5 Genius Strategies to Counteract Learning Loss

Learning loss.

It’s a bit of a scary phrase, isn’t it? All those years we spend in classrooms, soaking up knowledge like a sponge, only to have it seep out over time. We try so hard to come up with exciting, innovative ways to help students retain what they learn, don’t we? So when administration (and even the media!) start throwing the words “learning loss” around, it certainly feels disheartening.

Here’s the thing, though: although learning loss seems to be an educational buzzword since the COVID-19 pandemic began and formal in-person classrooms were interrupted, it’s nothing new, and it’s not necessarily just fear-mongering, either. In fact, it’s very real, and I’ve noticed learning loss in my own classrooms for years after summer breaks!

While the COVID-19 pandemic certainly exacerbated learning loss, especially with the sudden and abrupt transition to online learning that many of us were unprepared for, there is good news. Since we’ve been dealing with learning loss to some degree after summer vacations, I’m sure we’ve all learned a few tips here and there to help mitigate the learning loss. Thankfully, many of these strategies can be employed for the larger learning gap left in the pandemic’s wake, too!

No matter the reason for your students’ learning loss, the fact remains that kiddos are malleable. Kids pivot back into “school mode” quickly! There are bound to be hiccups, of course, but there are still so many ways to address learning loss after that gap from summer vacation.

Ready to get a head start on counteracting learning loss this year? Here are some effective strategies!

An image with a coffee cup tipped over and spilled across a notebook. The words 5 Genius Strategies to Counteract Learning Loss is written across the top.

1. Assess the Learning Gap

Every good recipe for success starts with one thing: a plan. Let’s take that recipe analogy a little further!

Say you head off to the supermarket to grab dinner, but you neglected to go through your pantry and make a list of what you need. No worries! You know what you need for spaghetti–after all, you make it nearly every week! You browse the aisles, picking up tomato sauce, ground beef, basil, fresh bread, and whatever else tickles your fancy. You don’t pick up any noodles, however, since your partner should have picked some up last week and there should be plenty left over.

By now, I’m sure you see where this is going, but humor me. 😉

You get home, unpack the groceries, and get started on dinner. You brown the ground beef, warm the tomato sauce, and set a pot of water to boil. Then, you chop the basil and toast the bread. Finally, the water is boiling, so you head to the pantry to grab the noodles.

Except… There are no noodles. As it turns out, in their exhaustion from working all day, your partner forgot to grab noodles from the store last week! They did their best to grab everything on the list, but it looks like the spaghetti noodles slipped through the cracks.

If you had checked your pantry and made a grocery list before heading to the supermarket, you would’ve known about the missing noodles. Now, however, you’re left without the “foundation”–without the noodles, you have nowhere to put your spaghetti sauce!

First and foremost, it’s significantly important to understand where students are at when it comes to learning loss. If you make the assumption that they learned something last year (like you assumed your partner had picked up spaghetti noodles), then you may end up with a lot of wasted effort–like the cooked ground beef, chopped basil, and tomato sauce that has nowhere to go! You can’t add anything to your students’ plates without their base of noodles.

Using formative assessments and data from norm-referenced testing, such as the Measure of Academic Progress (MAP), can help you determine what “ingredients” your students have and which they may be missing. It’s nothing but stressful for both you and your kiddos to try to add on to their “foundation” of noodles when they were missing the noodles all along!

In addition, you should always start the year with a baseline writing assessment to find out what page (no pun intended) your students are on when it comes to written expression. Of course, if you don’t have formal assessment methods in place for writing or otherwise in your district, don’t fret–use Google Forms to quickly create and score pretests for different content areas.

2. Implement Targeted Remediation

Now that you’ve taken inventory of your “ingredients”–that is, you’ve assessed the learning gap in your classroom–you can begin implementing targeted remediation. Use your assessment to see which areas you need to focus on for individual students or even whole-class instruction.

Most pre-test assessments are often more generalized; however, if you are creating your own assessments, you can easily narrow it down and pinpoint the questions or areas where most students are struggling. In fact, just by checking out the responses and analyzing the data you’ve gleaned from Google Forms, it becomes significantly easier to reteach based on student needs!

The methods you choose to implement this targeted remediation vary–do what you (and your kiddos!) are most comfortable with. Remember, though, students learn best when they are engaged and employing active learning strategies!

3. Offer Enrichment Opportunities

Of course, there are a million different factors when it comes to learning loss. Some students will retain more information than others, and some may only need a refresher while others need to be retaught a whole lesson. Either way, there’s nothing wrong with your students–different brains simply work differently!

Some students will be farther ahead than others. They may not show any signs of learning loss at all! Keep in mind, though, that it’s important to give every student the attention they need. It’s easy to fall into the trap of spending too much time in remediation while the more “advanced” students are left to their own devices.

In addition to addressing learning loss, we must also provide enrichment opportunities to challenge and engage all students. Independent research projects, project-based learning, and even self-guided exploration of new topics can enhance students’ overall academic growth while bridging the learning gap.

For example, I love using Genius Hour (a time block that encourages students to explore their passions, projects, or questions during enrichment time) in my classroom! Another excellent resource is Khan Academy–their topics are many and varied, so there will absolutely be something for every learner. These resources are excellent enrichment opportunities to let students independently explore topics or various skills. When we make time for self-guided learning, we teach students to pursue knowledge and grow into lifelong learners!

4. Emphasize Differentiated Instruction

I mentioned it above, but I’ll say it again because it’s just that important: each and every student learns at their own pace and has their own unique strengths and weaknesses! Differentiated instruction is absolutely essential. Not every student will be affected by learning loss in the same way; some students will need remediation, while others will need enrichment opportunities. Some will even be right on grade-level!

Of course, when it’s phrased like that, it can be difficult to feel like you have enough time to tend to each student’s needs. It almost feels like you have to come up with several different lesson plans to make sure everyone is receiving the instruction they need! Thankfully, there are a plethora of ready-to-use lessons for different content areas that provide differentiated instruction for product, process, and content.

For example, my math workshop units AND my science lesson plans contain differentiated activities that require no planning on your part–just print and go! Or, if you’re looking for more targeted, specific topics, check out my Start2Finish puzzles or my science investigation booklets. From the challenge level to reading level, there’s plenty of differentiation here. Save yourself the time and energy!

5. Take Advantage of Technology

Maybe it’s my age showing, but it certainly feels like technology is growing more and more advanced with every passing day. It can definitely be frightening, but overcoming the fear of technology and embracing its usefulness in our classrooms will pay off tenfold!

Incorporating technology into our instructional practices can be a powerful tool to address learning loss. Not only are there plenty of digital resources that we can use to engage students, such as Math Quests or Boom Cards, but using technology also helps develop students’ technological skills–a practically required trait for successful individuals in this digital era!

Of course, there are other powerful tools at our digital disposal, such as ChatGPT or other AI models. We can use these AI tools to come up with ideas for addressing remediation or enrichment. For example, if I write a lesson plan on animal adaptations for fifth grade, I could then ask ChatGPT to add examples for students who do not understand habitats. In addition, I could also ask for ideas for lessons for students who have already mastered the five types of adaptations that I plan to cover.

Students can also utilize technology as a learning loss tool. IXL is one of many platforms that help students review and assess math and reading skills. It’s a wonderful way to differentiate, too–you can input students’ levels to have the platform meet them there! 

While learning loss is not a brand new concept in education, it’s definitely a stronger, scarier beast than before due to the pandemic. Thankfully, every year we can get better at addressing it! Using data, assessments, technology, and differentiated instruction, we can meet the needs of students wherever they are after the summer gap.

And, hey, if you’re here reading this, that means you’re getting ready to tackle learning loss–that’s an awesome step! Your students are lucky to have a teacher who puts in the effort to see them succeed. Keep up the great work!


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