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Learning Loss Does Not Exist

On any given weekend when a child wakes up later than a usual school day and wanders around the backyard just observing the day would we say this child is learning nothing? If a child gets on a zoom call and talks with a distant relative or friends would we say this child is not learning anything? If a child is sitting for hours with a set of wooden building blocks just building piles of blocks would we say this child is learning nothing? Outside of the 6 to 7 hours a child spends in a classroom would we say the learning has stopped and no longer happens? If a child is sitting without a textbook, a tablet, or a computer would we say a child cannot learn?

I know some of the best learning I ever had happened on family camping trips, wandering historic sites. and building stick forts in the woods! But the best learning experience, for me, happened while I was just playing with my friends…or sitting in a large cardboard box imagining the greater world around me.

Learning takes place even when we are sitting still doing nothing, bored.

Over the past year and a half, an ‘educational catch phrase’ has been rapidly creeping up and being said louder and louder: our students are suffering a tremendous amount of Learning Loss.

There has been no ‘Learning Loss’ as it is not humanly possible to just stop learning. A child does not stop learning just because they are not in the classroom. It is the same as summer learning loss. Students do not just stop learning because it is summer. Summer is a time for our students’ imaginations to run wild just like the past year!

Most importantly, our students do not need to hear that they have learning loss. If you ask any student what they learned over the past year and a half, they will most certainly tell you: nothing…because that’s what students say. Then ask them again and a flurry of things will spill over out of their brains. Our children are resilient, and they most likely have learned more this past year then we will ever know…until we ask. Our students have learned in ways we, as educators, never could have imagined but they have most certainly not stopped learning.

Let’s celebrate their learning. Let’s celebrate the achievements in resilience and perseverance that our students have mastered.

Social learning, as well, has looked very different for us. Let’s celebrate that, too! What we, as educators and parents, perceive as social engagement (because this is what we deemed the norm of social engagement) looks very different for this generation or learners. They spend most of the time with a device, it is part of how they learn from each other. Yes, it is very different from what our generation is used to, so let’s not forget the advances in learning we lived through and work to better understand the ‘norms’ of this generation.

When parents and teachers hear about this ‘learning loss’ what do you think goes through their minds? I don’t know of one teacher or parent that didn’t go above and beyond to ensure the best learning for our children over the last year and a half

The term ‘learning loss’ can only be applied to the idea that because children were not learning in a traditional way then they won’t be ready for mandated standardized testing. When people talk about learning loss what they are really saying is that children are not ready for mandated testing, and mandated testing does nothing to measure how much a child truly has learned but is only used as a scale to judge a school. When people talk about learning loss they are not talking about a child.

Let’s spend time learning what our children have learned and build on that knowledge. We have an amazing opportunity now to really change how we think about learning and learning at school. Celebrate our students’ learning and, while we’re at it, let’s celebrate our teachers, because if our students have had all this ‘learning loss’ imagine all the learning loss teachers have had over the last year and a half. Let’s stop talking about all this ‘learning loss’ and celebrate ALL the learning.

Author: Jamie Ewing

Highly gifted students need social-emotional support and the confidence to share their real aspirations

Portola Middle School’s Highly Gifted Magnet is unique because it is the only highly gifted middle school in LAUSD. What’s not unique in the uneasiness that many students feel at this critical juncture in their development. Middle school can cause anxiety for some students who feel that they don’t “fit in” or who are not as emotionally mature as their peers.

Teacher Mia Kang explains, “We often forget that just because a young learner is advanced beyond their years intellectually, they may not be so socially and emotionally. Research and experience prove the veracity of this. My students need explicit instruction on SEL skill development. I began using Thrively to help students expand their range of skills, and what I discovered was that they were very forthcoming about their fears and angst. I also got to see that many of them are profoundly beyond their years in their SEL development. There were extraordinary responses to Thrively prompts that showed how important it is for family, learners, school, and teachers to work together to support SEL.”

“A lot of highly-gifted students are focused and driven but not necessarily inspired by traditional academics. After gathering data from the Thrively interests survey, I found that many of my students wanted to be chefs, pilots, actors, and graphic designers,” explained Kang.

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Understandably, in the classroom, time is limited and the urgency of preparing every child for a fulfilling future is unrelenting. Mia Kang acknowledges this but insists that addressing the social-emotional needs of highly gifted students is foundational to both their wellbeing and their academic success. That approach is also essential in developing their voice and making their school experience relevant.

 “I have used other SEL resources, those with massive binders, unengaging resources, and unrealistic implementation plans. When I discovered Thrively, I was thrilled because not only are the lessons highly engaging but the invitation to reflect is included in every learner experience. Thrively is an integral aspect of my daily instructional practice,” shared Kang. “I started using it half-way through the school year. After reading some of the responses, I know that I would have changed so much of the way that I approached my learners had I used it from the beginning of the year.”

Sometimes we forget that our GATE students have highly specialized needs, and we can default to emphasizing a course of study that is singular in focus. When we give our students a chance to discover and share their strengths, aspirations, and ideas, we can help them see their studies related to their values and dreams. Our highly gifted students can then see that academic achievement is not an end in itself, but a means of achieving a future of their choosing. 

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Thrively appreciates the opportunity to collaborate with Portola Middle School as they strive to ensure that every child’s social-emotional needs are supported.