CBL Combats Summer Learning Loss

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Competency-based learning helps fight summer backslide.
"CBL fights backslide by teaching students how to carry out their own lines of inquiry, discover texts and experiences that are meaningful to them and reflect actively on their daily activities to assess how they practice and develop skills and knowledge each day."

For decades, teachers have known empirically that educational backslide or “learning loss” affects many students over the long summer break. Estimates of the scope of the problem have varied over the years, but it’s undeniable that student skills, particularly in the areas of math and reading, erode during long stretches of time away from schools. In fact, a 2011 Johns Hopkins study concluded that students are at risk of losing up to two grade levels of reading skill each summer if they do not work to maintain and use those skills in their free time.

One of the reasons learning loss happens so easily is that our culture and educational model compartmentalize learning as something that happens in the school building during the 180 days of the academic calendar. This situation brings new meaning to the phrase, “Out of sight, out of mind,” as it basically communicates to students that their role as a learner is only relevant in a certain context.

If we as educators are to develop lifelong learners, we first must develop summerlong learners. That means embracing approaches during the traditional academic year that eliminate the compartmentalization of education and show students how the learning and skill development processes are part of successful everyday life.

Competency-based learning is an example of a progressive, skills- and knowledge-based approach to learning that encourages the kind of thinking that keeps learning happening during the summer. CBL fights backslide by teaching students how to carry out their own lines of inquiry, discover texts and experiences that are meaningful to them and reflect actively on their daily activities to assess how they practice and develop skills and knowledge each day.

Once a student has experienced a year or two in a competency-based classroom, they will have an engrained understanding of how to acquire new knowledge, practice new skills, seek feedback from others and assess progress toward personal goals. This mindset empowers students to make more mindful, productive use of their time over the summer and to connect what is going on around them in July and August to what they learned during the academic year. Essentially, CBL teaches students to be learners 365 days a year rather than the 180 that the traditional model expects of them.

By modeling thinking and skill-acquisition strategies and putting students in charge of their own learning, competency-based learning opens students up to a world of constant growth and discovery. To the competency-minded student, summer vacation isn’t a time to forget about learning and academic skill but rather an opportunity to put that knowledge and those skills to work in new ways and continue learning in ways that aren’t possible in the classroom.