Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, educators have been relentless in their efforts to reinvent lesson plans, adapt for 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 will have mastery of the curriculum. 

Many teachers and school leaders are thinking about how to address any unfinished learning that may have resulted from the challenges of the previous school years. While some refer to the notion of decreased academic progress as “learning loss,” we prefer to call it “unfinished learning” — particularly since this term promotes a growth mindset and recognizes that a student’s learning is not lost, but unfinished.

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

6 Strategies for Addressing Unfinished Learning

1.  Focus on accelerated learning rather than remediation.

Remediation is not the answer to address unfinished learning, because it essentially just “teaches previous grade-level content again” to students. In contrast, accelerated learning focuses on the current year’s content and pairs it with just-in-time support to build bridges across learning gaps. In addition, remediation tactics typically disadvantage students of color and students in communities that are experiencing high levels of poverty. 

To accelerate student learning, school district leaders, administrators, and teachers can identify the highest priority standards and lessons for the current year. Then, they can provide scaffolding for foundational skills by identifying the previous year’s concepts that can be used to backfill for unfinished learning.

One of the most important things teachers can do to most effectively accelerate learning is to build relationships with their students. Strong relationships will ultimately give educators invaluable insight into their  students’ academic and social-emotional needs and help them identify the best path forward.

2.  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 education research study conducted by The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), when an SEL program was implemented, 27% more students saw academic improvements by the end of the curriculum. 

These SEL resources can help educators get started supporting students’ mental health in the classroom.

SEL Resources & Activities

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

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

3. Give short, effective assessments early.

Starting off with short, simple formative assessments can provide teachers with data that they can act on immediately to address unfinished learning. This will help them gauge where each student is academically, and will ultimately make it easier to differentiate instruction based on student needs.

Whether these assessments take 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. Discover assessments on the marketplace or create 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

4. 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 teachers know the key focus areas for each student — reading, math, science, etc. — they can tailor lesson plans appropriately to address unfinished learning.

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

Differentiated Resources

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

5. 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. This is a great time to partner with other educators such as literacy coaches, paraprofessionals, and classroom aides to tackle unfinished learning and help bring students up to speed.

If you’re a classroom teacher, 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.

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

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. 

It may take time for students and teachers to adapt to new routines, get to know each other, or review classroom etiquette. 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 school community is better than struggling with one that doesn’t all year.

Other 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.