Building Students Back Up After a Difficult Year

group of students in a classroom with a teacher helping build students back up after a difficult year

With most schools now open to in-person teaching, the academic fall-out resulting from over 12 months of shuttered schools is now apparent. It’s been a difficult year for students.

Low test scores, especially in math and literacy, have highlighted how the overnight shift to 100% remote learning left many students across the nation without the support they needed to continue their education on a full-time basis. 

Children from disadvantaged backgrounds have been hardest hit, with many unable to access the technology required to study remotely. 

Indeed, many students from lower socio-economic backgrounds disappeared from education altogether, with some schools now struggling to locate and re-integrate them into the classroom.

Although the learning loss is profound, the temptation to fix it by ramping up standardized testing to improve test scores would almost certainly prove counterproductive. 

Not all children were impacted by the pandemic in the same way; some were barely affected at all, while others will have experienced long-term trauma.

For this reason, it’s best to focus on creating school environments that prioritize the health and wellness of all children by focusing on individual needs rather than data from exam results. 

Besides, happier, more self-confident students will result in better academic performance and improved test scores. 

In this article, we will explore five ways teachers and schools can place inclusiveness and student well-being at the heart of their curriculums. 

Here’s what we’ll cover: 

1. How to create a positive classroom environment. 

2. Why online learning can help address learning loss. 

3. How emotional regulation can help children overcome trauma. 

4. Why asynchronous learning promotes equity in education. 

5. How to motivate students who are disengaged in class. 

1. How to create a positive classroom environment

After more than a year of remote learning, returning to class will be quite a shock for many students. 

Some will be excited to see their friends and comforted by a sense of normalcy in their lives.

But others are likely to experience feelings of social anxiety and will need both time and support to help them transition back to face-to-face learning. 

What steps can teachers take to create a more welcoming classroom environment? 

It may seem obvious but taking the time to greet all your students and thank them for attending class is more important than ever. 

A lot of students will be wearing face masks in school and practicing social distancing measures designed to keep them safe. 

Anything you can do to break down those barriers safely will make a difference. 

Anxious students will seek out reassurance from teachers they trust, which is understandable. 

But it’s vital teachers consider how they’re communicating with their students.  

Dishing out blanket statements like “everything’s going to be fine” or “there’s nothing to worry about” will not make students feel more at ease; in fact, they’re likely to raise student anxiety levels because you’re effectively practicing avoidance. 

Depending on what age group you’re teaching, a more authentic approach would be to have open and honest conversations about the pandemic. 

Talk about associated risks while also emphasizing what safety measures your school is implementing and how you can all work together to protect each other. 

This is not only a sensible approach for helping students manage their anxiety, but it also encourages them to think analytically and develop problem-solving skills. 

Here are some actionable tips for educators from kindergarten through to high school on how you can broach COVID-19 with your students. 

2. Why online tutoring can help address learning loss.

A recent study carried out by the University of Chicago revealed that “high dosage” tutoring can double or even triple the amount high school students can learn in core subjects like math.

Public schools across Chicago took part in the study, which revealed that daily 45–50-minute small group tutoring sessions in Math helped struggling high school students quickly attain grade level scores. 

The results contrast the opinions of some researchers in the education community who’ve long argued that it is too challenging and too expensive to noticeably improve the outcomes of children who have fallen behind before they enter high school.  

But by using an evidence-based formula, proponents of this study were able to show how schools can dramatically improve academic results at a relatively inexpensive cost, ranging from $3,500 to $4,300 per participant, with more cost-effective models now being assessed. 

It’s also worth remembering that K-12 schools in poorer districts can often take advantage of government funding, empowering schools with the resources they need to invest in academic tutoring programs. 

The data released by the University of Chicago followed renewed calls for a national tutoring program in the U.S. that would work in a similar way to the U.K. model, which partners with online tutoring platforms to provide extra subsidized support to disadvantaged students.

But how do children benefit from time spent on tutoring platforms? 

Online learning has several benefits: for one thing, tutoring platforms offer a safe space to study. Children can focus on their classwork without worrying about all the distractions and peer pressures that can sometimes impact learning in traditional classroom environments. 

Plus, the ability to record online tutoring sessions makes a huge difference because it allows students to check their understanding in their own time and better prepare for tests.

3. How emotional regulation can help children overcome trauma.  

Learning loss, issues resulting from social isolation, and in some cases, the death of a loved one have all contributed to the increase in depression and social anxiety that many young people have experienced throughout the pandemic. 

Many teachers are familiar with the typical signs of trauma: constant fatigue, severe mood swings, fidgeting and avoidance. 

The key to helping children overcome trauma is to teach them how to regulate their emotions to manage stress and release their frustrations in a cathartic way. 

Here are two strategies teachers can use to help students express themselves. 

1. Encourage creativity. 

Creative pursuits can be enormously therapeutic. Activities such as art, music, or writing help children overcome trauma. 

Rather than avoiding the topic, the coronavirus can be used in this context to help students make sense of what’s happened.  

Writing, drawing, or simply talking about their experiences during lockdowns can help children process complex emotions, so long as the content is modified for each age group and carefully scaffolded to avoid further trauma. 

2. Teach children to identify and assess their emotions. 

Teaching children to assess their moods helps them identify and develop strategies for handling strong emotional responses. 

It can also help teachers quickly determine which students in their class are ready to learn and who might need extra support before they can fully participate. 

Ready-to-learn scales can be very effective with younger children. 

With this strategy, your students can rate their emotions from 1 to 10, with 1 to 4 representing down emotions, 5 to 7 signifying comfort and readiness to learn, and 8 to 10 representing energy and happiness. 

For students feeling down, you can guide them toward self-regulation strategies such as taking a movement break or doing some deep breathing to help shift them into a more positive mindset. 

4. Why asynchronous learning promotes equity in education. 

Over the past couple of years, most people connected to online learning have become familiar with synchronous and asynchronous learning, and the difference between the two:  

Synchronous learning covers all forms of in-person instruction that occur in the same place simultaneously; this includes traditional face-to-face lessons and live online classes where students might form smaller groups in the classroom to work on project-based material. 

Asynchronous learning occurs when students use devices to access online learning materials in their own time to study at their own pace; pre-recorded lectures are an excellent example of asynchronous learning. 

Because synchronous learning emphasizes live interactions and all the benefits that stem from face-to-face learning, we sometimes forget the vital role asynchronous learning can play in creating a more equitable education system. 

More than 4 million U.S. households with children lack consistent internet access, making it extremely difficult for low-income students to keep up with their schoolwork during lockdowns. 

Although most children in the U.S. are currently back in school, distance learning will continue, and there’s no guarantee we won’t face a similar situation with closed schools across the nation at some stage in the future. 

Teachers and schools need to maintain an up-to-date resource of asynchronous resources that are easily accessible for all students, regardless of socioeconomics. 

Outside of concerns surrounding the pandemic, there’s another reason why asynchronous learning matters. 

Not all students learn at the same pace. For example, more than 5 million children in the U.S. are learning English as a second language, and a further 7 million students have an identified learning disability. 

Both communities benefit enormously from engaging pre-recorded lessons and resources that can be viewed multiple times, giving students the extra time they need to stay on track with their learning. 

5. How to motivate students who are disengaged in class. 

We can’t change the mindset of our students unless we’re prepared to re-think how we measure success. 

Because of the unprecedented disruption students have endured over the past 18 months, it’s tempting for school leaders to respond by treating returning students like patients whose academic setbacks can be fixed via a combination of standardized testing and data analysis. 

But this can do more harm than good because it feeds into the idea that school is a place for students to come and get fixed rather than challenged. 

A better way to address learning loss is for teachers and schools to foster a classroom culture that sets high expectations, where the work is engaging and even difficult. 

Below are two strategies teachers can use to motivate students who are disengaged from their studies. 

1. Promote a growth mindset 

Growth mindset students believe that abilities and new skills can be acquired through hard work; they will see struggle and failure as a necessary part of that process. But how can teachers promote growth mindsets in the classroom? 

One way is to consistently assess progress by using formative assessment techniques. 

Formative assessment might sound autocratic, but it helps educators consistently check student learning, enabling the class to work together to identify learning gaps and plan what should come next. 

Entry and exit slips are good examples of formative assessment techniques. They can take multiple forms, but one classic approach is giving students two minutes at the end of class to note down three things they learned, two things they are unsure about, and one thing they flat out don’t understand. 

It’s a great way of collecting feedback and working out how best to proceed. 

2. Establish clear goals. 

Giving students clear goals provides them with clear targets. But if you don’t reinforce them regularly, your students will quickly lose sight of the overall purpose. 

A good way to establish clear goals is to break them down into yearly, weekly, and daily targets for your students and to make sure they are visible for everyone to see.  

You can post them around the room and reference them in class. Doing this as a matter of routine reminds students of the overall objective, and it also gives them an opportunity to assess their own individual learning goals. 

Final thought  

The temptation to address learning loss by embarking on a mass testing program is understandable because it might be the easiest way to identify specific learning gaps that have developed throughout the pandemic. 

But the easiest way is not always the best. 

Instead, teachers and schools should view the pandemic as an opportunity to create an education system that is not rooted in testing and statistics but emphasizes equity and self-development as core principles. 

Discover how our expertise in online tutoring is helping support students who are returning to school this fall. 

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