Overcoming Learning Loss in the New Academic Year

Students often experience a certain level of learning loss over the summer during a typical year, but this year is different. For many students, the physical break from on-campus learning has been since March of this year because of the rapid spread of COVID-19. And while learning continued online for most students in the weeks leading up to summer break, the suddenness with which teachers and students were forced to embrace distance learning with no prior experience was staggering. For the most, I saw teachers rising to the occasion, however, and taking on the challenge of learning new ways to engage their students in an online format and help them continue to learn their class’s curriculum.

Still, it shouldn’t surprise us if the level of learning loss is significantly higher than average when school begins again in just a few weeks. We can try to battle this somewhat by encouraging parents to engage their children in learning opportunities over the summer and by districts providing resources for those learning opportunities to happen. But we can’t control what goes on at home, and our students have varying home lives.

As teachers, we have to think about how to overcome the high level of learning loss we’re going to see in the fall.

Set the tone

When school begins, there’s going to be a different feeling in the air than our students or we will be familiar with. Whether you’re returning on campus or virtually, our students will be looking for some sort of anchor amid the chaos that has marked the last several months. That starts with us. No matter how impacted we are personally by the uncertainty surrounding the school during a pandemic, our students need to know that we’re going to lead them well and with confidence and care.

Be empathetic

It might be tempting most years to be frustrated with students for not knowing things we’re sure they should know, but we have to avoid that temptation more than ever this year. Students are going to be struggling. They’ve never faced something like this before, and even we weren’t ready for what the world has given us. Be understanding. Have high expectations, but let students know that you’re there to help them rise to the challenge of continuing to learn as the new year starts.

Get to know each of your students

Now for the more practical side of things. Not all of our students are the same. Not all of them are struggling at the same level. This means that we can’t approach teaching this year as if all of our students are in the same place. They’re not, and we need to know where they are on an individual level. In the first few weeks of school, it would be good to spend time conferencing with each student to find out their strengths, weaknesses, hopes, and fears. This is an extension of being empathetic. Our students need to know that you’re not just the teacher of your class as a whole; each student needs to know that you are their teacher, and you want to learn as much about them to help them succeed in your class this year.

Differentiate learning

We should be doing this every year, but it’s going to be especially important this year. When you’re getting to know where your students excel and where they’re struggling, make sure you have a way to track it. Write it down; record it somewhere so that you can use that data to plan instruction. Think about the scaffolds you need to provide some students or the enrichment opportunities you need to create for others. How can you group students to most benefit where they’re currently at in their learning? Knowing each of your students well and tailoring instruction to their individual needs will go a long way in helping them recover from any learning loss from the summer.

Tom Farr

Tom Farr

Tom is a writer and high school English teacher in Texas. In addition to a lifelong obsession with all things Star Wars, he loves creating and spending time with his wife and children.