Out with COVID, In with Big Ideas: Going Beyond Learning Loss

By Dawn McCotter, Van Andel Education Institute

Learning Loss, Instructional Loss, Unfinished Learning…whatever you call it, the 2020-21 school year has left its mark on the learning process. Rather than focus on the negative, use this as an opportunity for schools to reimagine their instructional practices by leveraging the lessons learned from pandemic teaching and embracing authentic learning experiences as a way to accelerate learning and close the gaps. Here are four key ideas to help you rethink, refocus, and reimagine teaching and learning this fall.


Focus on quality of core instruction

Remediation is not the complete answer to learning loss. When students are pulled out of their regular grade-level instruction for the skill and drill practices often associated with remediation, they can get further and further behind their grade level peers. “With the possible exception of one-on-one tutoring, the research literature on remediation generally finds few benefits for students.” EdWeek June 12, 2020

Rather, focus on grade-level curriculum with supports built in to bring students to where they need to be. Provide engaging, high-quality instruction that is rigorous yet attainable. 

To avoid the learn it, test it, forget it cycle, content must be continually revisited throughout the year. It needs to be connected and not siloed. One of the best ways to accomplish this is through authentic or project-based learning, where students participate in work that matters. They find meaning and relevance in everything they do. They see how the content and skills they learn connect to a broader world. Ensuring all students receive engaging, high-quality, grade-level instruction promotes an equitable learning environment where all students are expected to succeed.

Provide “Acceleration Opportunities”

Instead of remediation, focus on acceleration. Accelerate learning to close gaps through engaging and meaningful experiences outside of normal classroom instruction. Rethink your summer and afterschool programs. With the CARES Act, CRRSA Act, and ARP Act, schools are finally given the funding they so desperately deserve. Use this as an opportunity to overhaul these programs to help close the learning gaps. Invest in training high quality tutors or interventionists to work with students individually or in small groups. Additionally, leverage those lessons in flexibility learned during the pandemic to support your students outside of the classroom. Many of your students may have accessibility and familiarity with learning using technology. Use this new knowledge to your advantage by offering virtual support sessions, tutoring, and mentoring after hours, to truly accelerate learning.


Elevate the Importance of Formative Assessment

State and other standardized assessments can only tell you so much about a student. It is one set of data at one point in time. The most important data comes out of what is happening at the classroom level. Teachers are on the frontline of assessment. They know their students. They know their needs. Frequent formative assessment is critical in identifying gaps in learning. Prioritize teacher training on best formative assessment practices and pivot to assessments that are faster, smaller, and more meaningful than the large-scale standardized tests. And most importantly—ask your teachers! Consider having teachers take a quick survey (K-5 or 6-12) of instructional gaps or unfinished learning that they observed this school year. This can also be shared in their PLC or grade level teams to help plan curriculum this fall.

Focus on Power Standards

There are always going to be more standards to cover than time to cover them. So, we need to be selective. Use your formative assessment data, teacher surveys, and district/state assessments to prioritize your standards for fall. Teachers need opportunities to plan within their teams and discuss with the grade level teachers above and below them. Use these standards-scoring sheets to help guide planning and discussions. By determining your power standards, you are able to focus on teaching what really matters!

The pandemic shook all of Education out of its comfort zone, and now it’s time to embrace the opportunity for a reset. Use this time to reimagine teacher training in your school. Invest federal funds wisely by developing teachers’ ability to create memorable, meaningful learning experiences that give an authentic context for learning. Give them the tools to increase engagement, accelerate learning, and mitigate equity issues with cross-curricular instruction, purposeful collaboration, and real-world connections. These are efforts that will pay dividends long after the influx of federal funding runs dry.


For a deeper dive into these tips and more, check out the Administrator Summit: 5 Ways Schools can Overcome Learning Loss.

Dawn McCotter is the Teacher Programs Manager for Van Andel Institute for Education, an education nonprofit which strives to empower teachers and build classrooms where curiosity, creativity, and critical thinking thrive. For more information on Van Andel Institute for Education, visit us at vaei.org

Published by David Franklin

Dr. David Franklin is an experienced school administrator, education professor, curriculum designer, and presenter. Dr. Franklin has presented at national and international education conferences as is available for school and district professional development sessions.

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