10 Ways How Teachers Can Analyze Student Learning Gaps and Strengths

While maintaining a teaching rhythm, teachers often think that all their students are on the same page. Everything might seem fine because you are following all the teaching steps. However, for various reasons, students may develop learning gaps. A learning gap is a lapse between what a student understands and what they must understand. 

If a student misses a day at school, the resulting learning gap is typically minor. It won’t take long for the student to catch up. However, the learning gaps can sometimes be significant and result in academic setbacks What makes it worse is that learning gaps are compounding. When a student begins to fall behind, it can be quite challenging for them to get back on track. It’s not easy to identify learning gaps since comprehension of concepts happens little by little. But there are a few techniques teachers can use to make the process easier In this post, we discuss the types of learning gaps and techniques for identifying learning gaps. In the end, we also discuss strategies for overcoming learning gaps.

The Types of Learning Gaps

There are five main types of learning gaps that prevent students from achieving academic success:

#1 Knowledge Gaps

These are lapses in the information that a student knows. Many teachers assume that poor student performance results from knowledge gaps. But this is often not the case.  If a teacher has the tendency to presume that any learning gap they find in a student is a knowledge gap, it’s important to avoid plainly telling the student the information over and over again. The teacher must take the time to analyze the student’s learning gap carefully. To figure out whether a student has a knowledge gap, ask yourself this question: Can someone learn about concept X without any practice? If yes, then your student indeed has a knowledge gap. Else, you must further evaluate the student’s learning gap.

#2 Skill Gaps

Skill gaps arise due to a lack of practice. To determine whether a student has a skill gap, you must ask the same question as you would find a knowledge gap: Can someone learn about concept X without any practice? If no, then the student has a skill gap. Learning how to ride a bicycle is a good example of this. Speaking to an X Games BMXer will not make you a pro rider. You will need to practice riding for a long time before getting to that stage.  

#3 Motivation Gaps

Knowing what needs to be done but not doing it – this is a circumstance we’re all too familiar with. And it is a classic example of a motivation gap. There are several reasons why students may have motivation gaps:  
  • Circumstantial difficulties (these range from difficult-to-read fonts to lack of proper study space)
  • Distractions
  • Fear of failure
  • Lack of interest to invest the time and effort
  • The bigger picture is not apparent
  • The process does not make sense
  • Unlearning misconceptions is difficult, which is discouraging
  • #4 Environment Gaps

    When a student’s surroundings become a barrier to learning, they have an environmental gap. These gaps appear in many different ways, such as:
    • Lack of direction – not knowing what to do after some point
    • Lack of reinforced learning, causing the student to slip back to their misunderstandings of concepts
    • Penalties for slow progress and lack of rewards
    • Missing resources or material
    • Unexpected costs such as extra fees
    • Unexpected increases in required time and effort, for instance, due to lack of clarity about the length and difficulty of a concept

    #5 Communication Gaps

    As the name suggests, communication gaps are deficits in clear communication. Examples of this include:
    • Incorrect material 
    • Poorly articulated or needlessly complicated material
    • The goal of using a concept does not align with its explanation
    • Following the material does not lead to the expected results

    Real-Life Examples of Learning Gaps

    Identifying learning gaps is easier if you know what are examples of learning gaps. Most educational institutes have adopted an online or hybrid teaching model after the CoVID-19 pandemic.  Here are two relevant examples of learning gaps in this new era of teaching:

    #1 Knowledge Gap Example

    The CoVID-19 pandemic forced schools to adapt to distance learning. Different schools adapted to the new circumstances with varying degrees of effectiveness. Some schools did not have the infrastructure or technology to facilitate online learning. Other schools were able to support students learning from home seamlessly.  At some schools, teachers swiftly began instructing students on Zoom. They could keep students engaged in textbooks and other material for most of the school day. Activities such as book clubs and interventions continued in a somewhat regular fashion.                                                                                                                        Image Credits: unsplash.com But teachers at other schools were unable to teach live as frequently. It was due to a lack of awareness of how to approach online instruction. Due to the knowledge gap, teachers did what they could. The most common solution was to supply materials and worksheets. Students were not accustomed to the lack of interactiveness. For this reason, many students struggled to understand the material.

    #2 Environment Gap Example

    Environmental gaps bear many similarities to knowledge gaps. But they have vastly different outcomes.  In the early lockdown weeks, it was apparent to teachers that at-home learning environments were far from ideal.
  • Image Credits:pixabay.com   
  • Common environmental gaps included:
  • Limited space or lack of learning space at home
  • Choppy internet connections
  • Parents working from home
  • Siblings trying to learn alongside each other
For young students, learning is rarely a quiet and solitary activity. However, these environmental gaps impacted students’ studying capacity significantly during the lockdown.

10 Ways to Identify Student Strengths and Learning Gaps

Formative assessments are informal, ungraded, student-friendly tests. These provide teachers insight into the depth of student understanding.  They help identify misconceptions before they become entrenched. With these tests, teachers can change their instruction in the spur of the moment. The insights also facilitate long-term improvements in instruction. Here are ten formative assessments you can use to identify student strengths and weaknesses:

#1 Response Cards

Posing questions to the entire class is standard for instructors. But students shouting their answers gives zero insight into student understanding.  Response cards allow students to express their understanding in the middle of lessons. You may supply them with paper signs and large index cards for this purpose. Whiteboards work effectively too.                                                 When students hold up the response cards, scan through the answers.   

                                                                 Image Credits: pixabay.com

This way, you can figure out which students are following along and which aren’t.

#2 Exit Tickets

The function of exit tickets is to gauge student understanding when the lesson ends. Teachers may use these daily or weekly. A good exit ticket has a handful of short questions. The questions involve the skills or concepts taught in the lesson. 

Exit tickets should not have more than five questions. Students must be able to complete answering them in a few minutes. 

Posing the right questions takes practice. Assessing a student’s intuitive understanding is not as easy as it seems. Avoid asking yes or no questions. Pose questions that force students to demonstrate their understanding.

You do not have to design your exit tickets from scratch. There are several websites, such as Canva, that offer free templates. You can modify any of them and print the tickets.

#3 Minute Papers

Just like exit tickets, minute papers are used at the end of a lesson. Hand your students index cards and ask them to write down the biggest things they learned in the lesson. Students can complete this exercise in one or two minutes. The responses allow you to assess the strengths and weaknesses of every student.

#4 Use Muddiest Point

The “muddiest point” exercise takes the opposite approach to minute papers. Instead of asking students to note the key parts of the lesson, ask them to note their “muddiest point” of the lesson.  You can also ask students to do this exercise during a reading or after turning in their homework.

#5 Problem Recognition Tasks

Take note of some problems that can only be solved with one of the many methods you have taught. Then, ask your students to point out which method will work on the problem.  There is no need for them to solve the problem – they only need to identify the approach. The responses will allow you to assess whether students have gotten their ideas mixed up. 

#6 Questionnaires 

Questionnaires allow teachers to carry out end-of-unit reviews. Write some questions about the concepts in the unit and two answers for each.  One answer should include the keyword of the solution. The other should indicate the process involved in the solution. Suppose you’re teaching students how to round off whole numbers. The question could be as simple as, “how to round whole numbers to the nearest 10 or 100?” The two answers could be:
  • Using number sense, I can round whole numbers to the nearest 10 or 100.
  • I can describe the process of rounding whole numbers to the nearest 10 or 100.
All students have to do is tick the answer that describes their understanding of the concept. You can review their responses and determine which students need re-teaching.

#7 Four Corners 

Label the four corners of the classroom: agree, disagree, strongly agree, and strongly disagree. Next, read a statement, and allow your students to move to the corner representing their answer. Give your students a few minutes to discuss their reasoning behind their choice. Then, ask them to pick a student from the group to defend their choice. The exercise allows you to determine student strengths and weaknesses. Side benefits include improved morale and rational thinking in students.

#8 Summarizing

Learning and explaining are two different skills closely related to each other. Asking students to summarize concepts is a direct test of comprehension. It allows students to reflect on their understanding. Additionally, it clarifies what the student has learned and failed to grasp. A summary need not be long. A couple of minutes at the end of the session is enough to work with students at an individual level.

Image Credits:pixels.com

 Sometimes, end-of-class summaries are not an option. But you can ask students to descri  characters, topics, or methods mid-lesson.    

#9 Interaction and Communication

If a student is confused, they may be unable to tell the difference between concepts. Analyzing strengths and weaknesses becomes very challenging in these situations. In such cases, one-on-one interactions are the only way to gauge understanding. It is the most direct technique to analyze strengths and weaknesses. 

These sessions are often more helpful to teachers than to students. They allow teachers to find the issues with their instruction they may not have known.

                                                                            Image Credits: pixels.com                                                                                                            The session also provide teachers insight into what parts of their instruction were most helpful for students. This detail can help make future instructions more appealing and helpful  to students. #10 Matching/Concentration  Write a few questions related to a unit or a specific concept on index cards. Grab some more cards, and write the answers to these questions on them. Shuffle the decks, and lay them on your desk, face up. Give your students one minute to scan through the questions and answers. Then flip over all the cards.  The students can then take turns and turn over two cards at a time. If a student identifies the right question-answer pair, they get another turn. Else, it’s the next student’s turn to find the right pair. The game seems like a test of short-term memory on the surface. But close observation allows you to gauge understanding and reasoning. Student strengths and weaknesses become immediately apparent.

Strategies for Overcoming Learning Gaps

So, you’ve identified your students’ learning gaps. What now? There are two main strategies for overcoming learning gaps
  • Focused intervention
  • Whole-class instruction
Say you notice an individual student or a small part of your class struggling to understand some concept. Then, focused intervention is the right approach to take. The idea is to conduct short sessions to teach specific concepts. On the other hand, if the entire class has similar learning gaps, it’s worth taking the time to re-teach the whole class.  Begin with looking at the teaching plans. Specifically, the plans involving the gaps the student is struggling with. Note the chapter or the specific unit where the learning gap has occurred. Next, zone in on the lesson plans to get some ideas about how to approach teaching individual students or the entire class. Re-teaching does not guarantee that your students will have grasped the concept. You must revisit the concept and test your students’ understanding again before deciding to move on. Which of these methods do you find most interesting? Did we miss any student learning gap analysis methods that you know about in this post? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.