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Planning for Summer Learning

Prioritizing the way forward for learners using summer learning programs as a vehicle can be empowering. Here, we consider why a summer learning program may be a good fit for your school.


Just the words “summer school” conjure up a mental image for many and that image differs from when we talk about “summer camp.” Schools offer each and for varied reasons. Regardless of what your school calls it, if “summer learning” is embraced, the opportunity to move beyond traditional “summer school” exists. Remediation, (credit) recovery and enrichment are common goals for summer school. Summer school is typically for secondary students (grades 6-12). Schools may also be thinking about recruiting new or future students as a summer learning goal. For the purpose of this article, we’ll focus on summer school/camp that supports academic learning.

In 2016, RAND published research on voluntary summer learning programs. The big finding was that attendance got in the way of learning. Much has happened since 2016 yet the results of that study ring true. It doesn’t matter if learning is remote or in person, students need to be present for learning to happen and to stick. Attendance matters, as does the length of the program. A two-week summer program sounds great but is it enough to boost kids academically or help them complete unfinished learning?

Camps often run from one to four weeks. More traditional (in-person) summer school programs run one to three classes a day for six to eight weeks or two sessions of one month each. Sessions are typically four hours, and students can take one or two classes. Some schools have modified their offerings to have a single, month-long session, providing staff and students a month’s break and allowing time for deep cleaning of facilities. This session length has boosted attendance. It has also presented some a need for professional development focused on how to best use large blocks of time for learning. Another differentiator between “camp” and “school” is typically academic excellence for students. The support for unfinished learning, the chance to explore content of interest or the opportunity to move ahead (credits or time) can be motivators for students to participate in summer learning.

Why summer learning?

Prioritizing the way forward for learners using summer learning programs as a vehicle can be empowering. Consider these five reasons why a summer learning program may be a good fit for your school.

  1. Assessing the learning needed – support learners in moving confidently into the next grade or class – get grade 8 ready for grade 9
  2. Expanding learners’ skills and knowledge – balancing academic and SEL support – the opportunity to complete unfinished learning
  3. Supporting learner choice – exploring content that empowers engagement and achievement. How and what can we do differently to help students meet the standards?
  4. Tackling new/different challenges – depending on the content and instruction, challenges can occur in remediation, recovery and enrichment. Summer learning provides the opportunity to teach the standards in new and creative ways.
  5. Learning/reinforcing school routines and structures (virtual or in-person) – organizing (self and materials), collaborating, working with a calendar, etc.

“Although a contributor to inequality, summer is also an opportune time to provide activities, interventions, and programs that promote positive student outcomes, such as academic achievement and access to enriching activities.” (McCombs, Augustin, Pane, Schweig, 2020)

Planning

Creating a calendar is often a useful planning step and to create one you have to answer big questions. Brooke Fawcett created a list of questions to be considered when starting to plan for summer learning. Schools (and parents) have many questions as they begin to plan for summer learning. These may help expand your thinking.

  1. What is the instructional purpose of the summer learning program? Is it remediation, credit recovery, preventing skill regression? Enrichment, extension, or moving ahead? Is it for language immersion?
  2. Who is delivering the services? Experienced teachers? Paraprofessionals? Teacher candidates?
  3. What are the eligibility criteria for student enrollment? Educator identified? Students needing credit recovery? Student interest/request?
  4. What modality(ies) will be used for summer learning? Fully in-person? Fully virtual? Blended courses?
  5. What are the expectations for program content? Re-use school year curriculum? Aligned to standards? New work or a strengthening course? Customized to consider the cultural context of the school and the learners? Full course or partial credit?
  6. How will instruction happen? Fully automated, self-directed (EdTech)? Guided with educator support? Set schedule with direct instruction? Options through a third party?
  7. How frequently will the program meet? Daily? A full day? A half-day? All summer? A few weeks?

There are other questions to ask: staffing, budget, transportation, supplies, etc.

Research provides some information that helps guide the overall planning and direction of summer learning programs. Skills do tend to deteriorate over time if they aren’t practiced. Many kids lose, on average, one month of learning over the summer. Quality summer programs often include smaller class sizes, personalized instruction, content that is aligned with that of the school year and yet innovated to engage and meet learner needs.

The tag line of the National Summer Learning Association (NSLA), Summer Changes Everything TM, says it all. As educators leading summer learning programs, we can keep kids learning. . . to engage and empower students to finish the unfinished learning, to take their unique skills (and confidence) to the next level, and to prepare for the ever-changing world we live in. We must begin by deciding the purpose and audience for our summer learning programs.

Resources

Three Truths for Summer School: Refining Our Plans   – Corwin Connect (corwin-connect.com)

Getting to Work on Summer Learning: Recommended Practices for Success (rand.org)

Making Summer Last: Integrating Summer Programming into Core District Priorities and Operations | The Wallace Foundation


This article was written by Kathy S Dyer.

Kathy Dyer is an innovative educator who has served as a teacher, principal, district assessment coordinator, and adjunct professor. She has a passion for learner-centered learning—opportunities for learners of all ages to learn with, from, and for one another. Believing that all learners can learn more and grow more, Kathy is passionate about helping schools and educators get better at what they do.

Kathy combines a deep understanding of adult learning with a passion for collaborative problem solving to help school systems improve student outcomes. Her work has been featured on eSchool NewsEducation DiveEd Circuit, Teach. Learn. Grow. blog, and Getting Smart.


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