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Helping Students Recover from Learning Loss in the COVID-19 Pandemic 

Written by: Charlie Chapman

The abrupt shift to online learning in March 2020 meant many children were not able to have the full educational experience they would have otherwise had in person, which led to decreased retention of educational material across the board. Programs offered statewide and in local communities like Alamance and Craven counties seek to help students recover from various forms of learning loss. 



The Challenge 

The COVID-19 pandemic created many different types of setbacks, from economic to health outcomes. The learning loss experienced by school aged children represents a setback of particular significance because of the long-term consequences that may result. The abrupt shift to online learning in March 2020 meant many children were not able to have the full educational experience they would have otherwise had in person, which led to decreased retention of educational material across the board.  

 In 2020-21 test scores among North Carolina students dropped by a third when compared to 2018-19. In addition to learning loss faced by students, parents and teachers also felt immense strain while adapting to online learning. Teachers often struggled to keep students engaged through device screens, while many students had their cameras turned off for various reasons. Parents and caregivers had to assume more responsibilities to ensure their children were keeping up with class and schoolwork, which proved especially difficult for those considered “essential employees.”  

 

The Solution 

In response to this challenge, teachers and schools in Alamance County experimented with an online learning platform to help students get their reading skills back on track. BookNook is an online reading platform designed to help students nationwide access high quality instruction. By using innovative technology solutions, the program allows individual students to stay engaged with lessons while teachers monitor their progress on separate tablets or computers. Alamance Achieves, a community driven collaborative working to ensure academic and career success for students, helped provide access to BookNook in Alamance County Schools.  

 Teachers at Positive Day School noted the program not only helped students get back on track with their learning, but it also makes them more confident in reading more challenging passages. Another way BookNook supports learning recovery focuses on emotional education. Before and after each lesson, students select an emoji that corresponds to their mood. This step helps students realize how they are feeling and lets teachers and other support staff have a general idea of each student’s individual wellness. School personnel are then able to provide additional supports or interventions, as necessary. 

 

The Players 

Organizations around the state are working to help students recover from various forms of learning loss. The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction launched Operation Polaris through the newly created Office of Learning Recovery and Acceleration. The program seeks to provide teachers with tools to recognize where individual students are experiencing learning loss and create a plan for them moving forward.  

 A departure from traditional remediation efforts, Operation Polaris places all students with grade appropriate work, and then pushes them along in areas where they struggle. The program also includes a digital platform that allows teachers to input data from multiple sources for each student to see in which areas they need extra support. This platform helps to both individualize learning recovery plans for students and ensure they do not repeat content with which they are already comfortable. 

 

The Promise 

Beyond strictly educational learning loss, the past two years of the pandemic have been stressful for children in a host of other ways. For this reason, schools and teachers adapted their lessons and daily activities to help students recover. Peletah Center for Academic Excellence (PACE), a private school in New Bern, starts each day by having students perform positive affirmations, for example. This process reflects the broader “trauma-informed education” for which the school has become known.  

 In the past, after hurricanes and similar traumatic events, the school hosted bounce-back zones, which are places where students can come, participate in various activities, and take time for themselves to decompress from stressful situations. The school did the same during the COVID-19 pandemic. These offerings teach students coping mechanisms to get through tough situations and become resilient. Academically, school administrators noted that student test scores reflect that resiliency, with many meeting or exceeding expectations in the most recent round of end of grade tests.  Keep learning – watch our ncIMPACT COVID-19 Learning Loss episode.

 

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