Identifying & addressing learning gaps

Many students in this year’s incoming class experienced COVID-related academic disruptions, but not every student was affected in the same way. This resulted in significant gaps in student learning, and instructors should be aware that some students may need extra support.

As an instructor, there are several steps you can take to support students and help them adjust to studying at Cornell, including forming connections, identifying gaps and normalizing getting help, and checking in early and assessing student knowledge often.

Form connections

  • Build a sense of community and belonging early in your course and develop your instructor presence: a sense of connection as a student can help prevent feelings of isolation. Students are more likely to successfully complete the course if they feel connected to you, their classmates, and the course content.
  • Provide opportunities for students to interact: collaborative activities and icebreakers allow students to get to know each other through sharing experiences, values, and perspectives.
  • Encourage students to form study groups: explain the importance of a study partner or group and offer opportunities to connect with study partners:
    • help match students with a study partner by using questions from this sample questionnaire
    • direct students to the Learning Strategies Center’s program for finding study partners.

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Identify gaps and normalize getting help

  • Acknowledge the learning gap with the class: remind students that they are not alone and that uneven preparation for Cornell is not their fault. Many spent part of their junior year and all of their senior year in challenging online settings.
  • Identify the extent of the gap for your content area: learn what your students do and do not know. You may decide to provide a concept test, practice assessments, or a survey.
  • Describe ways to overcome challenges and get help:
    • Share experiences in which you, TAs, or students felt challenged and how you overcame the obstacles.
    • Let students know that not only is it acceptable to make mistakes, but also that such struggles are an essential part of learning and growing.
    • Offer several resources for regular help, including TA check-ins, office hours, review sessions, online question-and-answer forums, and the Learning Strategies Center’s programs.
    • Encourage students to talk about their concerns and struggles.
    • Emphasize that the earlier instructors and TAs are aware of your situation, the better they are able to support you.
  • Peer Support: guide students on strategies for helping their peers in positive, supportive ways.  Encourage them to ask for help from a classmate.  When students learn together by explaining concepts to one another, it reinforces their understanding of the material.

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Check-in early and assess often

  • Alert students early about their progress in the course: students might not even know they are behind, and without early feedback, they may not have an opportunity to remedy the situation before the end of the semester. Help prevent such situations with:
    • early feedback
    • displaying grades visibly in Canvas
    • incorporating opportunities for assistance for those who are struggling
  • Provide several low stakes assessments and distribute them evenly throughout the semester to give students an opportunity to recover if they have a rough start. This will offer students plenty of opportunities to demonstrate their learning, practice skills, and adapt to academic life at Cornell.
  • Check-in with students often to see what is working or not, and make modifications to the course based on their feedback.

    Ideas include:

To discuss ideas and strategies for supporting students, visit our online drop-in sessions or contact CTI to set up a consultation.

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