Top Nav Breadcrumb

Beyond “lost learning”: Using formative assessment to support a return to the classroom

It’s been two years since education around the world was disrupted by the Coronavirus pandemic. Many schools have already returned to in-person learning and teaching, while others continue with remote learning or even a hybrid of the two. However, with ongoing uncertainty about new variants, schools and educators will no doubt need to continue being flexible in how they teach. 

During this period, there have been many conversations about “lost learning”. A McKinsey survey conducted with teachers in eight countries in Europe, Asia and North America revealed in March 2021, that due to remote learning, students were on average two months behind where their peers would be under ‘normal’ circumstances. 

What about IB World Schools specifically? 

A recent survey of schools who took part in the IB’s May 2021 assessment session highlighted an incredible amount of resilience and adaptability in the face of the challenges coronavirus presented.  

Around half of the respondents to the survey reported that their school was physically closed for up to 25 weeks. But, with the efforts of schools and teachers, more than half of programmes only lost up to four weeks of planned learning time. 20% report having lost no learning time at all.  

How helpful is the term “lost learning”? 

Many educators believe conversations centered on “lost learning” are unhelpful. The learning experience of students can vary, even when they are from the same school or classroom. Some students have thrived in a remote learning environment and will continue to thrive as they return to the classroom. Others will require extra support as they transition back to in-person learning and might need more feedback and prompting to recall knowledge, or even some reteaching of certain concepts. In a March 2021 TES article, neuroscientist and educator Jared Cooney Horvath, reasoned that “‘lost learning’ is purely a curriculum argument”, and assumes the need to cover a curriculum by a certain deadline. If any time is lost but that deadline stays the same, we either have to catch up or abandon content or modules. 

Evaluating the extent of “lost learning” 

There are many arguments against the rush to use formal testing to evaluate the extent of the “lost learning”, as this encourages a focus on gaps in learning from the past, leading to feelings of stress or inadequacy among students, rather than on the current learning needs of students. A formative assessment approach may be the best alternative way forward as it focuses on understanding individual strengths, needs and opportunities for growth, and is part of the ongoing learning and teaching cycle. 

The IB’s approach to formative assessment 

At the IB the focus of formative assessment is on student agency and thinking skills. Good formative assessment allows us to analyze patterns in student responses to understand not only what the student can do at the time of assessment, but also why a student did something and how to support them as they continue learning. It should identify the essential concepts, skills and knowledge that students require to flourish at present. This approach holds the idea that learning is not linear like a textbook.  

How are IB World Schools using formative assessments to support students? 

Upon returning to the physical classrooms, many teachers have built in more structured peer activities and provided more informal spaces for students to engage in peer learning and feedback, enhancing student agency. 

There are also examples of teachers using graphic organizers or mind maps, such as this image below. This has been shared by a teacher of Diploma Programme (DP) Physics to develop and identify students’ conceptual understanding of the subject. 

Beyound lost learning

Other examples include: 

  • Group experiments 
  • Self-assessment and reflection during roundtable discussions 
  • Using the Harkness Discussion tools 

The above examples are all available for further reading in the IB’s recently published Teaching and learning informed by assessment in the Diploma Programme which is accessible to all IB Educators on the Programme Resource Centre.   

Please get involved and share any good ideas on formative assessment as you support students in their return to the physical classrooms in the comment section below.