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How Can Educators Support Students Who Are Struggling with Learning Loss


What is Learning Loss?

Learning loss is nothing new under the sun. The reasons behind it are manifold and derive from historical social and economic inequality. As the Covid-19 pandemic continues, the existing trends deepen and spread.

Learning loss affects people of all ages, but the earlier it occurs, the more it impacts core skills such as reading, understanding mathematical concepts, and social and emotional skills. Moving on to more advanced concepts is compromised when a student lacks basic academic and emotional knowledge.

If there is one sure thing, all students have learned many things during the tumults of the pandemic. They have had to adapt to very challenging situations, take on new skills and responsibilities, and use their creativity to make up for the lacking resources. They have also learned a great deal about themselves – and others – even if that has not been easy.

How to Support Students Struggling with Learning Loss?

A structural problem demands structural solutions from educators.

Apart from academic performance, schools are so much more. They are places for our young people to safely learn about themselves and the world, try new things, and get support from trusted adults. When these pillars falter, the fundamental conditions for growing are compromised. According to a 2021 survey, up to 80 % of U.S. parents have been concerned about their child's mental wellbeing since the pandemic began (McKinsey 2021).

Therefore, tackling learning loss is not just "catching up." Instead, it demands an overall reimagination of schools. A student faced with learning loss is not necessarily at their most eager to get back to studying. Feelings of uncertainty, helplessness, and lack of motivation need to be addressed. Getting students safely back to school is one thing. Engaging them in the daily routine and school community another. There is no quick fix for that, but the changes tend to be more permanent when you dive deeper.

The Time for Social-emotional Skills

Rather than talking about the losses of the pandemic, let us kick this new year off with a warm welcome. The pandemic has affected everyone. Everyone has their own experience, new skills, and mindsets – something others can learn from. This is a potential situation for a strong emergence from the crisis, but it is crucial to connect both mentally and socio-emotionally to succeed.

Having been apart from one another, many students struggle with their social skills. The ability to communicate emotionally is a key to remedying the damage of the past two years. Students might be confused by the feelings caused by uncertainty – a state that most of us recognize by now. This ambivalence weakens the sense of trust and community, which further leads to misinterpreting social cues and interaction.

Guide your students to reflect on their thoughts and emotions. Be an example, talk about the broad spectrum of feelings, and offer coping strategies for different situations. Remind them to show understanding and tolerance for others, as they might have different circumstances or deal differently with challenges.

Discussions and exercises on social-emotional skills are also a great way to show the students they are taken seriously and that there are reliable adults around them. Furthermore, shared activities will enhance the team spirit and sense of belonging among students.

What to Bear In Mind When Dealing with Learning Loss?

  • There will be poor results. Do not focus on how difficult time learning the past two years have been. Look forward – what is there to achieve?
  • Have a realistic picture of where your students are. What does everyone struggle with, and what are their strengths? How are they, generally?
  • Create clear goals for your students and help them understand how to get there.
  • Redefine the criteria for success. Not all students shine in exams. Indeed there are other ways to show what they have learned. If your curriculum allows, offer different ways of completing tasks and demonstrate new skills.
  • Offer help actively. While the youngest students are more likely to receive additional support, the older ones will be left on their own. Just as with technological devices, students might be shy to ask for help, especially at more elementary things.
  • Talk openly about emotions – the good and the bad. Tell your students that what is going on is not easy, and it is perfectly fine not to feel okay about it. Remind them that they are not alone.
  • Make clear that everyone experiences hard times differently. Stress the importance of patience, compassion, and open-mindedness.

Henriikka Heinonen

Guest Writer
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