Examining Summer Learning Loss

Sandra Burns
Sandra Burns
Elementary school principal; M.A. Ed. Administration & Leadership K-12, Special Education Supervision K-12

Take a moment to think back to when you were in school. Wasn’t it always interesting how the first few weeks of school were review? Often most students feel on top of the world as they plow through material that they have previously learned the year before; there was a reason why our teachers always did this and continue to do this now. Summer learning loss, also known as the “summer slide,” has been around for decades.

What is Summer Learning Loss?

Typically, each school year, as students return ready for a new learning experience, it is evident that after enjoying several months off from school, there has been some loss of student learning achievement gains from the previous school year.

Other Types of Learning Loss

Learning loss isn’t only something that occurs after summer break. At times learning loss can occur if a student has frequent absences, displays behaviors that impede their progress, or any other type of situation that has interrupted their formal education. A result of this disrupted education could result in a student experiencing learning loss.

How Many Students Experience Learning Loss?

If you look at the big picture, it is safe to say that issues of poverty, race, disability, rural isolation, abuse, inadequate instruction, loss of family members, and more, can greatly impact students and learning.

Each year, younger students are more prone to learning loss because this goes hand-in-hand with their stages of development. Young students absorb as much as possible in their primary grades as their new experiences are accelerated at such a young age. Low-income families are disproportionally affected by learning loss that can snowball into greater academic concerns as the child moves on year to year.

How has COVID Impacted Learning Loss?

When considering the summer slide and what loss of learning over the summer refers to, it is essential to analyze the impact that the pandemic has had on our students and education as a whole. When schools closed across the U.S. there is no doubt that this impacted our students as they were not provided adequate education due to the abrupt closing.

Administrators, teachers, students, and parents all faced an indescribable time as no one truly knew what would happen next. Schools floundered as they tried their best to pick up all the loose ends and end the school year with adequate instruction – virtually.

As students gradually returned to their brick and mortar schools when it was safe enough, there was evident a lack of instruction and a significant learning gap compared to where students typically would have begun their school year out academically. In addition to the disrupted education due to the school closures, this concern continued.

As school was back in session, students often missed school days due to having to quarantine or, worse yet, getting sick with COVID. Learning loss was, and still is, a huge concern for everyone involved in the educational system.

Mitigating Summer Learning Loss

Our students are struggling from this, and as educators, we must do all we can to close the learning gaps our students are experiencing.

Provide Summer Learning Materials

As educators, it is important to educate our families on what learning loss is, and provide summer support. Schools can hold family nights and take time to meet with parents to explain “the summer slide” and provide resources so that their child does not suffer from this.

Providing summer work materials and expressing the importance for students to continue to read over the break from school may help with the summer slide and take a proactive approach.

If attendance is low, and not many show up, possibly recording the presentation and posting it on social media or the school website may help spread the word to parents. The more informed parents are about this concern, possibly more students will be less impacted.

Group and Project-Based Learning

Within classrooms, teachers can take the approach of project-based learnings. While doing this, students can work in small groups while teachers incorporate several subject areas into one project, and assist each group to best support the students. Students will not only learn from their teacher, but also learn from their peers as they collaborate and work together.

Engaging Summer Programs

Stimulating students and ensuring they are engaged are the most beneficial ways to help with learning loss over summer break. Students can be enrolled in:

Several school districts have been granted funds to help with learning loss. Districts can use grant money to provide these summer reading and math programs. Offering summer programs will keep students engaged as they work on material they have already been exposed to. The more fun the students have, the more attentive they will be to what they are working on. Additionally, the more children read, the less likely they will struggle when returning to school in the fall.

Positive Teacher-Administrator Relationships

Change must happen from the top to address this concern of how to prevent summer learning loss. Strong relationships between administrators and their staff can drastically enhance students’ motivations and engagements. This directly promotes more learning. By supporting teachers who are overwhelmed and burnt out, they will continue to go above and beyond to make their classroom an exciting and engaging environment for our students.

To feel appreciated and supported will motivate our teachers to give it their best every single day. If our teachers are motivated, then our students will be encouraged.

As educators, we are obligated to do our best to prepare our students for the next grade level. If we instill in our students that practice makes perfect in education, they will also experience the love of learning and realize the importance of this. It seems to be a win-win situation. Students read more, teachers are pleased with the decrease in the summer slide, and parents get to spend more time with their child as their child reads to them.

We all have the power to make a difference, realize the importance of retention, and the ways we can avoid summer learning loss and continue to see our students develop into motivated learners.

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