Help students focus on what they'll gain next year, not what they've lost.
The rotation of every school year offers a mixture of excitement and anxiety. As students transition from one grade or year to the next, summertime is an opportunity to reset and reinvent. Naturally, they'll also forget some of what they've learned and won't yet feel ready to jump into what's to come. This year, there's no question that all of these struggles and feelings -- good and bad -- will be more intense than usual.
While we can and should acknowledge these challenges, framing them as "learning loss" can put undue stress on you and your students.
Instead, as we look toward next school year, let's honor students' commitment to learning, no matter where they are in their lives or academic development. Let's offer the support they need to build confidence and stay in school.
We think the resources we've curated below can help you in this process. These (mostly) free tools can help you assess how students are doing -- and feeling -- alongside other resources for building up their skills and confidence.
We've divided this list into three parts -- you can jump to any section below using these links:
- Assess Where Your Students Are
- Help Students Build Academic Skills and Knowledge
- Create a Culture of Growth and Reflection with SEL
These tools will help you get a sense of where students are, and which skills they still need to develop. Many of these tools also offer follow-up exercises and activities that target students' specific areas of need.
ASSESSMENT TOOLS FOR ALL SUBJECTS
Grades K-12: Use the SmartStart Diagnostics at the start of the year to get a sense of where students are relative to their grade level or specific skill needs. There are 35 tests for math (grades K-12) and 10 tests for ELA (grades 3-12).
Grades K-9 for math and 3-8 for ELA: Assign Freckle's Benchmark Assessments to figure out how well students have mastered specific standards. Then follow up with differentiated instructional activities. Note: The free version only supports one assignment per week.
ASSESSMENT TOOLS FOR MATH
Grades 2-12: This site, developed by the University of Texas at Austin, has CCSS-aligned downloadable performance tasks for elementary through high school including rubrics and student work samples.
Grades 3-12: Assign this tool's Kick-Off Missions to quickly assess whether your students grasp core mathematics concepts at their grade level. There are also daily warm-ups and exit tickets to sustain learning.
Grades 6-12: This one is only an option for states and districts with Math Nation licenses. But if you have access, there's an excellent self-paced On-Ramp course that assesses students' learning needs and then offers instruction to build their confidence and knowledge.
ASSESSMENT TOOLS FOR READING AND WRITING
Grades 1-12: Use Quill's diagnostic tool to figure out where students stand with some key grammatical skills, including -- and especially -- the ability to write complex sentences. There also are assessments specifically for ELLs.
Grades K-12: If you need to assess your students' reading comprehension, then ReadTheory is worth a look. The activities mimic standardized tests, and it's not the most exciting tool, so you may want to use it sparingly. But it offers quick, actionable data that can be valuable.
Grades 3-12: This one isn't free, but it makes the list because it's a writing tool that truly gets assessment right. The focus is on developing the writing process through copious opportunities for peer and instructor feedback, student reflection, and iteration.
Use these sites and resources to help students develop their skills and grow what they know. Most of these tools offer (nearly) comprehensive coverage of their content areas, so they should offer just what students need to fill in gaps in knowledge and become more confident.
SKILL-BUILDING TOOLS FOR ALL SUBJECTS
Grades K-12: This is a free, cornerstone resource covering math and ELA, as well as a variety of other content from health to social studies. Make sure to look into the FlexBooks, which are comprehensive, interactive textbooks spanning subject areas and grades, and are available in both English and Spanish.
Grades pre-K-2: For the youngest learners, this is an outstanding mobile option that'll encourage curious learning across math and reading with a healthy dose of the arts. The data reporting isn't great, but it's serviceable, and the excellent learning design means you can trust that students are developing.
Grades K-5: This is a good tool to send home with students so they can practice key skills and concepts. It features tons of color and character; however, the activities could get repetitive. So it's best used as a time-limited supplemental activity.
Grades K-8: It can be tough to differentiate effectively, especially at the start of a new year with fresh faces. Tailor-Ed can help by assessing students (academically, and from an SEL perspective), grouping them, and then suggesting the right resources. Of course, teachers know best and can approve or modify students' experience so it's just right.
SKILL-BUILDING TOOLS FOR MATH
Grades 2-12: While it's not the flashiest tool, Assistments is highly useful for creating a feedback loop around classwork or homework. You can assign problem sets, see how students performed (students also get on-the-spot feedback), and then use that performance data to tune your lessons to the most pressing needs.
Grades K-12: You probably already know about Khan Academy, but you might not know about their "get ready courses" for math. Each course offers instruction and tests for need-to-know concepts at that grade level. It's a manageable way for students to review and refresh as they kick off a new school year.
Grades 8-12: Backed by Stanford, this is a great resource for teacher PD, as well as for finding math tasks that build students' confidence, undoing the damaging math myths that can prevent students from reaching their potential.
SKILL-BUILDING TOOLS FOR READING AND WRITING
Grades pre-K-12: These sites are paired here because they similarly offer tons of digital books for students with various learning and attention issues. Each text has handy supports, including audio and customizable visuals, that make reading more accessible. The incredible books on offer can help build a student's love of reading.
Grades K-3: If your students need phonics support, this is a great program to look into. It's a comprehensive and adaptive program that's not too busy. And while it can be a bit limited in terms of feedback, it'll come alive with effective teacher support.
Grades K-12: Similar to CommonLit, ReadWorks is a library of texts for students' reading development. What's special about ReadWorks is its focus on daily content as well as its offering of different types of texts (StepReads, human-voiced, ebooks) and question sets.
Let's acknowledge the anxieties that come with transitions like a new school year and help students work through them. These teaching and learning resources give students the SEL tools to check in with their emotions, honor their progress, and stay motivated.
4 SEL Strategies for the Transition Back to In-Person Learning
Grades pre-K-12: While the jury's out on the benefits of mindfulness to battle depression and anxiety among teens, providing students space to breathe and relax can be a useful way to refocus them and transition. These three tools are some of our favorites for creating these kinds of moments in classrooms.
Grades 7-12: It might be a good idea this year to have students do regular written reflections that take note of what they've done, how it went, and where they need to go. Bulb is a simple portfolio tool that could structure this activity and others. Note: The free version only supports 10 pages.
Grades K-12: Whether you're looking to do warm-ups, exit tickets, or just SEL check-ins with your students, these are two of the best tools you'll find. Formative focuses more on substantive, cyclical feedback, while Mentimeter is best for quick polls and temperature checks.
Grades 8-12: Pull from this site's browsable collection activities if you're looking to support students' SEL skills development. Most require very little prep and minimal materials, and you can use them flexibly across grade levels.
Grades 9-12: With teacher support, the Mitra app could offer a way for students to take stock of their values and identify how their emotions may relate to those values. The app encourages daily check-ins, which teachers could connect to the classroom through assignments or discussions.
Image courtesy of Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action.