How is Student Learning Impacted by School Disruption and What to do About it?

Parents around the world are concerned about the impact that school disruptions will have on their child’s learning. With approximately 90% of the world’s children out of school for a number of months in the spring 2020

B.Ed., MSc.
Sue has worked in schools and private practice as a teacher, system leader and Psychologist for over 35 years.

Parents around the world are concerned about the impact that school disruptions will have on their child’s learning. With approximately 90% of the world’s children out of school for a number of months in the spring 2020, due to the Corona virus, experts can only predict what this impact might look like based upon previous research on how other events such as natural disasters impacted student learning. In many cases, students are continuing with a hybrid model of schooling or school closures in parts of the world.  

We have just experienced four months of students learning at home. Given the likelihood that during flu and cold season every family will experience some sort of disruption to their daily school and work routines resulting from having to self-isolate, worrying about the impact of the disruptions to your child’s learning is understandable.   

What have we learned about the impact of past school disruptions? 

  • As a way to move forward following school disruption, establish routines and help your child to experience what is familiar. What is needed most is to foster connections, structure and routine. Therefore, focus on building relationships, providing predictability and explicitly teaching. 
  • When back at school, it is not the goal to make up for all the missed work but to understand where students are at in their learning and teach to/ address the learning needs of the students/ individual. Instruction is ta best when tailored to the student’s gaps. 
  • More short term impact might be observed in the earlier grades with delays in literacy and numeracy acquisition, following school disruption but with the right kind of support…..these students progress and the long term impact is minimal.  
  • There does not seem to be a lasting negative impact of having time away from school on a child’s future ability to learn. Once back in school, you can expect that in most cases learning resumes.  
  • Most symptoms of nervousness, anxiety and worry, which are common and manifest in different ways are resolved without intervention once school resumes. However, for a minority where symptoms are highly distressing, daily functioning might be impacted requiring mental health intervention.  
  • No research evidence was found indicating that long-term negative and limiting impacts occur into adulthood because of school disruption providing the right learning experiences are provided when the students return to school. There did not seem to be any conclusive evidence of long-term impact on learning and how this impacted students as adults. 
  • Students are typically resilient and when placed back into structured and engaging learning environments, progress resumes.  
  • In disasters where schools were destroyed and no schooling happened for an extended period of time, students who engaged in some form of learning even if it was just reading books, and singing songs benefited from this experience 
  • The research on parent involvement is powerful and worth investing more effort in. The goal is to sustain meaningful partnerships with parents that were developed during the last few months of learning at home/class suspensions. When parents are actively involved in their child’s education….this made a big difference. The connection and support from parents in their child’s education has a positive impact in reducing the negative impact of loss of school time 
  • Maintaining a relationship with the child’s teacher serves to strengthen learning. 

What you can do? 

  • As much as possible, read to and with your child. Encourage older students to read daily for pleasure and information. 
  • Talk about what you are reading identifying key events in the story, focus on understanding the vocabulary, predict what will happen next and make connections to the content of the story. 
  • Encourage play and social interaction with those in your child’s cohort following your provincial health guidelines 
  • Understand that learning happens all the time and everywhere….so not trying to duplicate what school work looks like but seeing the importance of modeling being curious, asking questions and looking for answers together 
  • Encourage learning through play 
  • Expose your child to lots of information about their world and how it works 
  • Create a balanced approach to ensure overall general health such as sleep, nutrition etc. 
  • Limit screen time and encourage physical activity  
  • Be involved as much as possible to support your child’s learning/school experience 
  • Create a climate that encourages learning at home. According to Hattie, the climate of the home matters when learning at home. The following were identified by Hattie as having a positive role:  
  1. having reasonable expectations  
  2. ensuring high levels of communication, (talk, talk, talk and listen, listen, listen)  
  3. errors/mistakes are seen as an opportunity to learn not do it again (redo) and  
  4. learning opportunities are provided  that allow for giving and receiving feedback 

TIPS to Help Your Child Cope  

  • Model calm, coping and “distress tolerant” behavior. Also model optimistic thinking as much as possible.  
  • Help your child connect to their experiences and feelings and put them into words. Acknowledge their feelings. 
  • Provide support and encouragement as needed. 
  • As problems arise, help your child to see that problems or worries are a part of everyone’s day and that you just need to make a plan to fix it. For example, “Ask what is happening? What can we do to fix this? What next?”  
  • Think aloud or plan with your child about ways to solve their problem. This will help them to cope with the day-to-day things that arise. 
  • Listen and understand (avoid making judgments or predictions). Convey interest, availability, empathy and concern. 
  • Help your child to understand that it is normal to feel stress and that they can cope 
  • Provide calming routines and inform your child about what is being done to keep your child safe 
  • Work to establish physical and emotional safety for your child 
  • Recognize that your child may require more patience, attention and help with activities than usual 

School reopening during this global crisis is not a return to normal but an opportunity to do things differently and better. For the majority of children, providing a safe place to learn, along with strong relationships/social connections, quality instruction as well as routines and structure, will enable children to thrive despite uncertainty.     

Sue Humphry
B.Ed., MSc. Sue has worked in schools and private practice as a teacher, system leader and Psychologist for over 35 years.