As another school year ends in many ABE locations, it is important to recognize that many sites were unable to be “in” their classrooms. Virtual and blended learning continued well into 2021, raising questions of how this is affecting our students. According to UNESCO, over 100 million children worldwide will fall below the minimum proficiency level in reading as a result of the pandemic, leading to insufficient preparation for the next grade or even failing to progress ahead. How can ABE educators navigate this loss while balancing the need to transition back to learning fully in person?
Going forward, it will be crucial for educators to be mindful that the loss of in-classroom instruction affected more than just learning—it impacted students’ relationships with peers, social interactions, and structure; therefore, it will be important to prioritize these things as students move back into the classroom. While many educators are likely thinking, “I have SO much content to cover, so I don’t have time for these sorts of things,” it is important to remember that learning can only happen in an environment in which students feel comfortable, included, and supported. For more ideas on how to incorporate social-emotional learning (SEL) into the classroom, visit CASEL’s Core Competencies Framework.
It will also be important to recalibrate expectations around student engagement. At this point in the pandemic, students are conditioned to being on a screen through virtual learning platforms or working independently on assignments. Therefore, the idea of being back in person and transitioning to collaborative work may take some time. It is important to remember that although students have been in the classroom before, this is a big transition. Include opportunities for students to work both independently and collaboratively, and perhaps provide an option to choose. Include technology in the classroom, but also make time for group discussions and hand-on learning experiences. Carrying over some virtual learning into the classroom may help support students' transition back into the “new” environment. Encourage students to use strategies they used remotely when they feel discouraged or “lost.” Reminding them of strategies on how they managed remotely could be helpful to them in the classroom. Finally, provide students space to reflect on how they feel in their learning journey after returning. Allowing students to express how this has impacted them and reflect on where they need support could be a huge step toward making progress and returning to our “new normal.”