Hello, I hope this finds you well. This Coaching Letter is about Acceleration, with a capital A, which has taken on much greater significance since we (the Center) started advocating that districts adopt a particular approach to schooling that encompassed prioritized content, challenging and scaffolded tasks, formative assessment, and self-efficacy. This Coaching Letter is both an update on our work and an extension of CL #140 on Acceleration from a month ago.

The Accelerating Learning Framework that we developed is a distillation of research-based practice that is needed most acutely in this moment, but that is relevant all the time. Last summer, when we began this work (the first Acceleration Workshop was in August), we set out to create a framework that would apply during remote learning and also when it was possible to return to in-person schooling, and also for the foreseeable future. In other words, for us, Acceleration is not only about post-Covid recovery; it highlights the practices that are most likely to improve student learning. And not only is each of them a powerful lever, but in concert they have an even greater impact.

You can find more information about the work of the Center on Acceleration on our website; we are currently registering for the third iteration of the Acceleration Workshop in June, and will be announcing dates for the fourth soon, which will be early in the fall. Also, I was interviewed for a Chalkbeat article on Acceleration, which I recommend not just because I’m quoted, but because it’s a thoughtful examination of the subject.

There are three notable additions to the available resources on Acceleration from a variety of sources.
(1) Accelerating Learning As We Build Back Better by Linda Darling-Hammond and Adam Edgerton has a list of “what a new normal should look like” which includes the following elements:

  1. Redesign schools so that they are relationship-centered;
  2. Engage in activities that support brain development and learning, such as play and exercise;
  3. Ensure culturally responsive learning;
  4. Assess for learning rather than labeling;
  5. Accelerate learning through additional time and high-quality tutoring.

We agree with everything on this list (or, we don’t disagree), and we also agree with all the things they say NOT to do in the blog post itself, but our framework is a larger and more specific frame for defining and operationalizing number 5.

(2) The Acceleration Imperative is a bit unusual in its format—the best way I can describe it is as a hybrid website and wiki. It took me a while to figure out how to navigate it—scroll down the menu on the left-hand side. And while it is very Center-like in its infusion of and foundation in research, it too is too high-level, I think. Terms like scaffolding and checking for understanding are used without any guidance for what they mean—but I suppose we’re guilty of that too, sometimes, because at some point we have to make choices about what to prioritize. Time is never on our side.

(3) Here’s another resource for thinking about summer programming from Chalkbeat (CL #140 also included resources for planning tutoring and summer school):

  1. Find ways to encourage attendance and avoid drudgery;
  2. Actively recruit families and remove potential obstacles;
  3. Make summer school appealing for teachers, too;
  4. Think twice before going with an online summer school;
  5. Consider how summer school programs can lead into next school year:
  6. Have realistic expectations.

And then there is other bland and fairly unhelpful stuff; for example, this resource from Ed Trust offers only: targeted intensive tutoring; expanded learning time; the importance of relationships. And nothing about curriculum and instruction. I don’t get it. Not that relationships aren’t important! I direct you, again, to the Search Institute’s Developmental Relationship Framework, and to CASEL’s update of their work on Social-Emotional Learning. But a resource that purports to support learning should probably talk about teaching.

One final thought: I really like this blog post from Tom Sherrington: Rescuing Differentiation from the Checklist of Bad Practice. I am confident that I have seen more really poor teaching performed under the guise of differentiation than any other misguided practice. The whole theory of action of Acceleration is based on the idea that we should be doing everything we can to help students be successful at tackling grade level content, and in my experience that’s not how differentiation is consistently enacted. Personally, I’m in favor of ditching differentiation in favor of scaffolding and formative assessment. But I take Tom’s point that it is not fundamentally a poor concept, just that it is misunderstood and misapplied.

This is a shorter-than-usual Coaching Letter, but at 4 o’clock on a Friday afternoon, that seems like it can only be a good thing. Have a fantastic weekend. Best, Isobel

Isobel Stevenson, PhD PCC
Connecticut Center for School Change
CCSC Services to Districts
Author of The Coaching Letter

Author with Jennie Weiner of The Strategy Playbook for Educational Leaders: Principles and Practices Routledge


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