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Lincoln School deals with spring learning gaps, adapts distance learning techniques

As school starts up this fall, teachers work to meet student needs and assess which gaps in learning are from COVID closures last spring and which are from summer slide.

Many students, particularly in younger grades, come back from summer break having experienced what's called "summer slide," a loss in knowledge and skills, particularly in reading and math. Studies show that this knowledge loss can be cumulative over grade levels as students start a little bit further behind each year, creating a considerable knowledge gap by the time they graduate. A 2015 study indicates that students in grades 3-5 lose up to 20 percent of their reading achievement over the summer and up to 27 percent of their math achievement.

Because COVID shuttered Lincoln Schools for the last two months of the 2019-20 school year, teachers and administrators aren't certain how much of the knowledge loss students are experiencing this fall is due to summer slide and how much is the lingering effect of online learning methods implemented last spring.

"It is difficult to know what effect the online learning had on students and what was just summer slack. The little bit of assessments that we were able to do with the students on the last day of school is being used and yes, shows that there was not as much growth as there would have been had we been in school," said Lincoln Schools Superintendent Jennifer Packer.

Schools, teachers and administrators adapted quickly last March when Montana Gov. Steve Bullock required schools to close. Lincoln teachers began using long-distance virtual learning with their students the same week the schools closed, while other schools across the country took weeks or longer to adapt and create new learning environments for students.

"Last spring, going to a full online programming was a great adjustment, not only for the students, but teachers and parents as well," said Packer. "We were able to give about one-third of the content that was planned, but this year we needed it to be 100 percent, and it is," Packer said.

Many students struggled to adapt to the new learning style last spring. Teachers and parents also had to learn new tools and techniques to help support student learning through the school closure, with little time to prepare or practice with software before using it in the classroom with students, who also hadn't had time to practice or prepare.

"Online learning is not one of the easiest ways to learn new concepts. It really calls for students who are self-motivated and able to investigate when they are stuck on things, instead of giving up. Teaching this way is very, very difficult because so much is given when you are speaking person to person," said Packer.

Packer said that knowing how hard it was, for teachers and students, and knowing that some students would need to remain online this fall, the school has adapted online schooling techniques.

"We have our classrooms running live videos and teachers being readily available for answering questions and guiding students," said Packer. "Everyone is in agreement that students getting back into the building is important, but we also understand the concern some may have of doing that. We want to accommodate everyone that we can with providing the best education for all."


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