Accelerated Learning Techniques for the Classroom

After more than a year of interrupted learning, educators are considering how to address the wide range of academic abilities they are likely to encounter when schools open their doors in the fall. The go-to approach has often been remediation, or teaching content and skills that students didn’t master in previous grades. But a recent report from TNTP (formerly The New Teacher Project), using data from the nonprofit curriculum publisher Zearn, shows promise for accelerated learning, an approach that has gained traction over the past year. Researchers found that when teachers took an accelerated-learning approach in math, students completed 27 percent more grade-level lessons, and struggled less with content, than students in classrooms where teachers used remediation.

What Is Accelerated Learning?

Accelerated learning may sound like a method for speeding through lessons to cover everything students didn’t learn in previous grades. It's not. Accelerated learning does not look back. It moves kids forward to tackle grade-level content, providing them with help when they need it. It’s not “just-in-case” remediation. It's “just-in-time” scaffolding.

Support might consist of small group instruction or one-on-one tutoring, using data to pinpoint the skills each kid needs to master grade-level concepts. Read on for research-backed techniques for catching kids up or moving them forward.

Accelerated-Learning Strategies

1. Accelerate. Don’t Remediate

Give kids grade-level work and help them when they need it. If a student is struggling to read a grade-level book, read it aloud or provide an audio version. You can also pair kids up to take turns reading and engage in discussion.

Other supports include graphic organizers; writing frames (for persuasive and expository writing); interactive read-alouds that include time for a think-pair-share or a turn-and-talk; translanguaging; math talk; and mixing in hands-on activities. These are just a few ways of moving students toward greater independence as they tackle grade-level content.

2. Practice Makes Progress

Don’t try to cram learning into a few days, or even a few weeks. Kids should be mastering skills every day, and over time. The key is to space practice out over multiple shorter sessions, rather than cramming it into one long session. Give students time to “forget” in between sessions. This results in deeper learning when the information is encountered again. And remember: Not just any practice leads to mastery. Deliberate practice with feedback is critical. What’s more, students need to act on the feedback to achieve success.

3. Harness the Power of Tech

Technology motivates students, encouraging them to push through challenges. For instance, Waggle offers gamified math and ELA activities. Writable uses personalized feedback to guide students through the writing process.

Digital tools can give teachers a quick snapshot of student progress: how well they're grasping concepts and where they need help. With this data, a teacher can differentiate instruction, which may be more valuable than ever this year, as students return with a range of academic experiences. Read more about ways that teachers can leverage technology to ensure students meet grade-level goals.

4. Do Assessments, Not Too Much

Some assessment is necessary to determine which students will need a little extra help, and which ones will need to be challenged. Formative assessments are low-stakes (no grades) and timely (taking place as students are learning). They are a good way to personalize instruction in the moment.

Interim ELA and math assessments help teachers identify which students have learning gaps and which are ready for more-advanced material. Interim benchmark assessments like HMH Growth Measure with Waggle are a good start, especially in the absence of state-assessment data.

5. Emphasize Social and Emotional Learning

Decades of research shows that SEL produces positive outcomes in students’ relationships, attitudes, behavior, and academic performance. The trauma of the pandemic has made it all the more urgent to make SEL a priority this fall. Some school leaders have determined to emphasize SEL over academics in the short term. But all educators agree that consistent social and emotional support will be crucial to student success, in and out of the classroom. Work toward building students’ SEL skills with these strategies for elementary, middle school, and high school.

Share Accelerated Learning Strategies

What techniques do you use to catch students up or move them forward? We’d love to hear your ideas for accelerating learning for elementary, middle, or high school students. Reach out to us on Twitter (@HMHCo) or email us at Shaped@hmhco.com.

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