As COVID-19 began to sweep the world in March of 2020, educators, policymakers and parents had to pivot to distance-learning models and reimagine what educational access would look like for millions of kids across the country. As we know now, it wasn’t without its downfalls. Parents often had to choose between their jobs and being home to supervise during school hours. The country saw learning disparities increasing at an alarming rate and noticed that special needs kids were being cut off from their support systems. And just about everyone experienced zoom fatigue. But, there’s good news! With schools re-opening everywhere, parents and educators can work together to close the learning gaps. There are plenty of strategies and resources for kids who’ve struggled during this past year, and we’re sharing seven of the most important ones.
1. Have your child assessed
The first step to solving any problem is being able to accurately define the scope and scale of the problem. If you know or suspect that your child has suffered learning losses during the pandemic, you should seek to have them assessed, particularly in English Language Arts and Math—the two areas where researchers have identified the greatest gaps. Testing is often executed annually or semi-annually through state agencies in public education systems, but teachers often have access to several other platforms that can assess literacy, comprehension and math skills. Many tutoring agencies also offer cost-free assessments to students. These educational assessments are usually more specific than what is generally available to parents for free online. Depending on what behaviors you have observed in your child, you may want to also consider psychological assessments to screen for depression or anxiety. You can speak to a physician about options. Thorough assessments will give you clarity on exactly where and how your child is struggling.
2. Develop a constructive narrative
Once you understand the areas in which your student has fallen behind, you should develop a constructive narrative about the circumstances. Start with gratitude and focus first on the positive. Despite the range of educational outcomes, all children have exceeded expectations in terms of their adaptability. Acknowledge your children for their resilience and the autonomy they have displayed in the distance learning format. Reflect on the maturity they have shown during these unprecedented times. Let them know that the most important priority over the past year was the health and safety of your family and your community. Now that we are emerging from the pandemic, you are committed to supporting them in their educational process.
3. Take a triaged approach
Taking a “triaged approach” means that you assign different degrees of urgency to decide the order of treatment. The priority is to make sure that all students have sufficient learning conditions, starting with secure housing, food and mental and emotional support. These are the most important factors in their “readiness to learn.” Even though many schools are gradually returning to in-person instruction, technology is still going to be an important component of the learning process, and students will continue to need access to computers and stable Wi-Fi as they are trying to catch up. There are institutional resources for parents and educators, such as the iDEAL Institute, focused on digital equity. Once those foundational pieces are in place, you can work with the teacher to develop a learning plan that addresses the greatest areas of vulnerability for your child. For example, if the greatest learning deficits are in math, you can put the most time and energy into that subject first. As they start to make progress in their weakest areas, you can gradually layer additional plans for other subject areas.
4. Find an ELA Intervention
Preliminary data has shown significant learning loss for kids in some states compared to previous years for Grades 4-9. Students who are socioeconomically disadvantaged and English language learners (ELLs) have experienced the greatest gaps in learning. If your student is struggling in reading, writing and comprehension, there are a range of options to intervene and help them get caught up. For example, there are great, affordable reading apps, such as Readability, that you can easily download to a phone or device that can assess and track student progress. Independent research has shown that conversational agents, such as the artificial intelligence in the Readability app or an Alexa or Google Home smart speaker, can simulate effective reading partners and promote language, comprehension and intelligibility. Seek out platforms and programs that are easy for your child to access on a daily basis that can measure student progress. Whether you are integrating technology or not, the key to improving in reading and language is consistency.
5. Find a Math Intervention
Mathematics is a key area to seek out support for students who have fallen behind. Not only does the data show that “math frustration” is a significant barrier for young learners, but studies also show that many parents struggle with math anxiety when it comes to helping their kids. Fortunately, there are many well-vetted math tutoring options, such as Mathnasium, where students can get support online or in person. Many agencies are offering promotions and discounts to support students and families, but if the cost of a tutoring agency is still not feasible at this time, be resourceful. For example, you may be able to hire a math student from your local college who might have a little more flexibility in pricing.
6. Maintain consistent communication with instructors
Parent advocacy is extremely important during this time. Teachers, parents and other providers and mentors should maintain consistent communication. The adults and educators in the child’s life need to coordinate efforts to help the children catch up in areas they have suffered. Your engagement and involvement are key in a student-centered approach that focuses on strong trust and communication between family and school. Pre-schedule a few meetings with your child's teacher to check in. With the communication preset, it is not likely that anything will go under the radar.
7. Support your kids with encouraging accountability
No matter what plan you develop to help get your kids caught up, the most important factor is going to be consistency. You need to offer your kids support through discipline and incentives to keep them on track and motivated. Help them get organized with their schedule using time-blocking and prioritizing. Pick process-oriented goals over outcome-related goals. For example, focus on reading consistently for 30 minutes a day for 30 consecutive days rather than focusing on reaching a specific reading level. Help them set and track their progress towards their goals in a journal or on a calendar so that they can see their own improvement.