Teaching Tuesday: Learning Surplus vs. Learning Loss

Dr. Meredith Critchfield

Female teacher speaking in front of class

The word “loss” is a noun. Loss is defined as missing something. When we lose something, there is often confusion, sadness, concern and even grief.

Considering the events of the past year, there has been a lot of talk about learning loss and with fair reason. If you are a teacher or an aspiring teacher, you probably are wondering how you can help your students make up all the standards and content missed during the last year. If you are a parent of a child who struggled with academics, you may be wracking your brain everyday trying to help your child make up for lost time.

As an educator, loss can sit heavy on your heart and mind. However, you can ask some questions including:

  • What if you began to change the learning loss mindset?
  • What if you shifted the way you thought of student learning over the last year to focus less on what students have lost and more on what students have gained?
  • What if we started to identify the gains that students made during the last year and figure out how to tap into those through our instructional strategies?

The Learning Surplus

You can call this shift in growth mindset the "learning surplus." As I talk to teachers and administrators around the United States, I hear about the many new tools and experiences students have gained during the pandemic. Here are a few, exalted from all corners of our country, along with some strategies to help you tap into those new skills:

  • Learn how to navigate tech tools like FlipGrid, Zoom, Google Classroom, Kahoot, Seesaw, PearDeck and more.
  • Build in time for students to create and innovate using the tech tools they familiarized themselves with last year.
  • Cultivate curiosity about nature and time outdoors.
  • Consider more project based learning where students engage in real-world, science or nature-based projects.
  • More time spent playing and imagining alongside friends and family members.
  • Welcome more play and imagination into your classroom by giving students creative writing prompts, reader’s theater, opportunities for art, hands-on learning and STEM projects and experiments
  • Bolster the students' growth mindset, reminding them daily through your words and encouragement that they can “do hard things” and “struggles are just a sign that your brain is growing.”
  • Create time for self-reflection and metacognition after experiencing learning in many modalities and formats over the last year.
  • Enhance students’ reflection skills by embedding opportunities for students to set SMART goals, engage in small group discussions, think-write-pair-share (TWPS), using checklists and rubrics to assess their own learning.

Rachael Gabriel of The Washington Post goes so far as to say, “There is no such thing as learning loss.” According to Gabriel, the expected learning path was altered and learning took different forms over the last year. However, learning is never, ever lost. Instead, what if we all started to see exactly what was gained over this past year?*

*Retrieved from The Washington Post, Democracy Dies in Darkness, What ‘learning loss’ really means: It’s not a loss of learning", in April 2021

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.