The words ‘learning gaps’ and ‘gap filling’ always give me a sense of urgency and dread. The word ‘gap’ seems so impossible – I get a visual of the Grand Canyon in my mind and think of how long it would take for me to fill it. It brings memories of rote worksheets and intensive pull out programs which seemed scary to me as a student and overwhelming as an adult. However, most recently in a conversation with a colleague, she gave me an alternative way of thinking about how to connect with student needs. The words “missed experiences” suddenly seemed like something I could do.
Think about the math learning continuum, for example. If students are working with multiplication and are relying solely on skip counting when multiplying, they have missed a few experiences along the way; perhaps they were away due to Covid, perhaps virtual learning was a challenge. Whatever the reason, they have missed a mathematical experience that they need to build their understanding. It might mean working physically with array models or the experience of sharing mental math strategies with peers. It could even be building and scaffolding questions that help to frame their thinking. Whatever the experience looks like, it should be meaningful for everyone.
A missed experience isn’t a deficit in learning. It is a circumstance that can be changed. If I got lost while driving to a new destination, I had strategies to use; I could consult Google Maps, I could stop and ask for directions. I knew how to navigate through the challenge and not just think I had to give up and go home or be stuck there until someone came to get me.
Changing my language from learning gaps to identifying missed experiences was empowering. It meant that I could provide intentional lessons and tasks that helped to meet their needs. It meant that I knew what my actions should be and that I could focus on what the students COULD do and build from there. Keeping an asset based mindset gave me a hopeful feeling and I felt that I could use the tools and knowledge I already had to provide experiences for all students to learn with and from one another.
Is there a space and time for intensive instruction? Of course there is! But that doesn’t begin and end in one session and teachers are a powerful force when it comes to helping students within the classroom, too. We have a great wealth of knowledge, strategies, and expertise. Providing meaningful experiences for students to learn and feel confident is what we all do best.