All through the summer, the question of what school would look like when summer ends and the new school year begins was hanging in the air. Still, even as the pandemic continues to challenge the ways campuses go about conducting school, there’s just something exciting, for teachers and students alike, when back-to-school comes around. New faces, new ideas to share, practically everything feels new, and that newness signals that school is back in session.

And what does a new year mean for teachers? Starting a new year brings with it the task of thinking long-term about effective instructional planning. In the usual circumstances, teachers must plan their instruction to account for summer slide. Now, teachers have the additional factor of considering how the COVID slide will affect the year to come.

At Mentoring Minds, our goal is to provide teachers with the learning resources and data that are critically important to ensuring academic success. Here are just a few of the resources in ThinkUp! Standards Mastery System that work together to get back-to-school off to a great start:

  • Diagnostic Assessments to capture specific information about learning loss and Pre-Assessments to gauge readiness for new learning
  • Intervention activities to bridge learning gaps
  • The 9 Traits of Critical Thinking™ that help reveal students’ understandings of content

Utilizing Assessment Tools

Among our many useful tools for getting back-to-school are our online diagnostic assessments. These assessments aim to identify gaps in students’ understandings of the previous grade level’s skills and concepts with items aligned to the prior grade’s standards. They are available in ELA/R Levels 1–8, Math Levels 1–8, and Science Levels 3–8. The assessments allow teachers the flexibility to administer them in one or more than one sitting, providing portraiture of each student’s readiness to engage in learning at the current grade level.

Score reports, which reflect student performance on a range of standards, are immediately available to help teachers understand where any gaps in learning may exist for each student. These easily accessible reports not only offer information about skill mastery, but they also recommend specific Intervention activities to assist students in recovering learning loss.

Another useful tool is our Pre-Assessments, available in our print and online products. Prior to beginning on-grade-level instruction, teachers can administer these brief pre-assessments to determine students’ pre-requisite skills and initial understandings of a specified standard.

These Pre-Assessments are provided for every unit of our products in ELA/R Levels 2–8, Math Levels 2–8, and Science Levels 3–8.  Items are presented in a variety of formats, including multiple choice and constructed response in ELA/R and multiple choice, fill in the blank, matching, and other types in Math and Science.

Because these Pre-Assessments present a picture of students’ preparedness to tackle new learning, teachers can use these data to inform and guide instructional planning for specific standards.

Using Interventions to Bridge Gaps in Learning

Once learning loss has been identified, teachers are interested in bridging those gaps in meaningful ways. That’s where the Interventions that are woven throughout ThinkUp! Standards Mastery System come into play.

The ThinkUp! Interventions have been written to offer focused learning experiences that bridge learning gaps, whether those are teacher-identified or identified through means of data-gathering.

The intervention activities in ThinkUp! are intentionally flexible and can be used for individual, small group, or whole class instruction. The activities feature a wide range of instructional approaches, and students are presented content through authentic contexts, hands-on experiences, concrete objects and visual representations, and application to new contexts. Students can’t guess—they engage with meaningful content in order to reveal gaps, to fill gaps, and to build on and expand their understandings of concepts and skills.

By accessing students’ understandings and misunderstandings as they relate to specific standards, teachers can provide just-right help in the moment to shift student thinking toward mastery.

Building a Culture of Critical Thinking

One essential aspect of determining and accounting for summer slide and COVID slide involves gaining access to student thinking in order to gauge understandings that can be built upon. But this proposition can be fraught with challenges especially since many students may not want to share with peers and teachers, may not know how to start, may not know how to articulate or elaborate on their understandings, and may not have had previous opportunities for reflecting on and building awareness of their understandings.

Providing students with a common language for sharing and for deepening their thinking is one of many reasons that Mentoring Minds created the 9 Traits of Critical Thinking. These nine traits—Examine, Communicate, Inquire, Strive, Reflect, Link, Create, Adapt, and Collaborate—are woven throughout ThinkUp! Standards Mastery System and raise the level of discourse in classrooms, challenging students to purposefully and intentionally engage in critical thinking while providing a window into students’ ability to apply and to verbalize their thinking.

A focus on critical thinking can shift roles from teacher-directed learning to student-directed learning as students begin to accept responsibility; take more initiative and chart for themselves new courses of inquiry rather than looking to the teacher for next steps; and recognize the ways in which deeper thinking has led to greater outcomes.

With a common language to express thinking, teachers can engage in deliberate conversations and make real-time adjustments in planning and engaging students in the kind of opportunities that are needed to help students grow as independent thinkers.

Thinking serves students today, tomorrow, and beyond, and providing the space and place for developing thinking skills equips students with the ability to navigate challenges—those that present themselves in their daily lives in and outside of school.