Connect with us


Rethinking Learning Loss: When Students Don’t Use What They Learn



Rethinking Learning Loss

by Terry Heick

With so much else to do and a subsequent loss of academic structure, most research shows children read less in the summer. How much less depends (you’ll read that word a lot in this post) on age, income level, geographical region, and other factors.

And how much of a bad thing you think it is for a student’s achievement scores to fall because of summer break depends on your perspective, too. But let’s assume you’re in favor of pushing academic achievement and the improved test scores that seem to reflect it. What do you need to know?

Well, first a glance at the research. As with many topics in education, you can find wildly varying research findings to support an equally wider variety of interpretations and takeaways. Want to fund a 1:1 program? Somewhere there’s research to support it. Against that idea? There’s likely data somewhere that agrees with you. But in general the research on summer reading loss says one of two things:

Summer does tend to reduce academic achievement

What it impacts and how depends on content area, income level, age, and more.

The Problem Of Non-Transferable Knowledge: When Students Learn Unuseful Things

For example, in ‘The Effects of Summer Vacation on Achievement Test Scores: A Narrative and Meta-Analytic Review,’ researches concluded that “the summer loss equaled about one month on a grade-level equivalent scale, or one-tenth of a standard deviation relative to spring test scores. The effect of summer break was more detrimental for math than for reading and most detrimental for math computation and spelling.”

But complicating general statements about seasonal changes on educational performance and literacy are socioeconomic concerns. The authors in the study above found that a “significant difference was also found for income level on the effect of summer vacation on reading recognition scores, low-income students showed a significant loss in reading recognition over summer while middle-income students showed a significant gain. DGLEs indicated that middle-income students gained about 2.3 months in reading recognition over summer, while lower-income students lost about 1.5 months.”

And grade level? Other studies have found that younger students (e.g., in kindergarten) often have better scores in the fall than the spring, while older elementary students (e.g., 4th and 5th grade) reverse that trend. ‘Summer setback,’ then, isn’t a simple issue, complicating efforts to make simple recommendations.

Rethinking ‘Learning Loss’

In 2014 post for edutopia, I provided basic recommendations, from starting digital book clubs to sending home high-interest texts or even simply staying in touch as often as possible with students through email or social media. How useful these ideas are depends on how old your students are, their relative access to technology, whether or not they’re on vacation, your amount of free time, and more.

One of the most universal patterns of learning in any context is to encounter a new idea, and then put that idea into action somehow, whether through near transfer or far. A daily pattern of reading, then doing something as the result of what’s been read can provide an easy framework for authentic learning outside of the classroom.

Reading Robert Frost? Extract a theme from ‘Good Fences Make Good Neighbors,’ and do something with it. 

Say hello to a neighbor.

‘Tear down’ a metaphorical wall between you and an old friend or family member.


Make a painting on a wall that conveys Frost’s message.

Create a song that is the opposite in tone but the same in theme.

Put a ‘fence’ up to set a boundary in a relationship.

In other words, read something worth reading, think about what you’ve read, then use that reading to inform your behavior in the real world in a way that’s authentic and useful to you.

The Problem Of Non-Transferable Knowledge

If what a student is learning has very little ‘transferability’ to their life (and note here, I don’t mean transfer in the sense of applying something you’ve learned in a new and unfamiliar context, but rather take something you’ve learned here and apply it there), there are significant costs and consequences. And note, this kind of transfer isn’t as simple. To actually use what’s been learned requires a student to reflect on what’s been learned, have a sense of the utility of that knowledge, and demonstrate vision or imagination or creativity in putting it to use.

That’s a lot, and this stands in marked contrast to the ‘long-tail’ view traditional academics take for standard-creation and curriculum design, where the value of what’s learned is low at the onset and is perceived to increase over time as students prepare to enter universities or ‘the workforce.’

The roots of every student lie in his or her community–their families, digital networks, and favored communities. Summer is a time where students have more of an opportunity to be closer to these roots. Reducing ‘summer loss’ might begin with helping them see what they have to gain during this time away from the classroom by seeking out and using information to improve their crucially native circumstances. Place-based education. Self-directed learning. Maker education. Open-ended projects. Personal challenges.

But why limit this thinking to summer? Authenticating the work that students do in the classroom is critical–and not just so that students improve their academic performance, but so we can know that the academics are actually serving them.

A school is only successful insofar as it is able to change the arc of students’ lives and the conditions of their communities.

— Terry Heick (@terryheick) July 5, 2016

An Underlying Assumption Of School

The point of school isn’t to get good at school. If students aren’t consistently transferring skills and understandings from the classroom to the real world, not only will their academic performance suffer, but we might want to ask some serious questions about what students are learning and why.

If teachers are working themselves to death to literally pull students through a body of knowledge that’s barely recognizable to students in their daily lives, could the artificiality of that knowledge be playing a factor in the challenge of helping all students master it?

The underlying assumption of any body of curriculum should be that it’s worthy of study and the real work of understanding. So what happens when the knowledge isn’t especially transferable? When it’s only narrowly useful, and completely impersonal? When students are coached to transfer, but can’t because the sweet spot of that knowledge is the classroom itself? When what they’re learning doesn’t make their lives richer or easier or safer or more compelling?

That’d be a big problem, wouldn’t it?

The Problem Of Non-Transferable Knowledge: When Students Learn Unuseful Things; image attribution flickr user woodleywonderworks

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Four Stages Of A Self-Directed Learning Model



self-directed learning stagesFour Stages Of A Self-Directed Learning Model

by TeachThought Staff

Self-Directed Learning is not new–but is perhaps misunderstood.

In the linked post above, Terry Heick wondered about the relationship between self-directed learning and the purpose of education:

The goal of the model isn’t content knowledge (though it should produce that), but rather something closer to wisdom–learning how to learn, understanding what’s worth understanding, and perhaps most importantly, analyzing the purpose of learning (e.g., personal and social change). It also encourages the student to examine the relationship between study and work–an authentic ‘need to know’ with important abstractions like citizenship and legacy.

Studied in terms of adult education and vocation for years, self-directed learning is increasing in popularity for a variety of reasons, including growing dissatisfaction with public schooling, and the rich formal and informal learning materials available online. This is the ‘age of information’ after all.

Self-directed learning is one response, something slideshare user Barbara Stokes captures in this chart, based on the model by Gerald Grow. The four stages–very similar to the gradual release of responsibility model–appear below.

The Four Stages Of The Self-Directed Learning Model

Learner                            Teacher

Stage 1   Dependent        Authority, Coach

Examples: Coaching with immediate feedback. Drill. Informational lecture. Overcoming deficiencies and resistance.

Stage 2:  Interested          Motivator, Guide

Examples: Inspiring lecture plus guided discussion. Goal-seting and learning strategies.

Stage 3:  Involved             Facilitator

Examples: Discussion faciliated by teacher who participates as equal. Seminar. Group projects.

Stage 4:  Self-Directed     Consultant, Delegator

Examples: Internship, dissertation, individual work or self-directed study group.

Theories of Teaching and Learning: The Staged Self-Directed Learning Model, G.Grow. from Barbara Stokes; Four Stages Of A  Self-Directed Learning Model

Continue Reading


The Benefits Of Competency-Based Assessment



The Benefits Of Competency-Based Assessment

contributed by David Garrick, Dean of Graduate School of Education, UCDS College for School Culture

The general idea behind a competency-based assessment is that it provides students and families with specific feedback about student performance that can lead to a clearer understanding of progress and skills gained over time.

As Dean of the Graduate School of Education at the UCDS College for School Culture, I’ve gained a unique perspective on the possibilities that competency-based assessment can provide. Students who attend University Child Development School (UCDS) in Seattle don’t earn A’s, B’s, or F’s. Instead, student assessments are communicated through our own set of competency-based continua for various subjects.

These continua, paired with narrative communication with students and families, make up the school’s framework for assessment, based on skill progressions. I’ve seen the benefits first-hand in Pre-K through elementary classrooms, and also in training at the graduate level.  

By providing specific information about the academic and social skills students exhibit, schools provide detailed and actionable information. This empowers students in their learning and educators in their teaching practices. Here’s a general overview of the benefits of competency-based assessment.

Building Competency-Based Assessments: The Benefits

1. Improved clarity & transparency

Greater clarity allows teachers and families to identify areas of strength and areas where students may need additional support. In all cases, these assessments provide teachers with detailed knowledge about student progress that can be used to build individualized goals and educational plans.

In addition to evaluating proficiency in these domains, teachers should regularly share comprehensive feedback individual student accomplishments and struggles. For example, UCDS teachers provide narrative commentary to families where they focus on how a student engages within each domain, as well as notable accomplishments and struggles.

Focusing on comprehensive feedback brings clarity to the learner, and clarity to the family about what’s happening in the classroom. Letter grades don’t show the full picture (suggesting alternatives to letter grades), and a competency-based model is better equipped to provide students, families and future schools with clear information about each student’s social and academic progress.


2. More seamless personalization of learning

Through Competency-Based Learning, educators have a better chance to provide a deeper view into each student’s learning attitudes and strategies and can provide resources that best support individual needs. This type of information is key to understanding the unique modes, strategies, and coaching to which each student responds best. This is the foundation of personalized learning.

3. It helps shift towards a culture of assessment

To successfully adopt competency-based strategies, teachers and administrators must first reevaluate assessment. While traditional forms of assessment (i.e., exams and quizzes) are valuable when placing students on a general scale of progress, they don’t show the whole picture. Making changes to assessment can be daunting for some educators, especially those who have been using traditional assessment practices throughout their career. It can also be a shift for parents to evaluate their student’s performance without a grade.

It’s important that teachers pursue resources and professional development that introduce different methods of assessing student progress, and why they hold value. As every teacher knows, the learning never stops – and by staying on top of current trends, curriculum can be adapted to meet every students’ needs.

4. Students better understand their own learning profile

Through comprehensive, competency-based assessment methods, teachers can help students to reach college and career readiness with greater self-knowledge about their learning approaches and needs. Working from a continuum of skills ensures that every student is being challenged in a way that is appropriate to what they want and need to learn and that educators can give individualized support as needed to help them move forward.

Removing the stress of being placed on a tiered grading scale shifts the focus back to learning, while building the confidence to make mistakes. Students take ownership of their learning. They feel empowered when mastering a skill and learn to identify what’s next.


For teachers, competency-based assessment brings depth and value to curriculum. With the focus shifted away from letters and percentages, students become more involved in long-term progress and are more apt to become engaged and take risks while learning.

Ranking students based on undefined competencies and then using that rank to determine their future prospects and contributions is a practice best left to past eras. Competency-based assessment provides more detailed information that promotes better-targeted teaching and learning for all parties involved.  

Continue Reading


5 Learning Strategies That Make Students Curious



Causing curiosity in students boils down to knowing that student.

5 Learning Strategies That Make Students Curious

by Terry Heick

Understanding where curiosity comes from is the holy grail of education.

Education, of course, is different than learning but both depend on curiosity.

Education implies a formal, systematic, and strategic intent to cause learning. In this case, content to be learned is identified, learning experiences are planned, learning results are assessed, and data from said assessments play some role in the planning of new learning experiences. Learning strategies are applied, and snapshots of understanding are taken as frequently as possible.

This approach is clinical and more than a smidgeon scientific. It arrests emotion and spontaneity in pursuit of planning and precision, a logical trade in the eyes of science.

Of course, very little about learning is scientific. While data, goals, assessment, and planning should all play a role in any system that purports to actually accomplish anything, learning and education are fundamentally different. The former is messy and personal, painful and fantastic. The latter attempts to assimilate the former—or at least streamline it as much as possible in the name of efficiency.

An analogy might help. (I love teaching with analogies.)

learning : education :: true love : dating service

True love may very well come from a dating service, and dating services do all they can to make it happen, but in the end—well, there’s a fair bit of hocus pocus at work behind it all.

Hubris & Education

Education is simultaneously the most noble and hubristic of all endeavors. There are two minds to every educator. This may all reek of sensationalism, but watch anyone at play, honing a craft, lost in a book, or engaged in a digital simulation and you’ll see a completely different person—one there physically, but far removed in spirit.

In a better place.

Causing this in a classroom is possible, but is as often the result of good fortune than good planning. The best substitutes that can masquerade as curiosity are dutiful compliance and engagement. Neither of these are curiosity, which has among its sources a strong sense of volition, accountability, and curiosity.

Here, let me try.

I want to show you what I can do.

I want to know.

And that last one—a sign of curiosity–is a bugger, one we’ve talked about before. Like the caffeine in coffee, the chords on a guitar, or the wet in water, genuine curiosity is not a thing, it’s the thing.

Not temporarily wanting to know, or being vaguely interested in an answer, but being able to put together past experience and knowledge like the millions of fibers on a network–only to be maddeningly stopped from branching further without understanding or knowing this one bit.

Like stopping an incredible movie right at the climax—that awful, crazy feeling inside would be unfulfilled curiosity—and it’d just kill you not to know. But where does it come from?

And can you consistently cause it in a learner?

If formal learning environments driven by outcomes-based systems have taught us nothing else, it’s that while we often can “cause” something to happen in learner, it is only by considerable effort, resources, and angst.


But we certainly can create ideal conditions where natural curiosity can begin to grow. What we do when it happens—and disrupts our planned lessons and tidy little units—is another story altogether.

5 Things That Make Students Curious

1. Revisit Old Questions

The simplest curiosities arise from old questions that were never fully answered, or that no attempt to answer was made.

Of course, any question worth its salt is never ‘fully answered’ any more than a good conversation is ever finished, but as we learn and reflect and grow, old answers can look positively awkward, as they are bound by old knowledge.

Strategy to actuate: Revisit old questions—through a journal prompt, Socrative discussion, QFT (Question Formulation Technique), or even a fishbowl discussion. And also revisit the thinking from the first go-round to see what has changed.

2. Model & Promote Ambition

Ambition precedes curiosity. Without wanting to advance in position, thinking, or design, curiosity is simply a biological and neurological reaction to stimulus. But ambition is what makes us human, and its fraternal twin is curiosity.

Strategy to actuate: Well thought-out mentoring, peer-to-peer modeling, Project-Based Learning and a genuine ‘need to know.’

3. Play

A learner at play is a signal that there is a comfortable mind focused on a fully-internalized goal.

It may or may not be the same goal as those given externally, but play is hypnotic and more efficient than the most well-planned instructional sequence. A learner playing and learning through play, nearly by definition, is curious about something, or otherwise they’re simply manipulating bits and pieces mindlessly.

Strategy to actuate: Game-Based Learning and learning games and simulations like Armadillo Run, Civilization VI, Bridge Constructor, and Age of Empires all empower the learner to play. Same with Challenge-Based learning and other forms of learning.

4. The Right Collaboration At The Right Time

Seeing what is possible modeled by peers is powerful stuff for learners. Some may not be initially curious about content, but seeing what peers accomplish can be a powerful actuator for curiosity. How did they do this? How might I do what they did in my own way? Which of these ideas I’m seeing are valuable to me—right here, right now–and which are not?

Strategy to actuate: Grouping is not necessarily collaboration. To actuate collaboration, and thus curiosity, students must have a genuine need for another resource, idea, perspective, or something else otherwise not immediately available to them. Cause them to need something, not simply to finish an assignment, but to achieve the goal they set for themselves.

5. Use Diverse & Unpredictable Content

Diverse content is likely the most accessible pathway to at least a modicum of curiosity from learners. New projects, new games, new novels, new poets, new things to think about.

Strategy to actuate: Invite the learners to understand the need for a resource or bit of content and have them source it. Instant diversity class-wide, and likely divergence from where you were going with it all. At worst you’ve got engaged learners, and a real shot at curiosity.

5 Learning Strategies That Make Students Curious

Continue Reading