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Addressing Pandemic Learning Loss

In our conversations with teachers and administrators across the country, one of the themes that has emerged is learning loss. With school closures, remote learning, and waves of  quarantines, learning has not looked “normal” since March 2020. Many students are behind where they would have been pre-pandemic, both in terms of academics and social-emotional skills. 

We spoke to a number of teachers and administrators to learn more about what types of learning loss they are seeing and how they are addressing the issue this year, both at the classroom and school levels. Many shared that rather than quickly reviewing and moving forward in this year’s curriculum as they were used to, teachers have found it necessary to address a wider range of student skill levels, including teaching material that otherwise would have been covered in a previous grade. Some spoke to missing or delayed social skills, especially in the younger grades. One administrator explained that, due to the lack of time, a lot of teaching last year ended up as whole class instruction instead of more differentiated learning and, as a result, educators didn’t see students progress along a continuum as much as they were used to. All agreed that remote learning, while necessary, was not ideal, and that students and teachers missed out on the richness of learning that comes from in-person, group interactions. 

A number of specific examples made an impression:

  • A second-grade teacher pointed out that the last time her students had a normal school year was when they were in Nursery School. While reading skills seem not to have been impacted negatively overall, the ability to function socially in a classroom has. Many students are struggling to listen, to work with partners, and to sit still for longer periods of time…in other words, they are struggling with basic classroom skills. A grade school administrator similarly shared, “A lot of teaching and learning that we did was very different and we see a loss in those areas, especially in the ability to sit in a group and talk to each other. That is something so simple and we take it for granted, but now we need to re-teach those skills.”
  • An administrator shared that she saw the biggest deficits in Judaic studies, particularly around tefilla and learning about chagim. When it comes to tefilla, students weren’t allowed to sing last year due to COVID measures, and shortened learning time (due to staggered arrival and dismissal and the frequent washing of hands) meant that there wasn’t enough time for kids to both say the words and also learn about what they are saying and what the prayers mean. This administrator is seeing that students don’t know how to be in a minyan together anymore and those in younger grades didn’t learn how to be a shaliach tzibur. As for learning about chagim, students missed opportunities to have immersive, hands-on experiences around Jewish holidays at school; for some – particularly students whose families don’t celebrate at home – those were the only opportunities to celebrate and those children missed a year’s worth of chagim completely.
  • All of those we spoke with shared the feeling that students with learning challenges struggled most, as they lost the extra support and individualized attention of a resource room with remote learning and pandemic closures. According to one administrator, “All of the Support Services were on Zoom, and they were totally ineffective, so all of those kids struggled a lot and didn’t truly get the learning support they needed. And we can see the implications of that now.” The Learning Center director at a high school noted that not only was remote learning difficult, even when learning was in-person, masking and social distancing made bonding harder, and bonding is especially important in a resource room. 

So, how are schools addressing the different types of learning loss they are seeing this year? Some of the strategies include: 

  • Focusing on assessment. There is an increased focus on and commitment to ongoing assessment in order to collect data, track individual and class progress, and make sure students get what they need. One teacher told us that at her school, “We are tracking the kids much better. Teachers also are being asked to be more accountable for advancement and for early and frequent communication with parents.” 
  • Setting realistic expectations. As one administrator shared, “There’s a little more emphasis on a slower start and a slower go.” Teachers are prepared to assess the level of their class and may need to readjust where they are starting from. They also may need to go back and start behind where they usually would. The second grade teacher who saw significant loss of classroom skills intentionally spends time every day working on social skills, such as “how to listen, how to make eye contact, partner sharing, practicing listening skills, how to disagree with someone else, how to be ok being wrong,” with the teacher modeling appropriate behavior for her students.
  • Training staff on how to spot issues.  A lower school administrator shared that she has been training resource staff on how to identify learning loss issues, so that no one falls through cracks, as well as on how to set goals with students and reach them. One strategy she employed was sitting down with her team and going through every student, sorting them into tiers: those who are doing ok, those to watch with some concerns, and those already receiving intervention/need intervention. 
  • Bringing on specialized staff. A number of schools brought in new staff to help with curriculum or with mental health support. One elementary school hired a curriculum coordinator for the first time, and that person is helping teachers with pacing, resources, and materials, which is allowing the administration to hold teachers and resource teachers accountable for meeting goals. A high school brought in two “health and wellness coordinators” during 2020-2021; they spend time in student spaces and are available for informal interaction, with the goal of hopefully catching issues that are not yet acute but are brewing. Less formal or more “natural” than the school psychologists, they have “quickly become an important piece of the puzzle.” 

In one elementary school administrator’s opinion, she estimates that all of her students are “about half a year off in both soft skills and hard skills” and she wonders what the long-term impact will be. She believes that students will eventually catch up, but that what an eighth grader looks like now won’t be the same as what an eighth grader looked like three years ago in terms of their overall body of knowledge and skills. 

At the end of the day, the prevailing approach to tackling learning loss seems to be that teachers need to teach to the students who are actually in front of them, rather than to a hypothetical child who “should be” at a certain level based on past realities. In addition, social skills need to be intentionally taught or re-taught, especially in the younger grades. 

Thank you to the teachers and administrators who shared their experiences with us, including Shira Jacobson, Jewish Studies Teacher, Curriculum and Program Coordinator, Educational Leadership Team, Schechter Manhattan; Rena Lebovitz, Assistant Principal of Grades K-3 and Resource Department Co-Support, Joan Dachs Bais Yaakov Elementary School; Josh Sadres, Director of Learning Center, SAR High School; and Adele Tabush, Jewish Studies Teacher, Yeshiva of Flatbush Elementary School.

Judith Talesnick

Program Consultant

Lisa Peloquin

Senior Instructional Designer and Coach

Lisa Peloquin is a Senior Instructional Designer and Coach at JNTP, where she focuses on content development and materials preparation for JNTP’s Early Childhood and Administrator Support Programs.. Lisa holds a B.A. in Psychology, with a concentration in child development, from Penn State and a Masters in Education from the University of Illinois at Chicago. She is currently working on her Ph.D. in community psychology, with a research interest in understanding how school communities can impact educational equity. Lisa can be reached at lpeloquin@newteachercenter.org.

Tavi Koslowe

Program Consultant

Rabbi Tavi Koslowe is a Program Consultant at JNTP, where he provides coaching to early career administrators through the Administrator Support Program. Tavi has been a teacher and educational leader for the last twenty years in lower, middle, and high school settings. He is currently serving as the High School Dean at the Leffell School in Westchester, NY and the co-director of The Idea Institute, where he supports teachers, administrators, and school leaders in furthering educational practice in Project Based Learning. Most recently, Tavi served as the Judaic Studies Principal of The Idea School in Tenafly, NJ and has held other school leadership positions at the Ramaz School in Manhattan, NY and Yeshivat Noam in Paramus, NJ. Tavi participated in JNTP’s Teacher Induction and Administrator Support Programs. He can be reached at tkoslowe@newteachercenter.org.

Eva Broder

Program Consultant

Eva is a Program Consultant for JNTP, where she facilitates professional development training for early childhood mentors. Eva has served as a teacher in private schools throughout the NY area for over 15 years. During this time, she has provided support as a teacher mentor, working with individuals and groups to enhance their teaching practice, and has facilitated and trained teachers in the use of Professional Learning Communities. Eva currently works as a School Consultant for Professional Development at the Hebrew Academy of Long Beach (HALB). She holds a B.A. in Psychology from Yeshiva University and an M.S. in Special and General Education from Bank Street College. Eva trained as a mentor with JNTP in 2017-18. She can be reached at ebroder@newteachercenter.org.

Evan Weiner

Program Consultant

Evan Weiner is a Program Consultant at JNTP, where he facilitates mentor training. He has been involved with Jewish Education for over 20 years. Evan began his connection with JNTP as a new teacher and eventually became a mentor himself, mentoring teachers in both General and Judaic Studies departments. He has been an educational leader in both formal and informal educational settings, and has brought his JNTP training to elicit the best in his staff partners. Most recently, Evan served as Judaic Studies Principal, Curriculum Coordinator, and Instructional Coach at Ohr Chadash Academy in Baltimore before joining the JNTP staff. Evan participated in the YOU Lead Educational Leadership Program and JETSIsrael Edtech Incubator Program, and he holds an M.Ed. from Azrieli School of Education. Evan can be reached at eweiner@newteachercenter.org.

Rachel R. Harari

Associate Program Consultant

Rachel Harari is an Associate Program Consultant at JNTP, where she co-facilitates new teacher training. She is also an Associate Lecturer at Columbia University and a middle school English Language Arts teacher at Yeshivah of Flatbush. Rachel is currently working on her PhD at Teachers College, Columbia University, within their Educational Leadership program. Through her work as a Department Chair for six years at Magen David Yeshivah High School in Brooklyn, New York, Rachel was inspired to study the role of the high school department chair in Modern Orthodox schools in New York City. Rachel received her M.S. in Special Education from Brooklyn College, and her B.S. in English Education from New York University, where she published her research on mathematics anxiety in elementary school students: “Mathematics Anxiety in Young Children: An Exploratory Study.” Rachel is a 2016 recipient of The Covenant Foundation’s Pomegranate Prize, which recognizes emerging leaders in the field of Jewish Education.

Lauren Katz

Director of Development

Lauren Katz is JNTP’s Director of Development, where she oversees the organization’s fundraising efforts and marketing and communications initiatives in an effort to advance JNTP’s mission and strategic goals. Lauren’s portfolio includes strategic planning, donor cultivation, engagement, and gift acquisition. She has an extensive background in Jewish non-profit management with a specific focus on fundraising and development, most recently serving as the Director of Marketing & Communications and Alumni Relations at SAR High School for over four years and at the Ramaz School for seven years as the Director of Alumni Relations. In addition, Lauren worked at the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit and UJA-Federation of MetroWest, NJ in the campaign and planning and allocations departments. Lauren holds a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Michigan and attended the University of Michigan School of Social Work and Jewish Communal Leadership Program. Lauren can be reached at lkatz@newteachercenter.org.