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Learning Loss: Strategies to Accelerate Reading Skills and Boost Test Scores

Whether from summer vacation, a lack of practice, or a variety of circumstances outside of their control, students often experience learning loss throughout their educational career.

This has been especially true since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a study conducted by McKinsey & Company, the impact of the pandemic on learning caused K-12 to fall an average of five months behind in mathematics and four months behind in reading by the end of the school year.

Considering how falling behind in school can lead to negative future educational and financial outcomes for K-12 students, it is important to combat this learning loss by using strategies to help grow reading skills and improve test scores.

Here are some research-based strategies that teachers, parents, and guardians can use at school and at home to help fight learning loss and prevent students from falling behind academically:

Learning stage 1: Preschool to Kindergarten (ages 3-5)

During the pandemic, many daycares and preschools were closed, causing young children to miss out on early opportunities for learning.

Studies show that preschool is essential for helping children prepare for kindergarten and beyond. Kids that attend preschool are more likely to graduate and often have a higher earning potential than students who don’t. They are also less likely to be arrested or abuse substances in the future.

Missing months or even years of preschool can have significant adverse effects on children academically and socially. However, these adverse outcomes are not irreversible or inevitable.

Here are some strategies that can help children in this learning stage stay up to par academically, even when they’ve experienced learning loss from missing school:

Daily reading

Experts recommend that children in this age group “read” books for at least 10-15 minutes each day. Parents should carve out time to read aloud to their preschool-aged children every day to make sure their children are learning about fluency and beginning to recognize vocabulary words that will help them become stronger readers in the future.

Statistically speaking, kids whose parents read at least five books to them each day will have heard 1.4 million more words than children who do not get as many books read to them.

Even if your child’s preschool has been closed, daily reading can help ensure that they don’t fall behind.

Play with letters

Letter-shaped blocks, magnets, and toys provide the opportunity for children to familiarize themselves with the different letters of the alphabet.

Teachers can buy alphabet-themed coloring sheets, magnetic letters, and other fun activities and toys that allow children to play with letters. In this way, young children will be eager to spend time learning letters and letter sounds.

Make predictions

Even at this young age, preschoolers can predict what will happen next when they listen and follow along as a teacher or parent reads.

Parents can ask their children what they think will happen next in the book. By using context clues and previous knowledge to make guesses about the plot of a book, children develop critical thinking skills that will allow them to build schemas and draw conclusions from their background knowledge in the future.

Learning stage 2: Kindergarten to Grade 8 (ages 5-14)

While ages 5-14 might seem like a wide range, children within the second learning stage can benefit from using many of the same strategies to combat learning loss. Using these reading strategies is especially important, considering many students have struggled through online learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although teachers across the country put forth their best effort and did everything in their power to help students learn during this unprecedented time, online learning is no substitute for in-person education. Many students have experienced learning loss due to the inconsistency of moving from in-person to online instruction and navigating e-learning while balancing the stress of the pandemic.

Fortunately, there are resources and tips that parents and teachers can use to help these students. Here are a few strategies that both parents and teachers should consider implementing to accelerate reading skills and improve test scores:

Genre-based reading

One of the best ways to help students organize and recall the information they read so that they are ready to answer questions on test day is to organize the books they read by genre.

When students are familiar with the characteristics and specific vocabulary associated with different genres, they will develop schemas and categorize information to better understand and remember this information in the future.

Teachers should sort their classroom libraries and units by genre so that students are always aware of when they are reading fiction, non-fiction, biographies, narratives, or any other type of book that comes their way.

Positive reading environments

Independent reading is essential to helping children meet their reading goals and learning outcomes. To encourage independent reading, teachers and parents should create spaces conducive to reading.

This could mean a giant rug for younger children or bean bag chairs in a quiet corner of the school for middle schoolers in the classroom. At home, this could mean having a designated chair or desk for teens to read with comfortable blankets and a distraction-free environment.

When children feel like they have a safe, quiet, designated space to read, they will be more likely to want to read on their own.

Genre-specific vocabulary

There are so many words in the English language that it’s hard to know where to start when it comes to improving a child’s vocabulary.

Rather than focusing on random lists of vocabulary words, teachers should introduce genre-specific vocabulary. When students learn terms typically associated with biographies, for example, they will be better able to answer reading comprehension questions that use these vocabulary words to talk about biography or a historical figure on a test.

Learning stage 3: High School (ages 14+)

While high school students can take more responsibility and initiative for their learning, the truth of the matter is that many of them still experience learning loss.

Approximately 32% of teenagers report they do not read a single book over the summer, and this number is only increasing each year. As high school students take on more responsibilities like extracurricular activities, volunteer experiences, and after-school jobs, time for reading can be few and far between.

To prevent learning loss in this age group, here are a few tips that teachers and parents should keep in mind:

Provide space for reading

Parents need to remind their teens that independent reading is still valuable at their age by making it a priority. Parents should make sure that their teens have access to a variety of books or their local library so that they can pick up new reading material, and they should build independent reading time into their daily schedules.

Teachers can provide space for reading by setting aside a bit of time for independent reading during class. For instance, when students finish classwork early, they can pull out a book and read rather than pull out their phones. Providing a classroom library or taking the class to the school’s library will be helpful.

Encourage genre-based learning

Separating units by genre or assigning projects that require students to familiarize themselves with the key elements of various genres will be critical to helping high school students learn and recall essential information on standardized tests.

Use graphic organizers

Graphic organizers make it easier for students to organize, classify, and process new information they read. When students have a paper or project to work on, teachers should encourage them to complete graphic organizers to keep track of their thoughts and organize new ideas.

Build background knowledge

To improve critical reading and critical thinking skills, context is vital. Stress the importance of building background knowledge and providing opportunities for teens to develop background knowledge before reading a new book or learning a new concept in class.

While learning loss is inevitable, it is not insurmountable. If teachers, parents, and guardians will implement these measures, they can help students improve their reading skills and test scores at any learning stage.

 

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The Intellectual BookShop is an independent educational publisher and resource company committed to providing simple learning solutions for use at home or school.

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