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[Summer School Planning] 4 Instructional Best Practices to Support Credit Recovery

There comes a time every year for secondary school and district administrators to start the summer school planning process. 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 students who are behind back on track to graduate with their cohort.

The importance of summer programs is clear, but the reality is that many students have not had positive experiences throughout their academic careers. The likelihood of students dropping out increases exponentially with every failed credit. The responsibility for individual student persistence falls to many different stakeholders—administrators, guidance counselors, parents and guardians, students themselves, and of course, summer school instructors. 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 tough

There is no way around the truth that the adolescent years are difficult for students in many respects. 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 likely faced more than their fair share of these challenges. They need to know that you see them and that you are willing to listen to their concerns. Remind your students that if they are struggling, you are there to help. Prioritize social-emotional learning (SEL) concepts like building strong relationships, and intentionally make your classroom space a place for respectful dialogue 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. Beginning at a place of confusion is 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 feel 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 to make mistakes in front of your students—doing so offers profound teachable moments, as students watch you own your confusion and move forward. Adopting a growth mindset in your classroom is another great way drive student engagement and restore learners’ self-confidence.

3. Vary instructional approaches for different learning styles

Many educators are familiar with Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences, and some have been trained to play to students’ strengths in terms of visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and other learning modalities. 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 “catch” 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 have not reached the desired a-ha moment. 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 far behind in the first place. A good place to start is in considering options for unit recovery. If a student fails a unit test or another 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 proficiency, Study Island can provide targeted assignments organized by topic and standard and offer students the chance to work through these sets in multiple flexible modes, including game mode. In the process, both of these Edmentum solutions provide teachers with detailed data to drive targeted instruction, including tracking time on task, attempts made, concepts mastered, and areas where they are still struggling.

Education is about the conveyance of information and the ability to apply that information to theory and practice; it is not about a fixed calendar. Summer programs offer a unique chance for educators to look beyond the barriers of an academic calendar and create alternative pathways to success for at-risk students.

Looking for more ideas to make your summer program a success? Check out 10 Things to Look for When Building Your Summer School Program!

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