The challenge to keep learning moving forward during the disruption and distractions of the pandemic is obvious and significant. Many teachers and students find themselves swinging back and forth among in-person, remote, and some combination of the two teaching and learning contexts. Quarantines, isolation, distancing and other inconveniences can make building and sustaining momentum for learning a Herculean task.
Students often struggle to stay engaged and motivated. Teachers compete for the attention and learning commitment of students whose lives are not what they used to be and may be filled with uncertainty, disappointment, and isolation.
The challenge is obvious. Yet, we remain responsible for continuing to nurture learning despite the setbacks and distractions surrounding the process. Even more disheartening can be the reality that many of the routines, processes, and procedures on which we relied in the past no longer deliver what we expect.
Students typically want to learn, and we are no less committed to seeing that learning occurs. The key question is: How can we “tune-up” our instruction, much like an automobile engine, to make learning smoother and outcomes more predictable and satisfying for everyone?
There are four tune-up tools we can employ daily to reduce our frustration and increase the learning success of our students. First, consider connection before content. Rather than assuming students will engage and commit to the learning we are asking of them, we can take time to help students see how the content and skills we are presenting can connect for them. The connection might be prior learning. It might be something that interests them. Or, it might connect to some other aspect of their learning and lives that is important. This step can be the “spark plug” to get learning started smoothly.
Second, begin learning where the learner is. We might wish that our students were further along given the time of year, the pacing guide, or even the amount of content we want to cover. However, when students begin new learning that builds on what they already know and utilizes current knowledge and skills as a foundation for what comes next, the transition becomes much smoother and more successful. We might choose to press forward with instruction that is beyond the readiness of our students, but when we do, we can expect learning to frequently “misfire.”
Third, accept that during times like these, less can be more. Choosing to expose students to content and skills and move forward before learning is complete is likely a mistake. Rather, now is a time for focusing on essential content and skills and ensuring the learning is fully “grounded.” We may need to let go of some learning “accessories” to maximize the power and impact of the learning core. Supplemental information and “nice to have” skills may have been realistic in a stable, non-pandemic context, but they can be an unaffordable luxury right now. If we are certain that students grasp key information and core skills now, less essential content can be added later.
Fourth, focus on progress over perfection. Obviously, we want students to perform perfectly in every aspect of their learning and ourselves to perform perfectly in our instruction. Yet, we face conditions where perfection may not be immediately attainable. Rather, this is a time to focus on and celebrate the progress students are making and take pride in the learning and skill growth we see in ourselves, despite the challenges we face. Success only comes after meaningful progress is achieved. By focusing on aligning processes, marking progress, and remaining focused we can avoid “power drain” and grow momentum that can generate outcomes to which we are committed.
Of course, the complexity of teaching and learning far exceeds the complexity of an automobile engine. Yet, our efforts to “tune-up” learning processes and align our instructional efforts can lead to equally rewarding outcomes.