Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, educators were relentless in their efforts to reinvent lesson plans, adapt during distance and hybrid learning, and keep students engaged. Despite the incredible dedication of teachers, parents, and school officials, it’s unrealistic to think that every student should have mastery of the curriculum. 

Heading into this back-to-school season, many teachers are thinking about how to address any unfinished learning that may have resulted from the challenges of last school year. While some refer to the notion of decreased academic progress as “learning loss,” we prefer to call it “unfinished learning” — this term promotes a growth mindset and recognizes that a student’s learning is just unfinished, not lost.

So how can teachers prepare to address unfinished learning in the classroom? Here are five strategies to get the wheels in motion.

5 Strategies for Addressing Unfinished Learning

1.  Make social-emotional learning a priority.

This may seem counterintuitive to educators who have important core curriculum to cover, however, students may be less likely to engage with instruction and retain information if they are not in a healthy emotional state.

The notion that SEL is a “must have” rather than a “nice to have” in educational curriculum is becoming increasingly popular — and for good reason. According to a 2019 study conducted by The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), when an SEL program was implemented, 27 percent more students saw academic improvements by the end of the curriculum. 

SEL Resources & Activities for Back to School

Stress Management Bulletin Board by College Counselor Traci
9th-12th Grade 

Self-Regulation Feelings & Coping Skills Guide by Wholehearted School Counseling
1st-8th Grade

2. Give short, effective assessments early.

Starting the school year off with short, simple formative assessments can provide you with data that you can act on immediately to address unfinished learning. This will help you gauge where each student is academically, and will ultimately make it easier for you to differentiate your instruction based on student needs. Whether you deliver these assessments in the form of partner work, hands-on learning activities, or worksheets, these small daily checks for understanding are meant to measure student progress and lead to enhanced learning. You can discover assessments on the marketplace or make your own self-grading ones with Easel Assessments.

Formative Assessment Resources for Addressing Unfinished Learning

Second Grade Math Formative Assessments by Hippo Hooray for Second Grade by Angela Gray
2nd Grade

Inference Exit Slips | 5th & 6th Grade Reading Center Activity by Tanya G. Marshall the Butterly Teacher
5th-6th Grade

3. Employ personalized learning strategies.

Differentiated instruction is a science-backed strategy that has proven to be effective in improving student achievement (Reis et al., 2011; Rock et al., 2008). Once you know the key focus areas for each student — reading, math, science, etc. — you can tailor your lesson plans appropriately to address unfinished learning.

Using tools like Easel by TpT, educators can create customized, interactive resources to meet the instructional needs of an entire class, a small group, or just one individual student.

Differentiated Resources for Back to School

Distance Learning Graphic Organizers with Depth & Complexity Icons by Angela Linzay
K-6th Grade

Reading Comprehension Questions for Any Book Task Cards by Rachel Lynette,
3rd-6th Grade

4. Partner with other teachers and educational professionals.

While some districts are adding after-school programs for students who need extra intervention outside of the classroom, others will lean on teachers to create opportunities for expanded learning. If the onus is on teachers in your school, this is a great time to partner with other educators such as literacy coaches, paraprofessionals, and classroom aids to tackled unfinished learning and help bring students up to speed.

Consider collaborating with these individuals and rotate running an intervention program once or twice a week. Whether you plan together during recess or for an hour after school, splitting up the work can make it less of a burden on one teacher. If you don’t have these resources to tap into, start advocating to your administration now to make a case for adding instructional coaches and tutors.

5. Don’t be afraid to change up your routine.

As teachers, routine is ingrained into daily school life to keep students on track and engaged —  but traditional back-to-school routines and instructional practices may not suit every student this year. If you need some fresh ideas, check out our back-to-school activity calendar for a whole month’s worth of activities you can use with your students.

It may take time for students and teachers to adapt to being back in school, whether you’re fully in person or still hybrid. So if you need to spend a little bit longer getting to know each other or reviewing classroom etiquette, don’t sweat it. Remember that it’s okay to deviate from a “normal” routine — and it’s okay if things don’t work out or you have to change it up more than once. Finding a routine that works for your students is better than struggling with one that doesn’t all year.

Other Back-to-School Resources for Unfinished Learning

Alphabet Lotería ~ Lotería abecedario by MommyMaestra
K-3rd Grade

Morning Meeting Discussion Cards by Hello Fifth
Not Grade Specific 


To discover more ways to tackle unfinished learning, browse digital resources on TpT. If you have a TpT School Access subscription, click here to access resources.