership Team
An important first step is gaining buy-in from leadership and establishing a team of district staff (likely including members of your Instructional Technology team, as well as teachers and IT staff) that is dedicated to guiding your school’s or district’s learning acceleration plan.
You may arrange a vision-casting meeting, in which key staff members are invited to brainstorm and dream about what enhanced learning could look like in your school community. If there were no resource or time constraints, what would you give your students – whether a tangible learning tool or an intangible quality, like confidence or understanding? What do you wish you could communicate to families about their students’ future and capacity for learning and growth? What development do you long to see in your students? What would it take to get there?
While not all of your staff’s hopes may be attainable goals, this conversation will help to revitalize and refocus your educator community as you embark on the journey to create learning opportunities for your students. Instead of focusing on what is lost and needs to be recovered, allowing space to dream and vision-cast can be just the lifeline we all need in this moment.
In addition to being the heartbeat of your program, this team will be able to guide the initiative, provide valuable insights into what to prioritize and what is feasible, and analyze the results.
Create Focus Groups
In addition to creating a Learning Acceleration Leadership Team, creating focus groups can be an efficient and valuable way to identify what strategies would best serve your students and their families during this time. You may elect to start a pilot program with a small group of families, gathering their feedback and insights throughout.
This also can be an important way to learn what resources and supports teachers will need in order to make the initiative both successful and sustainable.
Learn how Springfield Public Schools in Missouri used a focus group to evaluate the district’s need for student connectivity solutions and implement a rollout plan.
Small Group Tutoring & Learning Academies
Creating small groups of students to receive regular, intensive tutoring sessions outside of their core instruction hours is a powerful way to accelerate learning for students who need it most.
Intimate learning environments, in which one trained teacher is leading a focused session with fifteen students or fewer, are proven to improve student results – especially among low-income students and those who may be struggling to keep up with their peers. Not only does the small session size create both opportunities and accountability for students’ active participation, but it also allows teachers more breathing room to check in with and personalize learning for each student.
And because it is easy for small group tutoring sessions to feel discouraging in their remedial nature, it is important to ‘keep it fun.’ Take small steps to motivate students and make them smile – start each session with an icebreaker question, break up long sessions with a game, or offer small prizes to students to encourage attendance and participation.
An example of this strategy in action is the “Acceleration Academy” program in Springfield, Massachusetts, in which eligible students are offered up to 120 hours of additional teaching in a subject over the course of the academic year (an equivalent of 20-25 regular school days). The program has a modest budget, primarily supporting teacher stipends and student transportation, and in Massachusetts is run by the Springfield Empowerment Zone Partnership. In 2015-16, Springfield conducted a randomized study in its district and found that the weekly Acceleration Academy program increased the likelihood that a participating student would reach the proficiency bar in middle school math on the state test by ten percentage points. Likewise, surveys among students showed that 81% reported learning new math skills throughout the program and 80% said they would return to the program in the coming year.
These sessions may be adjusted to be held either remotely, in-person, or using a hybrid model, making them a timely and valuable option for districts working to create additional learning opportunities for students in need. As learning acceleration efforts continue, we may see more of these Acceleration Academies mobilized across the country.
Summer Learning Programs
The summer months, especially as many of us are still in full or partial lockdown, may provide a perfect opportunity to recapture and accelerate learning for students who need the help.
Districts may offer students and families their own summer learning initiatives, such as making school-developed curriculum and resources available online for students to access. Additionally, for students without Internet access at home, we are seeing many districts place WiFi hotspots throughout the community to allow students to come and access safe WiFi to access summer online learning tools.
In addition to district-led initiatives, there are also many organizations, such as the National Summer Learning Association (NSLA) through their New Vision for Summer School (NVSS) Network, that have partnered with districts and community-based organizations to provide students with equitable learning opportunities during the summer months for decades. For example, the NVSS Network partners with DREAM, a youth development organization in New York City, to provide inner-city youth with opportunities to spend their summers participating in sports teams, working on literacy enrichment, and developing their academic, social, and leadership skills.
As well, in the light of the increased demand for summer supplemental materials and resources, many online curriculum providers like Edgenuity, Pearson, and Apex Learning and are expanding and refining their programs and offerings to meet the increased demand for summer supplemental materials. Explore whether your district may be able to onboard with some of these digital resources and offer them to your students and families.
Student Connectivity Solutions
Of course, virtual or blended learning acceleration programs can only be successful for students in need if they have digital devices and a reliable way to connect to the Internet at home.
Kajeet has helped schools and districts close the digital divide and provide students with equitable learning opportunities for decades. Our SmartSpot solution is a filtered, CIPA-compliant WiFi hotspot that districts can lend to students who need a reliable way to connect outside of the school building. Kajeet LTE-embedded devices provide students with a powerful, all-in-one online learning tool. And for when students are back on the bus, or to power learning hubs or community WiFi hotspots, the Kajeet SmartBus solution can be utilized to connect up to 60 students at once.
All Kajeet solutions run on the Sentinel® platform, our patented, cloud-based administrator platform allowing for data and device management, advanced reporting and analytics, and more.
We will be feeling the impacts of the pandemic for years to come – and the work to educate our nation’s youth is never done – but we hope these tips sparked some ideas for you as you strategize learning acceleration initiatives for your students.
And don’t forget, there are funding sources at both the federal and state levels available to support educational technology, especially tools geared at helping provide equitable access to underprivileged students and those who have been hit hardest by COVID-19. Download our 2021 funding guide to learn more in-depth about these opportunities, and how they can apply to Kajeet solutions.
In addition, this guide from the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching (NIET) provides a step-by-step walkthrough of how to create and implement a learning acceleration plan in your school or district.
If you would like to learn more about how Kajeet wireless connectivity solutions can accelerate learning for your students, contact us today and one of our Solutions Engineers would be happy to schedule some time with you.