While many students utilize summer school as an opportunity to accelerate their path to a diploma, the majority attend to recover previously missed or failed credits. Summer learning programs offer an opportunity to intervene before missed credits accumulate and to get at-risk students back on track to graduate with their cohort.
The importance of summer programs is clear, but the reality is that some students may have not had positive experiences throughout their academic careers. The likelihood of a student dropping out increases exponentially with every failed credit. The responsibility for individual student persistence falls to many different stakeholders—administrators, guidance counselors, educators, parents and guardians, students themselves, and of course, summer school teachers. In many cases, it is an individual teacher who holds the key to finding meaningful ways for students to reengage, persevere, and achieve success.
Here are four instructional best practices for administrators and teachers to consider when getting ready for summer school classes.
1. Acknowledge that adolescence is challenging
There is no way around this truth. High school presents an ongoing series of social and emotional challenges for every student, even under the best of circumstances. Students in summer school programs have possibly faced more than their fair share of these challenges. They need to know that you acknowledge this and are more than happy to listen to their concerns. Remind your students that if they are struggling, you are there to help. Prioritize social and emotional learning (SEL) concepts like building strong relationships, and intentionally make your classroom space a place for respectful conversation, both inside and outside of class time.
2. Remember that confusion is the first step to learning
This is one of the hardest lessons for any person—educators included—to truly digest. Coming to a place of confusion is a prerequisite to learning anything new because it provides the impetus and motivation to get started. After that, it’s all about embracing the journey. Individual learners are only likely to persevere if they feel safe and supported and are encouraged to take risks. Strive to make your classroom a place where asking questions, making mistakes, and attempting new things is the norm, not the exception. It’s OK for you to not have all the answers or make mistakes in front of your students—doing so offers profound teachable moments as students watch you own your confusion and move forward.
3. Vary instructional approaches to cater to different learning styles
Most educators are familiar with Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences, and many have been trained to play to students’ strengths in terms of visual, audial, kinesthetic, and other learning models. However, to be truly effective teachers need to extend this approach beyond the initial instructional phase, especially when working with students who may have already struggled with the material. If students are unlikely to grasp what’s being presented on the first try, then other formats must be leveraged for them to approach the material again. Providing resources in various modalities that students can review independently, such as lecture notes, PowerPoint presentations, and Khan Academy videos, is one way to support different learning styles and help students learn to “teach” themselves—a skill that translates far beyond the classroom. Doing so also frees up class time for meaningful, active, “sticky” learning that incorporates questioning, dialogue, and interactive group sessions.
Effective teachers also use formative assessments consistently to check for understanding—highly effective teachers have a strategy for reteaching the same material in a different format whenever students haven’t fully grasped a subject. From the outset of your summer program, make sure that students understand their individual learning styles and preferences, encourage them to request and find materials that meet their needs, and always remain open and ready to make adjustments.
4. Provide opportunities for unit recovery
Summer programs are all about helping students get back on track for graduation, so it’s critical to stay intentional about finding creative ways for students to avoid falling behind in the first place. A good place to start is to consider options for unit recovery. If a student fails a unit test or other summative assessment, are there ways for that student to reclaim that specific material and demonstrate mastery before being assigned a failing grade for the entire class?
Online programs can offer resources to make unit recovery feasible. In Courseware, the Flex Assignments feature allows educators to assign tailored lessons and create specific recovery assignments that will give students an opportunity to get back on track individually or as a group. Or, for students simply in need of additional practice to achieve real comprehension, Study Island can provide targeted assignments organized by individual curricular strands and offer students the chance to work through these sets multiple times if needed. In the process, both of these Edmentum International solutions provide teachers with detailed data to drive in-person instruction, including the amount of working time spent by individual students, attempts made, concepts mastered, and areas where they are still struggling.