3 Approaches To Uncovering Learning Loss And Learning Gains … TO WHAT END?

Cross Posted from Learning Sets

From sardonic opinions to marketing tactics, system leaders have been deluged with a torrent of commentary and predictions about learning loss. The leadership challenge right now is to sort out the obvious reality of losses that have occurred because of the pandemic from nebulous abstractions of loss. It is tempting to slide back into content coverage and testing to determine how our learners have fared which will likely result in more rigidity in the four program structures that are the nest for teaching and learning:  schedules, learning spaces, learning groupings, and personnel configurations.

This is a “right now” leadership moment to articulate and own the approach for your system over the next few years. In effect, we are asking you to call it out directly, transparently for all your school community members to see so that they understand the heavy lift that requires regardless of what approach you choose.

Approach 1- RECOVER. Over the course of a few years we can recover by focusing on coverage of established curriculum with limited revisions to content but more deliberate incorporation of virtual learning tools and management systems.  Requires the purchase or design of intensive benchmark assessments, increase in instructional time, and an explicit focus on remediation to get back to grade level work.

Related Actions. While the existing school vision or portrait of a graduate are an aspiration of what we hope for every student, the clarion call is how to get students back on grade level driven by testing results. The Curriculum and Instructional Design Choices would be governed by these questions: What to cover? What to reinforce?  Assessments would be those used in the past to reaffirm coverage of curriculum and retainment of basic skills. There is an increased focus on the use of standardized testing and purchased products to determine remediation and intervention strategies. This also might impact how students are scheduled and grouped as well as opportunities they have access to such as recess and electives.

Approach 2- REFRESH. Over the course of a few years, we can refresh curriculum and pedagogy by continuing specific practices that were borne out of necessity during the pandemic. Requires intensive PLC and vertical level work, commitment to future forward goals, increased use of formative assessments, and leveraging the four structures for innovative ideas to flourish.

Related Actions. The school vision or portrait of a graduate are revisited and perhaps modified to  the range of learning environments students and staff experienced navigated during the pandemic.  For example, future-forward goals, framed as roles for learners, can be added to our aspirations such as student as digital citizen,  self-navigator, and innovative designer.  These goals become the north star to help navigate our curriculum choices for refreshing courses.   Grade level, department, and vertical teams of faculty will be focus on a deliberate review of  scope and sequence and asking:  What to cut out? What to cut back? What to consolidate? What to keep? Limited attention is given to structural shifts with basic adherence to previous schedules, and spaces (both on-site and virtual), grouping of students, and faculty.  There may be a willingness to experiment with innovative ideas such as adding a new space to create and collaborate or  periodic scheduling changes to make space for a more intensive study or  exhibition of learning. For the most part,  the curriculum is refreshed but the program structures are maintained. 

Approach 3- RESET. Over the course of a few years, we can reset and design new possibilities by making curricular and structural choices to create contemporary opportunities for our future forward goals. Requires deliberate examinations of existing practices, policies, and structures to inform next iterations of schooling for our community.

Related Actions. Actively seeking input from all perspectives in the school community to update learning goals and opportunities with a particular eye to new roles and responsibilities for learners.  A reset of the curriculum will be directly connected to streamlining of subject area courses and cultivating faculty partnerships to develop interdisciplinary and  phenomena based learning experiences. The driving questions might be:  What to cut out? What to cut back? What to consolidate? What to keep? What to create? Critical is that equal attention is given to resetting the structural nest to create the best possible learning environment choices based on actual learner needs versus habit. The four structures, schedules, learning spaces, grouping of students, and personnel configurations, are essential to  new opportunities for learning experiences whether it is a pathway model, innovation lab, mentorship program, design corner, global forums, or place-based projects.

Clearing a Path for Thoughtful and Responsive Plans

When facing challenges we are constrained by what is in our bank of options but also be able to examine a range of options moving forward. Key is partnering with all members of the community in developing and laying  out possibilities in making choices in curriculum and the structural formats that directly impact your students.

To be clear, reassuring families and faculty is critical,  but yielding to the tendency to “go back and pick up where we left off  not only may be counterproductive, but potentially damaging to the health of our school community.  For example, pressuring teachers to cover 18 months of curriculum in 10 months  may create a new wave of teacher burnout and retirements/resignations which would prompt further learning loss.   Teacher shortages for the upcoming school year is a reality.   As noted in the NY Times: Desperate to stanch staffing shortfalls, districts large and small are   increasing pay for substitutes and even advertising for temporary positions on local billboards. Some states and districts have also suspended college course requirements, or permitted abbreviated online training, for emergency substitute teachers.

Given the global nature of the pandemic and the varied restrictions within and across countries, it is difficult to ascertain how events will unfold in the months ahead. Determining when post-pandemic school life will clearly emerge is not possible, but the need for thoughtful and responsive plans could not be more timely.

Profile Of A Right Now Learner: Uncovering Learning Loss And Learning Gains

Cross posted from Learning Sets


Given the extraordinary demands on school communities throughout the pandemic, there is real concern about where students are in their foundational skills, conceptual understanding, and ability to apply their learning in novel situations. This concern, framed as “learning loss,” includes choices to cut out or cut back on unit topics, challenges of student engagement in school settings, and limited assessment data to demonstrate impact. There also needs to be an uncovering of what “learning gains” have happened, such as increased use in digital tools, self-directed use of time, or developing skills and cultivating interests.

In order to generate responsive curriculum choices and structural formats moving forward, listening is key.  A commitment to formal listening should become the drumbeat of a school or system. Listening that informs decision-making  is empathy in action. If the pandemic has taught one thing, it is that we need connection and to be understood.

The following prompts organized in role-alike groups are illustrative examples that you might use to identify patterns, generate fresh thinking, and help inform deliberate actions. The intention is to uncover learning loss and learning gains during the pandemic.  Whether using focus groups, a virtual listening tour, surveys, interviews, social media groups, personal correspondence, or a community meeting, now is the time to listen.


(e.g,. teacher leads, department chairs, instructional coaches, building/district administrators)

What did the leadership of the curriculum look like throughout the year? (check all that apply)

  • I was left on my own to make appropriate choices based on what I believed was in the best interest of my students.
  • We worked in PLC’s  to decide what to cut out, cut back on, and keep based on our school realities.
  • Our principal/ head of school/ superintendent is requesting an increase in testing to determine loss and gain in students to guide our decisions.
  • Our principal/ head of school/ superintendent is requesting a review of formative assessments  to determine loss and gain.
  • Our principal / head of school / superintendent expected us to take into account student and family struggles in the design, frequency, and evaluation of assignments.
  • Our district leadership has organized vertical curriculum reviews to make adjustments to our curriculum moving forward.
  • Our school leadership has organized vertical curriculum reviews to make adjustments to our curriculum moving forward.
  • We will continue to structure our schedule and learning spaces on the same pre-covid model.
  • We will continue to structure the grouping of learners and faculty configurations on our pre-covid model.
  • Our school/district leadership is considering responsive approaches to schedules, learning spaces (both physical and virtual) based learner needs.
  • Our school/district leadership is considering responsive approaches to the grouping of students and personnel configurations based  on student needs.

Here are actions and ideas that we are interested in pursuing:


What was your approach to navigating the established curriculum? (check all that apply)

  • I chose to cover the established curriculum as planned with minor adjustments.
  • I chose not to cover 2 or more units.
  • I chose to cut back on what I deemed to be unnecessary content and skills.
  • I chose to cut back on what I deemed to be unnecessary assignments.
  • I chose to create new topics, assignments for my students to make sense of the pandemic.
  • I collaborated with other colleagues on a regular basis.
  • I worked primarily on my own.
  • I received ongoing support from curriculum leaders and/or instructional coaches.

Here are actions and ideas that I recommend moving forward:  

What was your approach to teaching and learning throughout the pandemic? (check all that apply)

  • I focused more on diversity, equity and inclusion to inform my instructional  practices and policies.
  • I revisited unit topics through the lens of diversity, equity and inclusion to identify issues, texts, and tasks to make learning more relevant and challenging for my students.
  • I chose to group my learners in a range of patterns based on their academic needs.
  • I kept my learners in consistent instructional grouping patterns to meet  academic needs.
  • I chose to regularly touch base with each student to monitor programs and make adjustments in my teaching.
  • I chose to work through the established curriculum using direct teaching approaches with minimal adjustments.
  • I chose to expand my instructional approach using digital and media tools to engage my learners in an on-line environment.
  • I chose to directly develop dispositions and habits of mind that support emotional well-being with my students.

Here are the actions and ideas that I want to pay attention to going forward:


What was your teacher’s (or school’s) approach to support your social and  emotional well-being? 

  • I felt that my teacher understood what I was going through on a personal level.
  • I did not feel connected to the teacher and school.
  • I felt connected to my friends and other students most of the time.
  • I frequently felt disconnected from my friends and other students.

What was your experience in monitoring and directing your own learning? (check all that apply)

  • I was clear on the actual work and tasks from my teachers.
  • I was often confused by the actual work and tasks from my teachers.
  • I  sometimes felt overwhelmed by the amount of work assigned to me.
  • I had more control over my schedule and felt more focused with asynchronous tasks
  • I needed teacher direction on most of my tasks
  • I had growth in certain subjects or classes
    • Identify what those are:
  • I fell behind in certain subjects or classes
    • Identify what those are:
  • I fell behind on tasks.
  • I lost interest in the school tasks.
  • I was motivated to pursue new areas of interest.
    • Identify what those are:


What was your teacher’s (or school’s) approach to support your social and  emotional well-being of your child? (check all that apply)

  • I felt I could get a  reasonably prompt response from my child’s teachers when requested.
  • I felt that my child’s teacher(s) understood the challenges we faced through the pandemic as a family.

What was your experience in monitoring your students’ work and communication with their teacher(s)? 

  • My child was usually clear on the actual work and tasks from teachers.
  • My child was often confused by the actual work and tasks from  teachers.
  • My child  sometimes felt overwhelmed by the amount of work assigned.
  • My child thrived with  more control over the schedule and focused on asynchronous tasks
  • My child needed constant adult  direction on most tasks
  • I believe my child showed growth in certain subjects or classes
    • Identify what those are:
  • I believe my child feel  behind in certain subjects or classes
    • Identify what those are:

Gathering input from a full gamut of sources is critical in determining how to make adjustments in program and services in order to move forward. A realistic and powerful profile of a right-now learner must be informed not only from surveys which have value but by their very nature have limits. This profile will serve decision-making in two critical arenas:

  • Curriculum choices on what to cut, keep, and create
  • Program structures, the nest where learning occurs.  Specifically, schedules, learning spaces (both virtual and physical), grouping of learners, grouping of professionals.

See our chart below.

10 Decisions Finland Makes In Schools That Can Directly Inform Our Post Pandemic Response

Cross posted from Learning Sets

When  Finland was recently crowned happiest country again in 2020, we reached out to our Finnish colleague to check in and see how he and his country were faring. Two and a half years ago , we had an opportunity to co-design and take a tour of Finnish schools with  Educational Leadership Consultant Mikko Salonen.  We recently corresponded with him and he wrote:

At the moment, we are making plans of opening the society after the pandemic, and how to repair the damages on learning and how to mend the learning deficit. We have gone through a very hard period of remote teaching and learning in basic education, high schools and universities.  Also we have a big concern about how to help those who are suffering with mental problems, loneliness and other problems caused by the pandemic. 

The political decision makers are working on these issues in close cooperation with the professionals (education, health, etc).  I believe that we will be able to tackle this challenge by doing multi-professional cooperation, but it will not be easy and there is no quick way out. We are very proud of our country and the achievements we have reached as a society. Our society functions well, is safe, clean and sustainable, and we can trust both each other and those who have responsible positions in the society. 

As Mikko suggests, Finland’s story continues to be one of reckoning, resilience, and future-forward thinking. To be clear,  Finland hit the reset button beginning in  the 1970’s when their education system and economy was struggling.   Their education saga has been nothing short of  extraordinary (aka the Finland Phenomona). As we continue to be responsive to what our right now learners need and how we can become more agile in our curricular and structural choices, we reflected on lessons that could help fuel fresh possibilities for any school around the world.

  1. Teachers work in teams with the same group of students over several years providing not only community but increased opportunity to know each child and apply consistent support for growth.   Research on long-term grouping points to the benefits of sustained continuity with a group of teachers in contrast to the loss that occurs when student continuity is broken each school year with a new teacher and a new group of students.
  2. Teaching teams have a sizeable degree of autonomy on managing daily and weekly schedules which allows for highly responsive instructional approaches to student learning.  Flex-time is key in order to take a deeper dive with learners who need support and to explore questions and possibilities with learners.
  3. Phenomenon-based learning is an integrated part of the curriculum.  The national guidelines ask that each learner have at least one substantial learning experience based on emergent and relevant real-world applications.  These are definitely interdisciplinary in design and fully engage learners in the process of relevant inquiry.
  4. Teachers and teaching are highly valued in the country.   Teaching is one of the hardest professions to enter given requisite high standards.    Statistically out of 8000 applicants for teacher education certification programs offered at the university level, only 10% are accepted  (according to the Kantor Education Policy Group ).  Highly educated and highly capable teachers collaborate throughout their professional careers are central to the success of the Finnish education system.
  5. Universal pre-K is essential to school readiness.  With a system that supports families with one year of maternity/paternity leave and universal pre-K in a rich environment supporting social and academic development.   Formal school begins at age 7 buttressed by this national commitment to support families providing equitable learning experiences.   Children are ready for school.
  6. Every teacher is entrusted to support every learner.   Whether it is working with new immigrants or students with special needs, each teacher has both the training and expectations to work with every child. There is an emphasis on working with students through both early prevention and detection to identify needs and attend to them. In addition, mental and emotional health and wellbeing is tended to through curricular programs as well as part of the tiered levels of support.
  7. The intentional use of formative assessments to grow the learning and the learner. There are limited pressures to finish work at the end of the class period. Encouraging learning — drafting an idea, making mistakes, and growing from feedback — is the dominant a way of thinking and working. This becomes the basis of the feedback cycle with teachers and students as they regularly conference to examine progression and determine next steps.
  8. Relaxed environment to grow autonomous learning.  When students are at ease and feel supported they step up and take increased responsibility for their own learning.  Finnish students are expected to be accountable for their own actions,  demonstrate their learning, and share how they feel about their learning.    The physical learning spaces provide outlets and opportunities for interaction such as ping pong tables, comfortable seating.   Students and teachers enjoying spending time together as they are working. This relaxed environment is also anchored by student self-directed tasks (e.g., cleaning the tables in the cafeteria, focusing on assignments).
  9. The leader’s role is to grow the capacity of the staff through strategic and compassionate approaches. Instead of taking a more aggressive approach through formal evaluations, building leaders acknowledge teacher emotions but work to change or grow their pedagogy.   Cultivating the relationship of teams is grounded on the concept of the circle of trust and is central to the leader purpose.   Teachers are committed to using their freedom wisely as they interpret National Curriculum and design learning experiences.   Leaders observe and consider how professional pedagogy and emotional support can be enriched through coteaching, flexible scheduling, or focus on a building-wide narrative (e.g., flipped learning, cultural competence).
  10. Clear national goals that commit to preparing every learner for the world we live in right now. The goals of the national curriculum are: growth as a human being and membership in society; knowledge of requisite skills; promotion of knowledge and ability, equality and lifelong learning. Every child is important to the society.

The shifts and decisions that Finland began to make over 50 years ago were compelled by a national commitment to the care and wellbeing of their students by aspiring to an equitable teaching and learning system for all. Finnish leaders continue to seek inspiration around the globe for fresh ideas to consider ways of thoughtful innovation while trusting slow growth to build expertise as they engage with complex problems, challenges, and ideas that are central to a creative economy.

Right now we are facing both the challenge and the opportunity to reset. Rather than simply admiring the Finnish system and their response to the pandemic, might we inform our decisions with insights from their extensive experience?   Our learners need us to step up and take purposeful action in contrast to going back to school.   They need us to move forward.

We need Engaged Educators

by Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano

Cross posted to the Langwitches Blog

All our best strategies, plans, projects, initiatives, etc. will all come to nothing and fizzle out, if we, as educators (Yes, I am also talking about teachers AND administrators) are NOT engaged as leaders and learners.


  • are self-motivated and self-directed
  • give as much as they are taking from other educators
  • are flexible, innovative and willing to take risks
  • contribute and take an active part in a global conversation via their expertise, perspectives, shareable content and their time
  • understand that sharing is a moral imperative in a global network of educators and learners
  • are invested in their own learning

Are you engaged as a leader and learner ?



10 Tips to Get Started with Sketchnoting

by Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano
cross posted to Langwitches Blog

I facilitated a workshop at Miami Device this past week. Most conference sessions feel rushed with only 45-60 minutes to share, but thanks to Felix Jacomino‘s the genius mind behind the conference, scheduled my 10 Tips to Get Started with Sketchnoting workshop for 2 hours! It gave us the opportunity to DO what we were talking about. Participants were able to practice sketching the content of the workshop as they were learning about sketchnoting! We walked, step by step, through building a sketch by remembering these 10 tips:

  1. Remembering that you don’t have to be an artist to use sketchnoting as note taking or to make your thinking visible
  2. Skethnoting is about ideas, connections, thinking, about the process , visualizing and organizing your thinking
  3. What can be sketchnoted? Books, TED Talks, Lectures, Articles, Brainstorming sessions, Presentations, Birthday Cards or blog posts
  4. Different types of structures: linear, columns, freehand, timelines
  5. Elements: connections, icons & bullets, containers, typography, people & objects
  6. Listening Tips
  7. Practice objects, increase your visual gallery
  8. Sketchnoting for: process ideation, note taking, mindmapping, reflection
  9. Tools
  10. Share: Although sketchnotes are supposed to make primarily sense to you alone, sharing them via social media allows others to learn from your perspective and your visible thinking



Enjoy some of the participants’ sketchnotes of the workshops (for some the first attempt)sketchnote9sketchnote3sketchnote5sketchnote6sketchnote7miami-device-Jeannette-KostkaBy Jeannette Kostka

Along the way participants received the assignment to practice their skills by building their visual vocabulary. What are some concepts that you are passionate about, that you would, most likely, be trying to make your thinking visible? How would you be able to represent these concepts?sketchnote2 sketchnote4 sketchnote8

Participants were encouraged to practice throughout the rest of the conference their sketchnoting, in order to be meta-cognitively aware of their own thinking process as they were taking visual notes?


Sketchnoting another session at Miami Device by Tammy Neill

Sketchnoting For Reflection

By Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano

Cross posted to the Langwitches Blog

As a reader of my blog, you have followed my journey into exploring Sketchnoting since April 2014. I have come a long way by studying and learning from other sketchnoters: their techniques, their tools, their thinking process, their signature people, objects and metaphors.

If have gone from asking myself WHAT can you Sketchnote? to Sketchnoting as a Form of…





I am experimenting with a variety of goals, as I am sketchnoting, wanting to be aware of how I react to each form in terms of my thinking process and learning involved.

  • Reflection : “We don’t learn from experiences, we learn from reflecting on the experience” John Dewey
  • Note Taking: How can we summarize main ideas visually?
  • Visual Thinking: How can we make thinking visual and visible to others?
  • Content Creation: How can we take concepts and content, in order to be able to share visually to appeal to a larger audience
  • Memory Aid: Doodling triggers memory after the event has passed. Visuals beat text when it comes to remembering
  • Process Ideation: Documenting the formation of concepts and ideas
  • Storytelling: Conveying of events through images and text
  • Mind Mapping: Brainstorming and organizing of ideas, thoughts and connections

I am specifically intrigued by sketchnoting as a FORM OF REFLECTION. As Visible Thinking Routines (by Project Zero) have proven to be very helpful in making thinking visible, I prepared an easy to follow routine to reflect when sketchnoting. Disclaimer: this is not meant to be a one- size- fits- all reflection routine, just one of many ways one can take advantage of sketchnoting to support a reflection process.



  1. Topic
    • What do I know?
    • What have I learned?
    • How can I apply what I learned?
    • How do I summarize in a Headline what I learned?
  2. Keywords
    • Brainstorm keywords about the topic
  3. Objects & People
    • How can I make my thinking visible?
    • How can I represent an idea?
  4. Connections
    • How does what I learned connect to what I (or others) already knew or will do
  5. Actions
    • What conclusions will I draw?
    • What are my goals?


Another routine is Peter PappasTaxonomy of Reflection

  1. Remember
    • What did I do, hear, watch, learn?
  2. Understand
    • What was important about it?
  3. Apply
    • Where could I use this again?
  4. Analyze
    • Do I see any patterns?
  5. Evaluate
    • How well did I do?
  6. Create
    • What should I do next?

This past week, I had the opportunity to facilitate a session about Sketchnoting for Reflection at the end of the 3 day ASCD Camp Connect21 conference in Washington, DC. It was the perfect moment to help participants become aware of their thinking and learning process as they reflected via sketchnotes of their learning experience at the conference. Next stop? How do we bring Sketchnoting for Reflection to our students as yet another tool in their toolbox.

Below find a few samples of the reflection results:


sketchnoting-reflection sketchnoting-reflection2 sketchnoting-reflection3 sketchnoting-reflection4sketchnoting-reflection5

How to bring Social Media to a Conference focused on Learning… not Technology?

by Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano

cross-posted to the Langwitches Blog

Social Media has given educators the opportunity for self-directed, collaborative and connected learning. Network literacy , according to Eric Hellweg, requires a basic understanding of network technology, intelligence, capabilities and the ability of crafting one’s own network identity.

So, how do you bring the benefits of social media to a conference without making the conference ABOUT social media or technology? How do you share the basics of connecting and learning collaboratively with attendees who are newbies?

The question is how do you bring social media to a conference (?) where:

  • most attendees and presenters might have heard of social media like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest
  • maybe 30 % have an account in one of the platforms
  • at best less than 5% or conference participants are active and fluent on these platforms

The BIG idea behind bringing social media to a(ny) conference is to bring awareness to social networking for (and as) professional development, opportunities to practice these skills & literacies and create a culture  of sharing best practices and collaboration! How do we make it visible to newbies that it is NOT about technology, but about learning, sharing and connecting that learning?

I have been wrestling with the issue “It is NOT about technology“/ It IS about Technology for a while ( Never Was About Technology?– Time to Focus on Learning?, Take the Technology out of the Equation) and of course, it is not about the technology (it is about learning), but I am observing more and more educators , who are not comfortable with nor technology literate, are being left out of/ behind LEARNING opportunities.

How do we bring these learning opportunities to more educators?

I have reflected about the use of social media at conferences frequently:

How can conference organizers prepare for a conference and to be able to give attendees the opportunity to PARTICIPATE and EXPERIENCE the power of collaborative learning. For crowdsourcing, collaborative note taking and documentation from a variety of perspectives and locations, you NEED, well, a variety of people to contribute. It is imperative to not turn the conference into a conference about technology and social media, but make sure that the focus and emphasis stays on learning as we are using technology as an amplification and redefinition tool.

I have brainstormed steps in order to facilitate a “Watch- Do- Learn” approach.

Pre-Conference: Bring awareness to social media as a learning tool, introduce conference attendees to social media and networking and make further resources to learn more about social media available

  • Organized Twitter Chat or webinar
  • Creation of a Twitter account upon conference registration
  • Social Media resources available
  • Presenters and keynote speakers briefed and prepared to embed Social Media reminders into sessions

During the Conference: Give attendees hands-on experience, reflection and sharing time

  • Help Desk
  • Breakout Session
  • Tidbit sessions
  • Built-in reflection time
  • Mixed Cohort/ Social Media Team (Students/Teachers)
  • Presenters embed Social Media awareness and practice time
  • Backchannel Display: Strategic Location

Post-Conference: Reflective, connected, collaborative and networked

  • Reflective blog posts contributed to a central blog hub
  • Debriefing organized via Twitter chat or conference hashtag
  • Local coaching to connect and amplify learning when conference participants return to their home schools


Social-Media-conference-tolisanoWhat are some of your approaches/ideas to bringing social media for/as learning to conferences without making the conference about social media and technology?

ASCD Connect21 Summer Camp

Join the Curriculum21 team at ASCD Connect 21 Summer Camp:

August 6-8, 2015

The first ASCD Connect 21 Summer Camp
Becoming a 21st Century Teacher, Leader and School

ASCD_Connect_21_CampYou will create a personalized professional learning experience!

August 6-8, 2015 at the Gaylord Conference Center -greater DC area

TAKE A LOOK: http://connect.curriculum21.com