Karen Wootton, Odenton, MD firstname.lastname@example.org
My inbox is filled with solutions to our country’s serious problem: students falling behind. Each email claims to be able to fill the gaps in students’ knowledge, plug the holes created by missed classes, or stop students’ scores from slipping further. With almost a year of virtual learning, many things have suffered. But students’ knowledge, missed classes, or slipping scores are not where we should be focusing our attention.
The pandemic has caused trauma for many students and teachers. Loss of socializing, loss of jobs, and loss of life far outweigh the loss of some perceived level of learning. Remember that grade-level standards are completely arbitrary. We introduce place value in second grade, develop understanding of fractions in third grade, and measure angles in fourth grade, not because there is something about 7-year-olds, 8-year-olds, and 9-year-olds that makes them ready and able to learn those standards. Those topics are placed there because they are the next step in the development of the standards, not necessarily the development of the child. Students are not “falling behind” anything but an arbitrary marker. If the marker is arbitrary, then should we be worried?
I suspect to see more emails claiming to have the solution to students falling behind. Already school districts are talking about a summer school filled with remediation. If your district is already starting these discussions, here are some questions you should ask.
- With students missing about a year of the socialization piece of schooling, how might students view schooling right now? Would it be the view you would want them to have?
- Do you think after a year of virtual learning students will be more or less anxious about math class?
- How will a summer math class emphasizing “catching up” or “filling gaps” affect students’ anxiety levels in a positive or negative way?
- If you do not think an emphasis on “catching up” or filling gaps is the best way to address the last year of fuzzy learning, what else could you do?
Perhaps there is a need for some in-person summer school, but not with the focus of catching up. What if instead, in-person summer school could be used to remind students of the joys of learning with and interacting with their peers? What if students could just engage in some interesting math tasks with no worries about being graded? Could students be allowed time to wallow in the pleasures of discussing interesting mathematics with their friends? Why not let students play with math while the teacher also addresses social-emotional learning or growth mindset?
If your district is thinking about in-person summer learning, guide them to something that could be truly valuable to the whole child. Share with students the humanity of mathematics by letting them play and talk. The benefits of this will far outweigh any filled gaps or plugged holes.