November 15, 2021

Sharon Murchie: Learning Loss or Learning Found

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Sharon Murchie is an English teacher, and she has some thoughts about chasing the baloney of Learning Loss.

I was talking with a friend and fellow writer last week, as he was researching for an article he plans to write for about popular myths related to our K-12 public schools. His first question to me out of the blocks was, “What do schools need to do to respond to learning loss?”

I wasn’t having it. “‘Learning loss’ defined by who? ‘Learning loss’ defined by what? What, exactly, loss has there been and who determines what that is? Students are where they are, across the nation and across the globe. They’ve all been affected by the pandemic. So…what arbitrary measure are we using to define ‘learning loss’?”

He was silent for a moment. “My God, you’re right. This ‘learning loss’ talking point is really just about arbitrary lines in the sand…”

Exactly. The kids are where the kids are. And we, as educators, teach the kids in the room no matter where they are, and we move them forward as much as we can throughout the year. Anyone selling the idea of ‘learning loss’ is selling a fix for a problem that doesn’t actually exist. Cut scores are arbitrary measures, meant to define ‘on track’ and ‘not on track’ and to sell a product designed to improve scores on tests. Cut scores have nothing to do with the students in the room and everything to do with the forces that create the measuring tools.

Just this week, I assigned a They Say/I Say article response to my sophomores. At the end of the article response, I have students create an MLA citation, in order to practice the skills of citation-making, as well as to reinforce the idea that students should always cite their sources when they create. After class, several students emailed me. “Ms. Murchie, I hope you are having a fantastic day. I’m confused about the MLA citation requirement, and I’m not sure what that means or how to do it.” OOOF, I thought. This group of sophomores missed that freshman-level skill last year. Well, no worries. That’s a quick mini-lesson tomorrow at the beginning of the hour.

And so I walked them through using a citation maker the next day, showing them how to paste in the URL, cross-check the data fields with the article they were citing, and then paste the finished citation onto their document. The whole process took 10 minutes of modeling. This is a step that I would have done anyway, later in the year when we work on research papers, as a refresher to remind them that citation makers don’t always pull all of the metadata, and that students need to check the data fields before completing their citations. This year, I moved that lesson up a month.

This wasn’t learning loss. This was just an opportunity to teach a skill they hadn’t been exposed to, yet. This was learning found.

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