In the world of education, we hear the term “learning gap” all the time. When a student begins to struggle or fall behind with their academic progression, we often refer to learning gaps as a reason why they are having trouble understanding the material. But what exactly are learning gaps, and how do they form? More importantly, how can we help close these gaps and get students back on track?
By definition, a learning gap is described as the difference between what a student is expected to have learned by a certain grade level versus what they have actually learned up to that point. In other words, a student is expected to have acquired a certain reading level by the time they complete any given grade or school year. If the student is not able to read books at this skill level by this age, we might consider a learning gap in reading and comprehension exists.
Why do learning gaps form? It's not always easy to identify. In general, learning gaps are compounding, which can be troublesome for students beginning to fall behind. As learning is based on building blocks, students are always challenged to expand on topics over time and apply them to new concepts as they progress. Learning that is achieved at one grade level serves as the foundation on which the understanding of more complex ideas and concepts is built. This learning structure grows throughout a student's academic career, with new skills developing from the skills the student has already mastered. Not every student learns at the same pace, though – which is why what starts out as a small learning gap can eventually become a more serious problem.
Let's use an example. For middle and high school students, algebra is often considered to be a stepping stone towards higher mathematics. During first year algebra, students are taught how to manipulate variables and solve equations. If a student barely passes the class and doesn't truly feel comfortable with algebraic concepts, math courses will continue to become harder. Geometry often comes next – and even though students may be working more with shapes and angles, many of the concepts are still the same: solving for an unknown variable. When a student starts to fall behind, it's important that we address these learning gaps early on.
One-to-one tutoring is an ideal solution for students dealing with learning issues. As every student has a unique learning style and pace, a private tutor is able to adjust the level of instruction towards an individual student's needs – something that just isn't possible in a group classroom environment. Students often feel uncomfortable speaking up in class, especially when they know they're falling behind. For this reason, a skilled educator offering personalized instruction is one of the best ways to approach learning gaps.
In psychology, this is referred to as the “zone of proximal development” (often referred to as ZPD). This concept describes the benefits of having a skilled individual for help. By definition, ZPD refers to “the difference between what a learner can do without help and what he or she can achieve with guidance and encouragement from a skilled partner (SimplyPsychology).” With one-to-one support and the ability to ask questions at their own pace, students can experience a serious academic boost when working with an expert tutor.
Learning gaps need to be identified, analyzed, and approached with patience. Students all have different strengths, and there are many reasons why learning gaps form to begin with. At Tutor Doctor, we believe personalized instruction is the most effective way to address these challenges. By catering instruction to each unique student, we can ensure that a student's academic gaps will be approached with the individual's learning style in mind.