Learning gaps are a completely normal experience, but one that can make a homeschool mom concerned. Let’s consider the signs to look for to identify an achievement gap and then some solutions to put in place.
Let’s talk about learning gaps and what you as a homeschool mom need to know about them.
What is a Learning Gap?
A learning gap is simply the difference between what you expected your child to learn by this point in their academic career and what they have actually learned and retained.
The interesting thing about learning gaps that you may not want to hear is that learning gaps are natural!
No one ever learns everything there is to know about a topic and remembers it all. There’s a reason “use it or lose it” is a popular saying – because it’s true! Our brains will never retain everything we learn and we should expect to see some learning gaps in our kids. So the key is not to freak out when you see learning gaps.
Addressing Learning Gaps
Now when you do suspect a learning gap, or you’re falling behind in your homeschooling because of normal life interruptions, what should you do?
There are some simple solutions that don’t have to overwhelm everyone! A few ideas include doubling up on your lessons for a few days, skip some lessons (because you’re in charge of the curriculum), or throw a big subject party by focusing a whole afternoon on one subject!
Sometimes the solution will be to switch homeschool curriculum. While this can seem drastic, it is necessary at times.
Measuring Learning Gaps
But how do we measure learning gaps? Many times you will know what is expected of a student in a particular grade level by checking your curriculum. If your child is struggling at their grade level, there may be learning gaps that need to be addressed. Or, if you’ve ever experienced the dreaded summer slide with your kids where at the beginning of the school year they have no idea what they learned the previous year, then you know all about learning gaps!
Different Types of Learning Gaps
There are different types of learning gaps that educators identify in K-12 students. While you will be able to identify learning gaps using standardized testing, homeschool parents are better equipped to measure student progress because we’re with our children all the time. We don’t always need tests to tell us where our kids are struggling. We have the blessing of knowing our kids much better than they would be known in a traditional classroom.
So what are the different types of learning gaps?
They include gaps in the areas of knowledge, skills, communication, motivation, and environment. We’ll tackle each one of these learning gaps below.
Academic gaps or a discrepancy in expected academic progress is probably the most common type of learning gap. This is the type of gap that is clearly seen on test scores as your child’s academic achievement is compared to other students of that particular age and grade level.
You can then compare standardized test results from previous years and see how much progress your child made in different areas. While they may be scoring low on the test, you want to see if their individual student learning has improved according to the test results. Did they do better this time than in a past year?
While you might be tempted to keep rushing your child through a curriculum so they don’t “fall behind,” it’s much more important to work toward mastery to help fill in those academic gaps.
Gaps in Overall Knowledge
A knowledge gap is the easiest to identify because these are the gaps that are seen the most clearly through strategies like oral narration. If your child can’t remember the main people or facts from their lesson, then they have gaps in overall knowledge. Many content area subjects for elementary students and older students focus on knowledge acquisition and retention.
Some children are good at memorization and fill in their knowledge gaps with a little bit of work. Other children, like children with dyslexia, get lost when you start requiring memorization of seemingly unrelated facts. These children do better with a high level overview on which to hang the facts and information.
So one example of a gap in overall knowledge for elementary students would be not knowing their foundational addition facts before moving into triple digit addition problems. Once you identify the gap in overall knowledge, you can fix it before moving on.
One way to catch gaps in overall knowledge before they become a larger problem is to use formative assessments in addition to summative assessments.
Examples of Formative Assessments
Examples of formative assessments would be quizzes or oral narrations throughout a topic. In contrast, summative assessments are that final test at the very end to see what the student has learned in the entire unit. If you wait until the end to check on your child’s understanding, you’ve likely missed a lot of time when you could have helped fill in those learning gaps.
Skill gaps are usually due to lack of practice. There are always prerequisite skills that are needed before moving on to more complex skills and new learning. So what is an example of these foundational skills that might be causing issues if they’re not mastered?
In the area of sports, you wouldn’t expect a child to play on a basketball team until they’d mastered the skill of dribbling the basketball. If you noticed a skill gap here, the solution would be to practice that skill until it is mastered. Then, the child would be ready to play on the team.
In academics, we may forget that sometimes children’s physical capabilities have not developed yet to be able to master certain academic skills.
Here’s a concrete example of this.
Many of us probably think our five or six year old needs to be writing right away, correctly, and neatly. Right? But when we realize that their fine motor skills and the tiny muscles in their hands might not be ready for tacking minute handwriting skills yet, we can learn to be patient as they grow and find related skills to work on. So, instead of fretting about handwriting, toss the handwriting workbook and grab the craft supplies so your kids can strengthen those fine motor skills through crafting.
Gaps in Motivation
Students of all ages can struggle with gaps in motivation, and these gaps might snowball into overall knowledge and skills gaps if we don’t catch them early enough.
High school students are meant to be independent learners, but sometimes things can fall behind if mom forgets to check in for a while. Been there, done that.
If you’ve suddenly realized that your high schooler hasn’t been completing his assignments, you’ll need a plan. This might be due to a lack of motivation or a lack of accountability. Figure out what caused the gap in motivation, make a plan for completing the work (or not), and move on.
Environmental gaps are caused by issues in your child’s surroundings. So if you suspect any type of learning gap, consider if their learning environment is contributing to this problem. Are they distracted? Are they missing key materials or resources? Is the online teacher hard to understand?
Maybe your child is dealing with an undiagnosed learning issue. This could cause an environmental gap. One last issue to consider is if your child doesn’t know how to proceed during his homeschool day. This lack of direction can cause kids to fall behind. And so while you think your child may be learning independently, it’s helpful to remember to keep them accountable and check in often, especially at the younger ages.
When you can address the environmental gaps, your child will be able to be more successful.
A communication gap in learning is when there is a breakdown in communication. That is, when your student can’t understand their assignments or lesson, there is a communication gap. In a homeschool environment, this issue will have a lot to do with the curriculum you choose. And if the curriculum is just not clear, hard to use, or difficult to understand, then you might need to switch to a new curriculum.
However, before you make a drastic jump and throw the old curriculum out, make sure that the communication gap is not due to your child misinterpreting instructions or information. Sometimes the material is perfectly clear, but for whatever reason, your student is misinterpreting it.
How to Identify Learning Gaps
The best thing you can do is to identify learning gaps and then find solutions. And these solutions don’t always require big changes.
Evaluate Strengths and Weaknesses
First, in order to address gaps in learning, you’ll want to evaluate your child’s strengths and weaknesses. You probably already know if there are significant gaps present, because as a homeschooling mom, you’re keenly aware of your child’s progress.
This is one of the blessings and benefits of homeschooling learning journeys. The one-to-one approach provides an excellent opportunity to close learning gaps as we see them.
Teaching to Strengths
The first step is to acknowledge your child’s strengths and teach to them. What exactly does this mean? Well, instead of focusing on the areas where your child is struggling, help them gain high confidence and use your students’ skills and strengths to help fill in those gaps.
When you know your child’s strengths, you are better able to tailor the lessons to fit with those strengths. So if your child is an auditory learner, you know that they will better be able to fill in a knowledge learning gap by listening to the history lesson rather than simply reading it. Or, if your child is a visual learner, he will do well to brush up on some skills in math by looking at flash cards or a great diagram of the math concept.
A student might be a curious kids and you can pull in this particular strength to help fill in any learning gaps.
Slowing the Pace for Weak Areas
Being able to slow the pace for weak areas is a highlight of homeschooling. You can teach to your child’s individual needs with in-person instruction that just isn’t possible in a traditional classroom experience.
When kids can learn at their own pace, student performance is always better. There is no such thing as unfinished learning when you’re homeschooling, because we’re continually learning at our student’s pace.
One of the most concerning gaps that parents will encounter are kids that are not on par with their reading. But again, you want to fan the flames of love for learning, not squash it out!
So instead of worrying out loud to your child, take a few ideas for slowing the pace. Let them learn to love reading by using read-alouds more often in your homeschool or do shared reading experiences with them. Anticipating a favorite story at bedtime is a great way to help your struggling reader love books.
Final Thoughts about Learning Gaps
Take heart! Homeschool moms have the ideal solution right in front of them. Knowing and loving your child and being receptive to their learning style will be the best solution for filling in those learning gaps.
Before you jump into new concepts in your homeschool, take inventory with your child’s progress and see if you need to make any changes before moving forward. Your kids will benefit as you identify gaps and implement strategies to help them.
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