unfinished learning
Sep 21 2021

3 Strategies to Bridge the Gap of Unfinished Learning

Positive Action Staff
Curriculums break down what students should know based on their age, abilities, and knowledge they acquired in previous grades.

Every grade level builds upon the fundamentals that had to be mastered in the previous school year.

But what if some of these building blocks that help students understand new lessons are missing?

Since students are different and learn at their own pace, learning loss is bound to occur every school year.

Classrooms are mixed with students with disabilities, attention issues, and socio-economic backgrounds that count towards initial disadvantages to their progress.

Factors such as poverty, race, English being their second language, and poor mental health all contribute to students’ skills and knowledge not being on their presumed grade level.

As they fall further behind with the basic concepts, the gap of unfinished learning gets wider, and they have a more challenging time catching up.

It gets more difficult but also more frustrating to master new lessons as well as hit learning goals.

Besides difficulty adapting to the higher grade levels, unfinished learning can lead to learned helplessness and an overwhelming feeling of always being behind.

How to compensate for the lost time and help struggling students master new lessons?

Here are three strategies that educators can implement to address unfinished learning and bring the students back on track.

#1 Assessment of The Student’s Existing Knowledge

When assessing the gaps caused by unfinished learning, consider:

  • Has an individual group been affected or the entire class?
  • How much slipped through the cracks?
  • What is the best way to test unfinished learning?

Measuring Learning Loss

Testing student’s understanding of core concepts at the class, school district, or national level is the first step in remedying learning loss in classrooms.

Diagnosing where your students stand comes from data which we can then form a plan to help students succeed, i.e., mitigate learning loss.

Certain students may need more patience, more repetition, and more guidance to master lessons from the previous grade level.

Testing will show whether the learning loss occurred within the group, the entire class, or whether the affected individuals are one-offs.

Before Testing for Unfinished Learning

Prior to testing what slipped through the cracks in students’ learning, consider:

What your students should know to master higher grade lessons

  • Identify and have a clear overview of concepts that your students have to understand to successfully master new lessons
  • Identify the essential concepts and building block concepts that are the key to learning new ones

Should you go for formal testing vs. instruction

  • Standardized testing gives us helpful data and a birds-eye view of how many students are affected by unfinished learning and how severe it is
  • Many students dread tests, and it’s better for their social and emotional growth to camouflage the testing as part of instruction
  • The third option is to combine standardized testing and adjusting your instruction based on the core concepts that are missing as you introduce new lessons

What caused the gap in learning

  • English language learners, students of color, and students with disabilities are initially disadvantaged and tend to suffer more from unfinished learning
  • External factors that disrupted learning, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, set back students for 5–6 months
  • Disproportionate loss of learning over the summer break for higher and lower-income students in favor of higher-income students

#2 Plan How to Address Unfinished Learning

After diagnosing which basics are missing, it’s time to incorporate that into the lesson plan or add extra lessons to compensate for previous grade-level content.

It might be tempting to go back and cover all the student gaps from the previous grade. However, this approach is time-consuming and overwhelming for students.

Research shows that remediation, or going back to cover and relearn prerequisite skills from the previous school year, proved counterproductive to student learning.

Nowadays, educators prefer acceleration—addressing concepts that haven’t been mastered in the context of new lessons.

True, if you’ve already studied a lesson and need to recall it, you need less time to re-learn it the next time you get back to it.

But every school year has a finite number of days, months, and weeks—as well as new skills and knowledge to master.

Acceleration or scaffolding the basics that slipped through the cracks in upcoming lessons based on the need of that specific lesson helps students connect lessons better as they perceive it as a whole.

In the case of external factors that affect learning, the federal government provides guidelines on how to bridge unfinished learning, and collaboration of schools and district leaders is necessary to remediate all the knowledge that has been lost.

Prioritize Core Concepts

When planning how to deal with unfinished learning, focus on the elementary knowledge students need to build upon further.

That will help you set attainable goals without overwhelming your students and getting further behind with your lessons.

Dealing with unfinished learning isn’t the same for essential subjects and skills that have been proven more challenging to master for students, such as reading and maths.

Focus on the basics, and don’t spend time on redundant activities. The goal here is for them to master concepts that form the basis of the current curriculum.

#3 Help Your Students Cultivate a Growth Mindset

To cultivate a growth mindset:

  • Use learning materials that work for student’s level
  • Create a positive learning environment
  • Introduce the concept of life-long learning

Focusing On the Appropriate Grade Level Materials

As an educator, you know there has been a great deal of research that reports which concepts students can master depending on the grade level.

Workbooks, books, and materials also already follow this idea. However, they neglect that not all students are on the presumed grade level.

That hinders them from reaching their desired or maximum academic achievement and creating a negative image about themselves and their abilities.

When forming a recovery plan, aim at materials that are specific to the data you previously measured.

Forming a Positive Learning Environment

Instill the positive attitude of growth possibility and progress by encouraging them to focus on their abilities.

A significant way you can support students is by cultivating their growth mindset, i.e., a can-do attitude.

It helps students understand that they can learn new things if they give themselves time to learn. It also helps them know that new lessons don’t question their core intelligence but instead help them grow and develop.

Lack of a growth mindset can lead to learned helplessness, especially in areas and subjects where students need to invest more time, e.g., maths.

According to research, learned helplessness and mathematics anxiety are closely related. The study concludes that supporting students and encouragement goes a long way because they change student's beliefs about themselves and their abilities.

It can also result in the type of procrastinators who avoid work because they believe it’s too difficult for them to learn and complete tasks.

This is especially common with students who struggle with mental health or need more time or a different teaching approach than others.

To create a positive learning environment in your classroom:

  • Encourage students to help each other
  • Define classroom rules
  • Discourage students to mock each other for not knowing
  • Help them develop inner motivation for learning

Teaching Students That Learning Is For Life

Besides teaching them fundamental knowledge about the world, as an educator, you train their minds to think in a certain way and perceive their education in a specific light.

For example, maths develops logical thinking, and reading trains students to think creatively, critically, and be empathetic towards others.

Therefore, you can also teach them to develop a can-do attitude towards learning by teaching them how to seek out reliable information and that there’s never too late to address learning loss.

It’s about instilling the lifelong learning mindset and helping them understand that even after formal education is completed, there is something new they can learn, and they can do so.

There will always be material that not all students mastered, but they should also know it’s never too late to go back and relearn what they missed in school.

Student’s belief that they can master will stay with them throughout their whole lives as long as the students have the growth mindset and know where to find relevant information.

Creating a Room To Grow, Learn, and Develop

Strategies educators can use to help their students make up for concepts that slipped through the cracks include assessment and testing unfinished learning, planning, focusing on essential knowledge and skills, and cultivating a can-do attitude.

Overall, it’s about addressing unfinished learning and planning solutions that are an addition instead of a supplement.

Unfinished learning needs to be addressed and solved whenever possible.

Even framing missing grade-level content as unfinished learning instead of learning loss can help both educators and teachers to navigate this area better.

Unfinished hints that students have more space for growth and they just need more time to master specific concepts.

If you need help with supporting students with the appropriate grade-level content, drop by our store.

We’ve got a loat of fun and engaging training programs for different grades that aid educators to support students as they get back up to speed with core concepts they’ve missed in the past year.


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