When students return to school this fall, educators anticipate larger-than-normal learning gaps as a result of distance and hybrid learning during the pandemic. Results from a study by McKinsey and Company estimated that students, on average, could be 10 months behind on learning as of June 2021.
Some school districts are focusing on remediation—taking kids back and redoing everything they’ve missed. Proponents of remediation reason that there’s no way to know how much or little students learned over the past two school years that were heavily disrupted by COVID. Better to assume kids missed out on key learning and cover it all again.
For kids who show signs of being seriously behind their classmates, some schools are holding students back and literally having them redo their last grade. In fact, 18 states have laws that mandate children repeat their last grade if their test scores fail to meet state standards.
Many parents are unsure how much learning loss their kids experienced during the pandemic, and they feel powerless to protect them from having to repeat the previous year, according to a Politico article.
Holding kids back can have a serious effect on their self-esteem, however, so opponents of remediation are using a different approach: acceleration.
Reversing Learning Setbacks
Instead of holding kids back or spending another year trying to make up lost ground, acceleration keeps students doing grade-level work while targeting specific skill gaps. “The best approach, they argue, is to keep kids at grade level but give them specific help when they face an obstacle due to something they missed, a process sometimes called targeted remediation or ‘just in time’ learning,” according to the msn.com news article.
What You Can Do to Close the Gap this Summer
In this same article, third-graders from Gregory Heights Elementary, in Burien, Washington, were learning double-digit multiplication, but some of the students didn’t yet have their single-digit multiplication facts down. Rather than holding them back or putting them in a remedial class, teachers figured out what their specific challenges were. One teacher discovered, for instance, that an individual was simply having trouble multiplying sixes and sevens. Instead of making her relearn all of her times tables, she simply focused on helping her student learn these specific math facts.
Whether remediation or acceleration proves to be most effective in closing the gap in learning losses from COVID, teachers and parents want to know what they can do now to shore up learning losses. First tip: Don’t panic.
According to Dan Finkel, founder and director of Math for Love, trying to cram math facts is the least effective way to teach a child how to multiply. “If we can help students approach math with a sense of playfulness and curiosity, we’ll find those gaps are far easier to fill in,” says Finkel in an article in Seattle’s Child.
Story- and song-based learning make memorizing math facts fun and engaging for kids. Online Times Alive, for instance, pairs stories and songs with math facts so students can master times tables the fun way.
By turning numbers into characters and building them into stories, kids retain math facts at a much higher rate than by using rote memorization. An independently evaluated study involving 756 students, 11 counties, and 18 schools showed significant improvement (24% higher math scores) after using Times Tables the Fun Way.
Learning how to multiply is one of the most foundational skills every student needs to learn. With an effective, fun method for learning times tables, third graders and above will be able to close any skill gap they may have experienced during the past two school years that were disrupted by the pandemic.