Addressing Post-Pandemic Learning Gaps
Pandemic-induced learning losses
One of the largest but often overlooked impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic was the learning gaps created by an extended period of remote instruction. According to Thomas Kane, the Director of the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University, the distractions, technical difficulties, and other pitfalls of online education made it far less effective than in-person learning. As a result, students enrolled in school districts that remained remote for the majority of the 2020-21 school year lost the equivalent of 13-22 weeks of in-person instruction. The consequence of this was dire, as students fell behind in a variety of academic skills including reading, writing, and mathematics. A historically large decline in academic achievement and progress emerged as a byproduct of the pandemic.
At the beginning of the 2022 Omega Speech and Debate Summer Camp, 73% of Omega students reported that during online school, they did not feel their academic skills and knowledge improve as much as they wanted or needed them to. Fortunately, our summer camp helped our 60+ students recover learning losses in 4 different areas: critical thinking, research, reading, and writing.
Perhaps the most universally useful skill that students gain through education is the ability to think critically, or analyze and evaluate issues to make judgements and form solutions. Our curriculum was designed to help students develop the critical thinking skills that they should have but could not gain from school during the pandemic. We guided our students through speech and debate related critical thinking exercises, such as “Analytical Rebuttals”, “Second Half Strategy Drills”, and “Impromptu Speaking Drills”. Our students experienced significant improvement in their ability to not just think critically but also think on their feet. As a result, our students became more mentally agile, and thus better prepared to successfully adapt to a variety of obstacles and situations throughout their academic careers.
Our camp equipped students with a variety of research skills and tactics that they can use to succeed at any research-related task. Students learned how to use Google Scholar, evaluate the bias and reliability of a source of information, navigate the literature on extremely complex topics, and more. Students exited our camp with the ability to conduct research in a more efficient and effective manner.
During their research on the camp debate topic, students engaged with various types of literature, and practiced their ability to read and comprehend dense sources of information. Our instructors taught them how to identify the most important information in an article or book, read long texts efficiently, summarize the information they are reading, and other extremely important reading comprehension skills.
Every student left our program as a better writer than they were when they entered it! Our curriculum taught students the essence of great writing: how to effectively articulate thoughts and ideas in the fewest words possible. Through lessons and lots of practice, we helped our students develop clearer and more concise writing styles. Additionally, our curriculum emphasized persuasive writing. We taught students the rhetorical appeals of Ethos, Logos, and Pathos, and how to successfully implement them in argumentative writing.
Our Students' progress
As their final project in this program, all Omega students wrote a formal, argumentative research paper on the camp debate topic—which was, Resolved: The United States Federal Government should substantially increase its investment in High Speed Rail. Every student’s paper was the culmination of all of the critical thinking, research, reading, and writing skills that they had developed throughout the program. Several examples of our students’ work can be found below!