There’s a lot of pressure on teachers to make up for COVID-19 learning loss and “stop the slide.” We know that students experienced unfinished learning. We understand that the long term effects on students’ academics could be challenging. But we also know that teachers are working harder than ever, trying to make the best of an extremely challenging situation. So we have to ask the question, what if we focus on what we can do rather than what was lost? To answer this question, we talked with our friends at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, who are working with districts all over the country to share what schools can do to move forward.

1. Focus on strengths, not deficits

The data speaks for itself: NWEA research shows significant student learning loss in both math and reading as a result of COVID-19. This learning loss is because of an unprecedented pandemic that was amplified by inequities in our education system. Teachers, parents, students, and schools aren’t to blame. When kids hear, “COVID Slide”, “learning loss,” or “falling behind,” we aren’t creating a foundation for learning to take place. Instead, we are focusing on deficits rather than strengths. If we take an asset-based approach to learning loss, we show our kids that while they didn’t finish their math curriculum, they did learn how to ask for help, manage their time, and cope with a new reality. Kids will bring their resilience and adaptability back to school with them, and we can build on that newfound strength to move forward.

2. Start at the bottom and work your way up

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to make up for learning loss. So how do you know where to start? Dr. Stephan Knobloch, Senior National Director of Academic Planning and Analytics at HMH, has an answer for that. Based on his work with schools, he identified a hierarchy for planning.

1) Build relationships with kids, their families, and caretakers.
2) Provide equitable tools for learning.
3) Prepare teachers with support and ongoing professional development.
4) Identify pre-requisite skills for remediation and start with grade-level instruction.

Dr. Knobloch cautions that we can’t make up for learning loss if we start at step four. An adaptive software tool isn’t going to help if a student doesn’t have Wi-Fi or a computer. A teacher who has never taught online isn’t going to know how to use technology to fill in skills gaps without resources, training, and ongoing support.

3. Prioritize social-emotional learning

We can learn a lot from past examples of unfinished learning. Research on students displaced by Hurricane Katrina shows that they had difficulty concentrating and often showed symptoms of depression in the months following. Supporting students’ social and emotional needs during COVID-19 is essential. Students cannot learn when they don’t have their basic needs met. Many students face greater food insecurity, loss of family income, and fear and anxiety about getting sick. To slow down learning loss, focus on students’ health and wellness first.

4. Focus on grade-level content

Teachers may feel pressure to test students right away, identify their skills gaps, and reteach or remediate. Research shows that these are ineffective practices that result in student disengagement with school and greater inequities. Remediation has negative effects on students who are already behind when it is the primary form of instruction. To prevent further learning loss, teachers should start the year off teaching grade-level content and make it accessible with scaffolds and supports.

5. Provide scaffolds and supports

Our students have had varied levels of learning loss and unfinished learning. Teachers are meeting their students for this first time this Fall, many online. Before we can provide the scaffolds and supports students need, we should consider using diagnostic assessments to determine the prerequisite skills that students need to catch up on. Another best practice we can use to slow down learning loss is to give students a “just-in-time strategy”  where interventions happen right as they encounter grade-appropriate materials. Providing students with multiple entry points to the content, scaffolds, and differentiated instruction is important in making grade-level content more accessible.

6. Leverage technology to address skill gaps

Because many students are learning online or in a hybrid model, teachers can leverage technology for remediation (if all students have equitable access to that technology). Adaptive software programs assess students, assign particular skills, and monitor student progress. Students can work asynchronously and at their own place, which allows more flexibility. If your students don’t have access at home, use these programs when they are at school or work with your community to provide Wi-Fi hotspots and other tools for students who need them.

7. Reframe this challenge as an opportunity

Rather than see online and hybrid learning as a challenge, what if it is possible for us to reimagine school and make it more equitable? Many schools are re-thinking school schedules. Because there are no bells or set class periods, students have more flexibility to work at their own pace. When you aren’t constantly interrupted, there is an opportunity to stick with the task at hand and see it through.

For more insight into what schools can do to make up for COVID-19 learning loss, check out HMH’s Guide on COVID-19 Learning Loss.

What are your ideas to make up for COVID-19 learning loss? Share in the comments below.

What Schools Can Do To Make Up For COVID-19 Learning Loss