Aug 24, 2022

How to Identify Summer Detours on the Learning Journey

Kyle Snow
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It’s the time of year when teachers, students, and families transition from summer back to school. The year ahead is full of excitement and possibilities, but it is important for teachers to consider the summer, even the last school year, to make sure they meet their students where they are and ensure continuous learning in the year ahead.

Summer learning loss and the aftermath of COVID

One recent study found that, on average, students experienced learning loss after summer in math and English language arts (the two academic areas tested). Interestingly, there was a broad range of loss across students—with some students showing no or minimal loss compared to those who lost up to months of instructional gains. The difference could be due to attendance in summer programs that can increase student learning in academic areas. However, recent data show that not all students have access to summer programs, and students who are historically at risk for summer learning loss often have even less access.

What does this mean for Day 1?

Below are 5 things for teachers to consider when students return to school:

  • Do not assume learning loss, but begin looking for it – data show variation in how much students may have lost over the summer so being prepared without specific expectations gives teachers the cleanest slate to help students continue learning in the coming year.
  • Look at the map – standards provide the roadmap for student learning. Understanding where students were trying to land at the end of the prior year, and where the standards expect them to be in the current year, outlines the broad space where teachers want to meet their students.
  • Determine students’ current status – students can provide different amounts of information about their current place by completing summer review activities or taking a “pretest.” Embedded and formative assessments can also help locate older and younger students’ learning.
  • Meet as peer teachers to keep learning going – as teachers gain clarity on where students are, teachers can partner to develop strategies to take students from their current spot on the map to the next stop...and then the next. This may involve reviewing material or changing the preconceived timeline for the year but ought to focus on continued learning from the starting point.
  • Recognize the nature of learning – Learning has momentum. It can be accelerated, or it can be slowed, but suggesting it can be lost dismisses the work students put into schooling and that families put into supporting their learning. The phrase “learning loss” is potentially hurtful to hear for students and their families, especially when used for students historically marginalized, called “at risk,” or otherwise negatively judged against others. This unfortunate terminology can undermine student success and reinforce stereotypes and inequities in learning.

Making progress on the journey

The possibility that learning retention is affected by a summer spent away from structured learning experiences gained new urgency during the COVID pandemic as “COVID learning loss” became a parallel problem. But in both instances, while there was evidence of loss, educators are increasingly understanding that it is never universal. So, whenever there is concern about an interruption in learning, teachers owe it to their students to find where they are in their journey and help them move forward.