The Right Moves to Building Back Stronger After Teaching Loss

If you’ve read a news article or listened to your favorite broadcast, you have heard a lot of discussion about ongoing learning loss due to COVID-19 interruptions, whether that’s schools going remote or hybrid in 2020–2021, intermittent closures throughout 2021–2022 due to teacher shortages, or students’ struggling with increased emotional distress. You’ve also probably heard from multiple sources about lower test scores in math and reading.

It might seem like there are insurmountable challenges as we head into the 2022-2023 school year, but I believe the news is only telling a portion of the story. Although students may be behind on certain math standards, they continued to learn during the last two years. Think of the resilience, independence, adaptability, and creativity students brought to their learning during this period. Think about what they learned about weathering difficult times, relying on friends and family, and in many cases about personal loss. One of our clients put it this way, “it’s not really learning loss, but rather teaching loss—our students missed out on a lot of teaching.” Due to circumstances beyond anyone’s control (no one is to blame) teachers weren’t always able to provide all of the teaching they might have due to school closures, teacher shortages, technology issues, absences, etc.

That brings us to the 2022–2023 school year, when we have students at different levels entering the classroom this fall, as we always do, but perhaps to a greater degree. So, we need to make up for some of the teaching we weren’t able to do and quickly build upon this learning to get students back on track. This will take careful planning, a strategic approach, and the belief that with the right support your students can meet grade-level math requirements.

The Right Plan

In order to get students to where we want them to be, we need to meet them where they are. One way to quickly assess where students may need help is to determine if students have mastered the pre-requisite skills for the math concepts you’ll be teaching in the first two months of the school year. In an earlier post, we shared grade-specific fundamentals charts that help you pinpoint the most important standards to reteach.

Once you’ve determined what needs to be retaught, turn to your curriculum teacher resources to help you map out the teaching sequence. If you are using ORIGO Stepping Stones, remember that every lesson in every module provides you with lesson plans, suggested lessons, student questions, information about topic progression, connections between concepts, and more.

Don’t be surprised if you have to teach certain concepts again. Remember students are more likely to cement learning when concepts are taught during short intervals over a period of time, rather than crammed into one or two weeks at the beginning of the year. It’s not necessary to reteach everything at the beginning of the year. Taking a “just in time” approach can make the process more productive for everyone.

The Right Introduction

Engagement is important no matter what time of the year, but at the beginning of the year, engagement is key. Students are returning from summer break and have to adjust to being back in the classroom. I recommend a learner-friendly approach that offers meaningful experiences with a variety of visual representations, rich math tasks, manipulatives, and real-life problem contexts. Here are a few ideas:

  • Have students calculate the number of miles they travelled during their summer holiday. Depending upon grade range have them determine who traveled the furthest, who traveled the most miles, the average daily travel miles per student, the total sum of miles traveled by the class and what that mileage might equate to, etc. Think about the language students use to discuss this challenge.
  • Ask students to count the number of ice cream treats they each consumed over the summer. Depending upon the grade you teach have them add total class consumption, calculate average daily consumption, compare to average U.S. consumption, etc. Think about manipulatives that might help students visualize these calculations.
  • Include math games that tie into the concepts you are teaching. Your curriculum might have several. If not, here are some online sources I recommend.
    Classroom Resources at NCTM:
    The Kentucky Center for Mathematics:

The Right Strategies

You have limited classroom time with lots to accomplish, especially if you are helping students recover and build upon learning from the previous year. Here are the strategies I think are key to success:

  • Scaffold and differentiate instruction to bring all students up to grade level and keep them motivated.
  • Build in multiple formative and summative assessments to keep students on track and to identify next steps.
  • Introduce math symbols and math language only when students truly understand the concept behind the symbol.
  • Provide multiple entry points to concepts as students learn differently and get to the same point through varying paths.
  • Reintroduce key concepts strategically throughout the year (spaced learning) to cement student understanding.

The Right Support

Your belief in your students’ ability to achieve is key to their success. By providing them with the support they need when they need it, you help students build confidence and agency. That support may be one-on-one instructional time, verbal recognition of good thinking, rewarding productive struggle, providing multiple representations and models, etc.

And don’t forget the partnership you built with families during the pandemic. It’s equally important now that we are in re-building mode to communicate with parents (and extended family) how they can help their kids succeed in math.

So, no matter what we call it interrupted learning, unfinished learning, teaching loss, with the right plan, introduction, strategies, and support, all students can enjoy math and meet grade-level requirements. We’re here to help, let us know what we can do to better support you in the math classroom.

Sara Delano Moore 1

Want to know more?

Let’s Talk

Sara Delano Moore, Ph.D.

ORIGO Education

ORIGO Education has partnered with educators for over 25 years to make math learning meaningful, enjoyable and accessible to all.

About The ORIGO Approach
Rocky figure flying a kite.