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Written by Charlotte Andrist
on September 16, 2020

With school ending abruptly and shifting online in a matter of days this past spring, many students are expected to enter the new school year with learning loss that’s being referred to as the “COVID-19 slide.” Similar to the summer-slide—the tendency for students to lose some of their achievement gains from the previous school year—COVID-19 learning loss will set students back in their academic progress, resulting in the need to catch up in order to get back on track with grade-level standards.

The COVID-19 slide is expected to have a bigger negative impact on student academic gains than summer vacation ever has, with anywhere from 30% to 50% loss of learning. Students will have to work harder than ever to catch up with their coursework, with many still logging in to distance learning full time from home.

As students struggle to reach their grade-level standards, they will likely experience significant amounts of stress. As an educator, you can support students who are experiencing COVID-19-related academic struggles and anxiety to help relieve some of their stresses and make space for them to focus on making gains in their coursework.

Here are some ways you can help students cope with the stress of catching up from the COVID-19 slide:

  • Start with relationships and connection. Developing relationships with your students is key to supporting their mental health all year long. When students feel a connection with teachers, they are more likely to share their concerns and stresses about life and academics. This includes any personal issues students may be having that affect their ability to work efficiently toward completion of grade-level standards.
  • Focus on students’ strengths. While some students may have great educational losses in specific subjects or skills, it’s possible they have retained significant amounts of their knowledge in others. Help students pull focus away from the stress of their academic struggles by commending them for their successes. You can even get creative by combining subjects into hybrid assignments so students can be lifted up by their academic strengths while they work to improve on their weaknesses.
  • Open up an anonymous question or suggestion channel. It’s possible that your students will become so overwhelmed with the idea of being behind that they’ll begin to feel embarrassed to ask for help. By creating an anonymous question box or digital page, you give students the opportunity to request help on their own terms. You can even ask students to share suggestions for ways you can best support them as they catch up on coursework.
  • Communicate with parents regularly. Parents and teachers have to work together in order to understand the whole picture of how the stress of catching up affects students emotionally. It’s important to communicate any concerns to create a successful support system that looks out for students both in school and at home. Using a safety management system can ensure students experiencing mental health struggles caused by academic challenges will get the support they need.
  • Celebrate small wins. Although the COVID-19 slide may take more than a semester to go away, students won’t always be struggling to catch up. When students succeed on their homework, assessments, and projects, make sure to thoroughly praise their work. This will help keep spirits up and motivate students to continue working their hardest until they reach their academic goals.

By directing your energy toward taking some of these steps with your students, you can help students cope with the stress of catching up on learning loss. The coronavirus pandemic has affected students’ mental health in many ways, but with the right support, learning loss stress doesn’t have to be one of them.

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