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Learning Loss vs. Opportunity Loss
I posted a graph of Desmos usage in this newsletter that was incorrect. It expressed curriculum usage as a fraction of lessons run divided by total possible lessons that could have been run, and it’s come to my attention that my calculation of total possible lessons was too large by an amount I’m still sorting out. Please accept my apology for a careless error with numbers and graphs.
At this time last year, teachers were making plans for a full year of remote teaching rather than a single emergency quarter. Now, those same teachers are making plans for how they’ll teach in the wake of that year of remote teaching.
All kinds of debris bob around in that wake right now, all of it complicating the work of teaching. Students may have experienced the death of family or friends. They may have experienced health crises of their own. They may have experienced poverty in a new or deeper way.
Every teacher I talk to is very stressed about that debris from their year of remote teaching. They are particularly stressed about “learning loss,” something which they are frequently told (by people who I observe are often not classroom teachers) does not exist.
In one sense, the critics of “learning loss” are correct here. Learning is the sort of thing that can become inert and not easily used, but we can take deliberate measures to reconstitute that learning later. So “learning loss” isn’t a particularly accurate description of cognition. Neither does the term do justice to all the learning students gained while at home.
But my opinion is that those critics are working much harder to decry the term “learning loss” than they are working to name and address a real phenomenon that teachers do have every reason to worry about.
Students did lose something last year. We can argue over the value of that thing and its value relative to other things they gained. But every anecdotal source I have tells me that teachers were able to teach many fewer lessons this year than last year.
Yet many school districts are still asking teachers to teach next year as though the students they’re receiving had the same opportunity to learn as they would have in years that weren’t consumed by a world-historic pandemic.
Even if “learning loss” is a misnomer, teachers have every reason to be anxious about that “opportunity loss.” Students lost a lot of opportunities to learn math this last year and teachers would likely benefit from some concrete, specific, actionable suggestions for their preparation.
So let’s offer and trade some ideas together.
How should teachers teach ideas this year knowing that many of their students will not have experienced related ideas from the previous year?
Smash the reply button or leave a comment. In a future email, I’ll share some of your answers, some answers from my colleagues at Desmos, and some of my own.
🎁 What Else
I am obsessed with the question Jenna Laib asked in a recent post, “Do students need to finish every problem?” One key to teaching with problems is knowing when the class has had sufficient experience with the problem to benefit from a conversation about it, which is generally earlier than when the entire class has finished the problem.
What’s your favorite line from Math Person? High schooler Julia Schanen’s ode to mathematics is by turns heartbreaking and actual-lol-level funny. Personally, “gnawing on a bone” put me on the floor.
“Two lines are 2 apart.” Love an interesting tweet-sized problem.
Press the “Anonymize” button in Desmos and your students’ names will change to names of mathematicians. A small team at Desmos recently made large changes to the names of mathematicians that appear. Check out the what and the why.