By Assistant Head: Academics Dean VanDoleweerd
Earlier this fall, LCS parents were invited to Lakefield College School for small group tours and to hear about some of our new program innovations. During a presentation about our academic program, a parent asked what we were doing to deal with the “learning loss” resulting from the pandemic. In a McKinsey article (“COVID 19 and Education: The Lingering Effects of Unfinished Learning”), learning is discussed in broad terms and they state, ”students could lose as much as five to ten months of learning in mathematics, and about half of that in reading.” A lot has been written about what students have and have not learned under the circumstances of their unique situations. Much of the focus in these articles has been placed on young learners, and the establishment of fundamental skills in literacy and numeracy. The picture is even more varied for teenagers in their high school years and how to measure growth, interruption, and missing fundamentals. The New York Times, the CBC, and Edutopia (among other media sources), have published articles querying this idea, and besides observing the experience, they also recommend many different remedies to the problem. Some students have come to LCS classrooms having had some in-person experiences last year and others were in entirely remote synchronous classes. Some students were learning asynchronously all year long, and others were in hybrid experiences. Some students finished courses in the fall of 2020 and are just now getting back to those subjects. The variety of experiences that students have brought to our classrooms this year is more varied than ever before.
What we are doing at LCS is what we always do, which is to carefully assess and then try to bring students who come from a vast array of learning experiences to the common Lakefield classroom. This may mean offering extra support to some students, or enriching the experience for others. It may mean moving students to classes of different challenges or creating unique challenges for others. The problem of having varied experiences is something that is common at Lakefield. When students from more than 45 countries gather to form a community of learners, it means that we spend some initial time assessing student needs. This added issue (resulting from the disruptions caused by the pandemic) of learning loss or learning interruption, is something we are looking for as we proceed through our courses. So, what are we seeing? We have noticed that there is a more cautious approach to student participation in skills-based classes. This is apparent in some of the arts. Many students have been unable to practice their skills on their instrument or sing or perform for well over a year. In response, they have been cautious about joining the band or the choir. Our numbers in some of these activities are lower than usual. We have made a few changes in response to this finding.. Where possible, we have moved performance dates. The most prominent of these is our musical. We moved this to the winter to ensure a couple of things. The first was out of caution that the fall might not enable us to perform live. Moving the performances to February, we hope, will give us a greater chance to perform live. It also provides us with more opportunities and time to work together with students to practice their craft as singers, actors, musicians, and technical support crew, and ultimately, to ensure they feel comfortable and prepared. Beyond performances, we continue to offer our full slate of courses and co-curriculars. Classes in music, singing, drama, dance, and art continue unabated. We are also leaning into our co-curricular options, ensuring we offer as much coaching, direction, and support as possible so students can resume their skill development and growth as artists and performers. This is something our teachers feel they can remediate in classes and will grow back to previous levels of involvement over the course of the year.
What we have also noticed is that students are coming to math classes with a broader range of developed math skills. Again, while this is always true, the range is much larger this year, and it is more pronounced in the senior grades. Some students have managed the pandemic well, and returned to school this fall ready for the challenges of the next grade. However, our students’ general comfort with problem-solving, their confidence to collaborate with others when tackling questions, and their resident skills with math are not as strong as they have been in previous years (prior to disruptions caused by the pandemic).
In support of our students, we have our existing structures, which will serve to support many of our students’ needs. Extended class times, weekly scheduled Grove Times, and small classes provide existing opportunities for both support and enrichment. Given the observations our math teachers are making, we have also developed additional evening support, giving students the opportunity to work with their teachers and peers to develop their skills and knowledge of math. Beginning twice a week, we will have a math teacher, as well as peer tutors, available between 6:30 and 8:00 pm to work with students on current math issues, develop missing skills, and help them gain the confidence they need to tackle future challenges in their math classrooms.
While we will continue to work with our students and measure their progress in our classes, we do it this year with an important question on our minds: How, as educators, do we effectively respond to this idea of learning loss – or learning renewal and recovery – for our students? It guides our teaching goals and strategies as we move forward together.