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Here’s What Accelerated Learning Really Looks Like (Opinion)

In light of the pandemic, there has been a lot of talk about “accelerated learning.”

Apart from the buzzword and the hype, though, what does it really look like in the classroom?

An earlier post here featured Nancy Frey and Douglas Fisher’s ideas, and I’ve talked about secondary ELL teachers doing accelerated learning for years. You can learn more here.

Today’s post kicks off a series where educators will share their actual recent experiences with what accelerated learning looks like in schools.

‘A Faster Pace’

Janice Wyatt-Ross is currently the principal of an alternative education program providing virtual education for students in grades 6–12 and on-campus service for students who are overage and undercredited. She has more than 30 years of experience in education:

Accelerated learning is an approach that focuses on allowing students to progress through content at a faster pace than the traditional pacing of curriculum. Many students claim that they are bored in school because they are being forced to learn information that they are either not interested in, will never use, or they already know. Accelerated learning seeks to avoid boredom and stagnation in the classroom.

As the principal of a reengagement center, my goal is to provide students with a nontraditional, personalized, individualized, and innovative program of study. Here are some ways accelerated learning is applied in our program.

  • Every student has an individualized graduation plan. We identify how many Carnegie Units (credits) the student has earned toward graduation; what credits they still need; and based on our pacing guide, we determine their expected date of graduation. This gives students a visualization and an example of working to achieve a goal.
  • In math classes, even though our students are behind their same-age peers in the acquisition of credits, we don’t belabor their instruction with basic, low-level work. We introduce them to complex algebraic equations and higher-level math concepts. We provide them with real work scenarios such as banking and finance, stock market exchanges, and basic financial literacy.
  • Students progress at their own pace. We set a minimum expectation of how fast they should progress through their individualized course of study; however, faster-moving students are not held back by the pace of slower-moving students.
  • Students encouraged one of our transition specialists to work with the English instructor to create a Marvel Universe-themed class. Students are able to earn credit for an English course through the study of the Marvel Universe comic book and movie series.
  • In addition to academics, relationships with trusted adults is critical to our acceleration model. All students are assigned a success coach. Success coaches meet every day with students and communicate weekly with families. They update students on their progress, attendance, behavior, and anything else that is going on at the time. Students know that their success coach is their “person.”
  • Student interest is also key. This year, we partnered with a local university to provide an esports program for a group of students. The group would visit campus one day per week, and the professor would also dedicate time to “game” with students after school hours. The incentive to attend each session was weekly progress in coursework.
  • Because we implement a hybrid model of instruction, students receive direct instruction from teachers as well as utilize a web-based instructional platform. Teachers can skip assignments, lessons, and quizzes in the online platform when they have covered the content through direct teaching.
  • Student voice is also a large component of accelerated learning. As I mentioned earlier, students suggested the Marvel Universe class. We have student voice sessions, which we refer to as success chats. Students have small discussion groups with their success coach or another trusted adult and give feedback on things they like, don’t like, or what they’d like to see included in the program.
  • We incorporate field trips to local colleges and universities, industries in the area, hiking, and entertainment venues in the city. Students had asked to visit the Pumpkin Patch, and we adults thought is was not age-appropriate. Students kept asking, and we finally acquiesced. Little did we know this filled a void that students had since kindergarten. Many had never been to the Pumpkin Patch.

Accelerated learning ensures that students are continuously challenged and engaged, maximizing their learning potential. It is important to identify the unique learning needs of students and provide ongoing learning opportunities for them. Additionally, open communication with students and their families is critical to maintaining a positive and successful school experience.

‘New Learning Opportunities’

Sonya Murray-Darden is the CEO and founder of Equity Matters Consultants ®. She is an award-winning leadership coach and former administrator. Visit her website.

Gwen Turner is an emeritus professor of teacher education. She is a former teacher, adult educator, and teacher educator with experience in the United States and internationally.

Their latest book is Serving Educational Equity: A Five-Course Framework for Accelerated Learning :

Accelerated learning refers to a wide variety of educational and instructional strategies that educators use to advance the learning progress of all students. To better understand what it looks like in action, the following example is offered:

Recently, while visiting a school in the Midwest, we observed teachers embracing, implementing, and celebrating acceleration. First, we observed teachers using grade-level standards with all students regardless of the student’s ability. Teachers intentionally planned scaffolded strategies for the diverse students in their classrooms. They internalized their lesson plans by marking where students would need extra support. They also strategically planned their collaboration with resource teachers, teacher aides, and special education teachers in their regular classrooms to meet shared learning goals for students.

Second, learning objectives were shared, displayed, reviewed, and discussed with students throughout the school to help them understand expected learning outcomes. Third, teachers were the facilitators of the learning, often walking around the room to offer real-time support to students. Fourth, students exhibited the “heavy lifting” of learning by grappling with the challenging and demanding aspects of the academic work. Students engaged in problem-solving, critical thinking, and in-depth analysis. Productive struggle was evident, and student mistakes were used as opportunities for growth and learning.

For example, in the 6th grade English/language rts classroom, the teacher used multiple approaches for students to access the text The Crossover (Alexander & Anyabwile, 2019), including audio recordings, narrations, think-pair-share groupings, and reading buddies. She used a variety of instructional real estate, including anchor charts and story maps, to aid student learning. Moreover, students were active, not passive learners, as they discussed, exchanged ideas, wrote, and reviewed notes. When questioning students, the teacher offered many opportunities for critical reflection through turn-and-talk and think-pair-share interactions.

In a 7th grade mathematics classroom, the teacher posed questions to the entire classroom, avoiding one-to-one responses and encouraging all students to problem-solve using their manipulatives. Students explained their processes for achieving answers to complex math tasks. The student discourse was rich, and students were actively engaged.

Fifth, the learning environment was culturally affirming throughout the school for the diverse students represented. There were relationship-nurturing activities such as warm and inviting dialogue exchanges in the classroom. We witnessed praise and acknowledgment from student to student and student to staff. We observed several teachers across the school engage in more wait time and eye contact, using whip-around strategies to provide equity of voice and student agency.

Sixth, teachers used real-world applications as students discussed the economy and its implications for their home community. The extension of learning occurred through real-world application, and technology was used to enhance, not replace, quality teaching and learning.

Are you promoting accelerated learning in your classroom?

  • Do you offer academic support for all students?
  • Is your classroom a place for emotional safety and well-being for all students?
  • Are interpersonal relationships nurtured between staff and students?
  • Are your students engaging in critical thinking and transfer of knowledge?
  • Are your students applying what they learn in your classroom in real-world situations?
  • Are you providing opportunities for student agency and voice?
  • Are you encouraging your students to engage in productive struggle as they learn?
  • Are students using their mistakes to deepen their learning and understanding?

Acceleration learning is an active process in which you implement the best approaches to advancing students’ learning. Too often, educators have used remediation to fill in the gaps of learning by focusing on drilling students on isolated skills and lowering academic expectations for students instead of offering acceleration. Acceleration offers support on grade-level content to advance learning. Finally, acceleration prepares students for new learning opportunities.

Thanks to Janice, Sonya, and Gwen for contributing their thoughts.

They answered this question of the week:

There is a lot of talk about “accelerated learning.” If you feel like you are applying this concept in your classroom, what does it look like? What are examples?

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at [email protected]. When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo.

Just a reminder; you can subscribe and receive updates from this blog via email. And if you missed any of the highlights from the first 12 years of this blog, you can see a categorized list here.

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