What is accelerated learning?
Accelerated learning refers to a collection of instructional approaches specifically designed to support students who are performing below desired expectations. This “umbrella” term, with several specific approaches related to it, is relatively new to education (circa 2018), but it has risen quickly in prominence. It is referenced in CARES- and ESSER-related funding guidance from the US Department of Education, as well as in guidance documents from various states related to recovery from pandemic-related disruptions.
The primary emphasis of accelerated learning is maximizing the time students spend working with or expressly toward grade-level content. As a result, all work students undertake is chosen based on a consideration of grade-level expectations. Students can work with off-grade-level skills, but only when those skills support them in working with the grade-level expectations at hand.
A classroom example
Michael is in fifth grade but is performing at the third grade level. His math class is beginning a unit on geometry. In planning instruction for the class, Michael’s teacher thoughtfully considers the prerequisite skills necessary for her students to be successful with the grade-level content. When she finds that her students may not have yet mastered those prerequisites, she provides “just-in-time” review/support on them, either through whole-class or small-group work, depending on the scale and scope of the students’ needs.
In this sense, any review or off-level work undertaken in a classroom implementing accelerated learning involves only those skills necessary to support students in accessing the grade-level work, rather than an indiscriminate review of just any skills or a full-scale review of the prior grade level’s content.
An intervention example
Kaylee is in Mr. Kilgore’s class and has begun receiving extra instructional time in mathematics as part of a Tier 2 MTSS intervention. During her intervention time, she works with Ms. Hernandez. Having been trained in accelerated learning approaches, Ms. Hernandez is careful to coordinate with the classroom teachers of all her students to make sure she knows which units/topics they are undertaking. With this knowledge, she can ensure that the support she is offering her students focuses squarely on those prerequisite skills that will best support them not only in growing in mathematics ability, but also in being successful with the topics they are studying in their regular classroom.
“Accelerate, don’t remediate”
Accelerated learning is presented as the antithesis of remediation, where the emphasis is not on grade-level expectations but rather on meeting students where they are and working to move them forward from there. Proponents argue and some initial research suggests that even though meeting students where they are sounds reasonable, in practice, few students are ever moved forward quickly enough to actually close performance gaps.
Proponents of accelerated learning contend that keeping an ever-present focus on grade-level expectations and targeting any review on those skills most aligned to the grade-level topic at hand results in more student growth and makes the best use of limited instructional time.
Accelerated learning resources
Watch a short video primer on accelerated learning.
The Deciding What to Teach?: Here’s How infographic from EdWeek succinctly depicts a workflow perfectly aligned to the tenets of accelerated learning.
Knowledge of essential grade-level skills and required prerequisites is essential to implementing accelerated learning. The Renaissance Focus Skills Resource Center provides clear guidance on both of these fronts.