Empower students by putting them in the fast lane of learning.
I had a student once who was a bit of a perfectionist. One day, I watched as she put pen to notebook paper for her in-class writing assignment. But before she was done, she’d turn to a fresh page and start over. And then she did this again.
When I asked her what was going on, she told me simply, “I messed up.”
Instead of crossing out sentences or adding words in the margins, she was rewriting the whole paragraph and falling further and further behind her classmates in the process. She wasn’t learning anything new by rewriting the sentences that were fine, either.
For years, we’ve seen the same thing happening in education across many subjects. At the end of a school year, students who haven’t yet mastered some concepts from that year’s curriculum are required to redo coursework the following year. They’re placed in remedial classes or their new teacher re-teaches past units. Some even repeat an entire grade. We call it remediation.
And these students fall further and further behind their peers in the process.
As we return back to school post-pandemic and urgently need to address unfinished learning, many experts and organizations are advising educators to forgo the remediation route and opt for learning acceleration instead. But what do we actually mean when we talk about accelerating learning?
What accelerating learning is not: Feeding students the same curriculum and pressing 2x playback speed on their brains. (How neat would that be?)
Neither is it simply extra learning time, perhaps with an after-school tutor, to catch up on knowledge gaps.
Learning acceleration is an approach that gives students laser-focused instruction on the specific skills and content that they need in order to learn the new grade-level material at hand. We accelerate learning by moving students forward on grade level and setting them up for success with just-in-time training on required foundational skills. (Racecar drivers only pull over when they need fuel or tires replaced. Imagine how silly it would be to have them restart the race instead!)
Schools that implement acceleration programs replace remedial classes with acceleration ones that take place before or after school or in the place of electives. Teachers tailor-fit their lessons to complement core instruction so that in their regular classes, students have the tools they need to fully grasp grade-level material.
Other accelerated learning approaches utilize technology to help teachers make the most of instruction time. For example, MATHia uses artificial intelligence to offer just-in-time support unique to each student, just like a human tutor would. It simultaneously saves teachers time and gives students personalized, grade-level learning opportunities.
Remediation is entrenched in the past: what students missed last year and what they need to redo. On the other hand, acceleration focuses on the present and the future: what students need right now to excel this year and beyond.
The concept of accelerating learning is nothing new. Suzy Pepper Rollins’ 2014 book, Learning in the Fast Lane: 8 Ways to Put All Students on the Road to Academic Success, provides a useful table comparing acceleration and remediation.
“If a student receives below-grade-level instruction all day, where will they end up at the end of the year? Below grade level, of course,” according to the authors of Taking Action: A Handbook for RTI at Work™.
Remediation purports to support students who have fallen behind, but we know these students can never catch up if they keep working below grade level. Learning acceleration makes it truly possible to get and stay caught up.
But accelerating learning is not just the smart thing to do. It’s also a matter of equity.
Opportunity gaps have long disproportionately affected students of color, those impacted by poverty, and other vulnerable populations such as ELL students and those receiving special education services. School closures necessitated by COVID-19 only exacerbated these issues.
These are the students who are most at risk if they are assigned remediation. Let’s empower them with an accelerated learning approach.
When I think about my student who felt compelled to write a perfect paragraph in one go, unwilling to muddle the page with cross-outs or add-ins, I think about how important it is to embrace the messiness of learning.
Our students master concepts and skills at varied paces, and they'll struggle with and need support on different topics. Some will need the boost of accelerated learning to achieve their potential.
But the messiness of learning—when one class is fully engaged but the same exact lesson flops in the next, the delightful surprise of “aha!” moments, a new way to get an answer that a student discovers on their own—what a wonderful thing!
Amy is passionate about researching and writing about urgent topics in education to help educators stay up-to-date on the best practices. As a former teacher of English writing, EFL, and ESL, she is dedicated to supporting educators and students.Explore more related to this author
Remediation is entrenched in the past: what students missed last year and what they need to redo. On the other hand, acceleration focuses on the present: what students need right now to excel this year.