The Case for Accelerated Learning: Supporting Student Success
Teaching an entire curriculum in ways that ensure all students are learning is challenging even during a typical school year. Last year, it was impossible! McKinsey & Company reports the impact of the pandemic has left students across the country with unfinished learning that, on average, amounts to four months in reading and five months in math.
This year, teachers face a herculean task: addressing grade-appropriate content with students who are entering school significantly behind grade level. Reteaching months of missed curriculum is impractical, and according to a study conducted by The New Teacher Project, possibly detrimental. The research also suggests that “learning acceleration”—proceeding with grade-level content and providing “just-in-time” support for individual students when necessary—is more efficient and impactful.
Establish a Classroom Culture that Supports Acceleration
To effectively accelerate learning, teachers need to establish a classroom culture in which students accept where they are in the learning process, and feel safe and supported. A positive classroom culture is also important for building students’ confidence so they are prepared to step out of their comfort zone and take the risks necessary to learn new content. Brain research (and common sense) says that we can’t learn in a state of extreme stress or fear. That state of mind narrows our focus and induces “amygdala hijacking.” This term, coined by psychologist Daniel Goleman, refers to moving from the cognitive thinking brain to a “fight or flight” instinct. We literally don’t have the perspective to accommodate new ideas.
This summer, to support teacher and student well-being, we launched BrainPOP Connect—a new virtual event series for educators, where we surface practical ideas for transforming classrooms into healing spaces.
We also recently developed a 6-week SEL curriculum aligned to the CASEL competencies and back-to-school pacing guides that provide shared, low-pressure experiences designed to build a constructive and supportive classroom culture.
Technology Enables Acceleration
Technology can support acceleration by providing rapid academic diagnostics with personalized recommendations—taking a heavy lift off of teachers. BrainPOP helps teachers diagnose learning gaps through our suite of resources, including an ELL placement test and new BrainPOP Science unit assessment reports. Many other technologies provide diagnostic or formative assessment results to help teachers identify students’ needs in other academic areas.
Armed with that knowledge, teachers can draw on our “essential skills” guides—grade-leveled mini lessons that include over two dozen writing, language, reading, and math skills. These lessons, perfect for “just-in-time” learning, follow four steps: activate prior knowledge, build background, apply understanding, and assess. Additionally, our modification and differentiation chart provides a range of options to customize BrainPOP tools, features, and content to target the needs of specific students.
With Acceleration, Context is King
Providing context for students to better understand their current course of study is key to learning acceleration. BrainPOP effectively builds background knowledge through our universally designed learning experiences. Our beloved characters clearly communicate main ideas and introduce or reinforce essential vocabulary. Visual explanations demystify complex ideas in ways that words alone can’t.
Social studies and science curricula frequently have a spiraling structure by presenting consistent themes through increasingly complex studies. Are you teaching the Civil War to students who never completed their study of the American Revolution? A few BrainPOP lessons can quickly present essential concepts such as liberty, freedom, and justice that bring the causes of the Civil War into sharp relief.
We have more exciting enhancements in store over the coming months to support grade-specific skill development. One is an upgrade to our movie player to create a BrainPOP experience that’s differentiated, accessible, and more engaging than ever. Another is the addition of Lexile levels to selected Related Reading articles, and coming soon is the integration of Microsoft Immersive Reader, designed for students who benefit from hearing texts read aloud and seeing grammar structures.
Accelerated learning is challenging—and to some, counterintuitive. At BrainPOP, our objective is to support you by providing SEL content to build a positive classroom culture, offer impactful visual explanations and learning tools, and introduce grade-leveled enhancements.
Andrew Gardner is VP, professional learning at BrainPOP, where he manages all professional learning services, designs learning experiences for teachers, and runs the Certified BrainPOP Educator program. Prior to BrainPOP, Andrew taught for over a decade, including as a founding faculty member of The School at Columbia University, where he was a first grade teacher, technology integrator, and curriculum designer. Andrew has served as an adjunct professor at NYU Steinhardt School of Education and Harvard University Future of Learning Summer Institute.