Return Learn Principals DL

Principles and Strategies for Addressing Unfinished Learning


Council of the Great City Schools 

Sacramento City Unified is a member of the Council of Great City Schools, the only national organization exclusively representing the needs of urban public schools. Composed of 76 large-city school districts, its mission is to promote the cause of urban education and to advocate for inner-city students through legislation, research, and media relations. The organization also provides a network for school districts sharing common problems to exchange information and to collectively address new challenges as they emerge in order to deliver the best possible education for urban youth. 

The Council of Great City Schools has released a guide to help districts address instructional challenges from school closures and address unfinished learning. SCUSD will use this resource to help guide us in our mission to provide all students with high-quality, standards-based instruction, and to meet all students’ academic, social and emotional needs.

While this mission might not be easy during these unprecedented circumstances, Sac City Unified educators, administrators, and staff are up for the challenge:  “In many ways, the instructional challenges that school districts will be faced with in the 2020-21 school year will be unprecedented. Students will be returning to school with significant anxiety and likely trauma, as well as considerable unfinished learning from the past school year. However, while the scale of the challenge (owing to the shared nature of the educational disruption) may be novel, unfinished learning is nothing new. Addressing skill gaps, incomplete learning, and misconceptions is a necessary and natural part of the teaching (and learning) process, although it is one with which educators have traditionally struggled.” (Addressing Unfinished Learning After COVID-19 School Closures | Council of the Great City Schools)

Council of Great City Schools’ Principles and Strategies for Addressing Unfinished Learning

Below are the Council’s guiding principles as well as information about how SCUSD has incorporated these principles into its plan.

1. Commit to grade-level content and instructional rigor

The Council advises that educators “keep the focus on grade-level content and rigor, addressing learning gaps as needed within the context of grade-level work.” “Daily re-engagement of prior knowledge in the context of grade-level assignments will add up over time, resulting in more functional learning than if we resort to watered down instruction or try to reteach topics out of context.”

2. Focus on the depth of instruction, rather than the pace

“As educators we need to remain focused on the learning that could and should be happening today, and not allow ourselves to be distracted by how we will catch students up. These distractions shift our attention from just in time learning to just in case teaching. “Just in case” teaching wastes time teaching content and skills from earlier grades just in case students need it for grade-level work. “Just in time” concentrates time expenditure on needs that actually come up during grade-level work. In other words, taking the time to provide patient, in-depth instruction allows for issues related to unfinished learning to arise naturally when dealing with new content, allowing for just in time instruction and reengagement of students in the context of grade-level work.”

3. Prioritize content and learning

“In order to allow sufficient time for the in-depth instruction and just in time learning described above, curriculum leaders will need to articulate the district’s instructional priorities for schools and teachers—what is most important to teach within the major curricular domains at each grade level. It is important that teachers know where to invest their time and effort, what areas can be cut, and where they should teach only to awareness level to save time for priorities. What is most important deserves more time, and teachers need to be given the latitude to provide responsive feedback and allow time for constructive struggle—a very different proposition than merely offering a superficial ‘right’ or ‘wrong.’ This additional time has to come from somewhere.”

 Principles 1-3 as part of SCUSD Return to Learn Plan

SCUSD has updated its scope and sequence documents in ELA and math which focus on grade level content, depth of instruction and priority standards.  Guidance for teachers on high quality resources and materials to use are also included.  These documents take the guesswork out of planning what to focus on for teachers.  Professional learning on how to use the new scope and sequence documents will be provided to teachers and leaders.
20-21 Scope and Sequence for ELA
20-21 Scope and Sequence for Math
(Achieve the Core 2020)
4. Maintain the inclusion of each and every learner 

“While school closures have impacted all students, some students, such as ELLs, students with disabilities, students with learning or attention issues, economically disadvantaged students, foster children, and homeless youth, will be disproportionately affected by school closures and the unanticipated, rushed switch to distance learning. When schools are back in session, the temptation of education systems will be to pull these at-risk students out of classrooms to provide enhanced support and remedial coursework. But now more than ever, it is essential to ensure that each and every student has equitable access to engaging grade-level content and instructional rigor.  One way to make grade-level content accessible for all students is through the use of the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL). Universal Design for Learning principles are based on the understanding that students differ in the ways they are motivated to learn, and that students with language and/or cultural difference, sensory disabilities (e.g., blindness or deafness), and learning disabilities all require a different way of approaching content.”

Principle 4 as part of SCUSD Return To Learn Plan
All lessons should be planned using Universal Design for Learning.  SCUSD teachers and leaders will engage in ongoing professional learning on the use of UDL.
5. Identify and address gaps in learning through instruction. Monitor students’ progress on grade level appropriate assessments and adjust supports based on student results.

“The first instinct of many districts will be to immediately test students upon their return to school in order to gauge their academic level and needs. This would be a mistake for many reasons. To begin with, districts should focus on creating learning environments that feel both physically and psychologically safe for students (and adults). Educators need to work to re-engage students in school, emphasizing the importance of the school community and the joy of learning. Administering tests too soon undermines both of these objectives.”

“It is therefore entirely appropriate to employ assessments as a broad temperature check a few weeks into the school year—which is when they are typically administered in a normal school year. But it is more important than ever to ensure that students have had an initial period of a few weeks to reacclimate to the school setting, and that teachers are given careful guidance on what the data means—and what it doesn’t—and how the results should drive instruction.”

Principle 5 as part of SCUSD Return To Learn Plan
SCUSD has organized the 20-21 SCUSD District Common Assessments, and professional learning on how to use the assessments to drive instruction will be provided to teachers and leaders.
6. Focus on the commonalities that students share in this time of crisis, not just on their differences

“It is important to recognize that the prolonged interruption in schooling will have affected some children more than others. For example, the hiatus will likely have a greater adverse impact on students with disabilities (SWDs), English learners, students who are homeless or in transitional living situations, or students from low income backgrounds who receive free or reduced-price meals through school and/or may not have easy access to computers to engage in distance learning. Other students may be dealing with issues of psychological stress, abuse, domestic violence, suicide, or parental job loss. Those issues must be recognized, and schools will need to attend to the emotional wellbeing of students as they re-engage them in academic content.”

“However, whatever differences exist in the experiences and resulting academic needs of children during this crisis must not be the starting point for instruction in the coming school year. Rather, as educators we should capitalize on the shared experience of living through a pandemic, as well as the more recent social justice protest movement, as a learning opportunity. The virus, school closures, social distancing, and nationwide protests have created new common experiences that can serve as the basis for work across subjects in the first weeks of school. The assignments associated with this real-world learning opportunity should emphasize improving the quality of what students produce using collaborative (and perhaps digital) feedback and revision cycles.”

Principle 6 as part of SCUSD Return to Learn Plan
SCUSD has developed  SEL lessons focused on universal themes to be used throughout the school year: Universal SEL Lessons