The Impact of Focusing Too Much on Learning Loss

Kelly Nelson-Danley
Kelly Nelson-Danley
Assistant elementary school principal; Ed.D. in Curriculum and Instruction
Wooden blocks lined up with one missing in the middle.

What is Learning Loss?

Learning Loss is a term that is used in education to describe the “loss” of information that students may or may not experience during summer break or any breaks throughout the calendar year. When students return to school in the fall, some of them start the year with instructional levels that are lower than when they left school in the early summer. This is sometimes called Summer Learning Loss or Summer Slide. Differences in summer learning loss can be affected by many factors including; socioeconomics, family dynamics, and summer learning experiences that students have access to.

Considering the recent circumstances placed on the world of education by Covid-19, summer learning loss is not the only concern regarding student achievement loss. Many students across the nation struggled with participation during hybrid and/or online learning during the global pandemic. Schools will have to address gaps in learning in all grade levels and all instructional areas.

Negative Effects of Focusing on Learning Loss Too Much

Although Learning Loss does occur and is a concern of educators, it can be detrimental to students if there is too much focus on learning loss. It makes perfect sense to be concerned about academic setbacks caused by the pandemic and summer break. Some teachers report that many students have been pressed to help take care of duties in the home during the pandemic as parents have lost jobs and other students simply did not have access to be able to participate in online learning.

Our need to focus on learning loss and academic progress is a touchy subject. If we continuously harp on the loss of students instead of focusing on an action plan to meet students where they are, we can get into a slump and downward spiral of negative thinking regarding our students. Intentions of conversation centered around learning loss are good, however, students prove to be resilient and with remediation and careful planning, students can achieve what they need to achieve in the upcoming school year.

According to an article by the New York Times, author Heather J. Hough, says that schools may need to provide students with extra instructional time to assist students in catching up. She warns that approaching learning loss in a way that is academic only could be harmful. She goes on to say that students need recess, social interaction, and playtime, some of which students missed out on greatly during the pandemic.

Positive thinking is key in education and encouraging students to do their personal best. Positive thoughts allow educators to overcome emotional and mental barriers and give us tools to manage these barriers. When we can get students on a path to positive thinking, we can help them develop the tools they need to be successful.

What Do We Do Instead?

In order to meet students where they are, it will be important for administrators, instructional leaders, and teachers to use data to drive instruction. Students will need to be screened so that teachers are aware of their academic standing and needs. Once this is determined, differentiated plans can be made to implement small group instruction that will help students grow. Master schedules should also incorporate set times for intervention so that teachers can provide students with any interventions they may need.

In addition to academic learning loss, students will also need help with social and emotional learning loss. Many students will have social and emotional needs due to the effects of Covid-19. When students feel safe, good about themselves, and have academic confidence, they will perform better and be more prepared to receive instruction. There are many programs and resources available to educators that will help meet the SEL needs of students.

When considering what students and staff have been through the past year, it is evident that help is needed in both academics and the social emotional realm. The following are ideas and resources for helping students with SEL growth.

  • Greet students as they arrive
  • Create SEL student surveys
  • Incorporate SEL mini lessons into classroom morning routines
  • Utilize any district SEL programs that are available
  • Utilize human resources that can help with meeting SEL needs (counselors, behavior specialists, instructional coaches, etc.)
  • Encourage a learning environment of positivity and growth mindset
  • Provide teachers with time to dive into student data
  • Make connections with students and families
  • Focus on Priority Standards
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