Of the five years I spent as a classroom teacher, I only taught summer school once. For me, having summers off was one of the perks of being a teacher, and I had no interest in giving that up. Actually, the only reason I agreed to teach summer school was because I wanted to earn some extra money to pay for my wedding.
However, even though I didn't really want to teach that summer, I still had a choice. I didn't have to do it. My students, on the other hand, were in summer school because they failed a state assessment or a class and didn't have a choice. Not only did they have to attend, but they also felt the pressure to be successful, or else they would have to deal with the disappointment and embarrassment of having to repeat a grade.
With the stakes being so high for these students, how can educators give them the best shot at success in the short time we have with them? Try these five classroom strategies to boost student achievement in summer school.
1. Address the situation
If you are teaching in a mandatory summer school program, you probably have a room full of struggling learners who know they are struggling learners. This means that morale is likely to be low and that your students may not believe it’s possible for them to learn what they need to. Address this situation head-on with your students on the first day. Try saying something like: "I know coming to school probably isn't how you wanted to spend your summer, but you are all here because there are some concepts that you need some more time with in order to master. You are going to have to do the work, but I'll be here every step of the way to support you and to help you achieve success. If you put in the effort this summer, it will pay off for you next year." Being straightforward with students by addressing their challenges, fears, and negativity helps build the trust you will need to truly help them, and it will remind them that everyone else in the room is likely feeling the same way that they are.
2. Individualize instruction through a competency-based model
Summer school is typically only four to eight weeks long, which means there isn't enough time to reteach a year's worth of curriculum. The only way to address the needs of every student is to individualize instruction through a competency-based model. Start with a pre-assessment to identify what each student knows and needs to learn. Then, sit down with each student for a five-minute conference to review his or her results and set goals for the topics he or she needs to master each week. Have students work only on their assigned topics, allowing them to move on once they are able to demonstrate mastery. Students will appreciate not having to re-learn concepts that they already know, and having a manageable path laid out to master the concepts that they struggle with will motivate them to stay engaged.
3. Intervene immediately
Because summer school is so short, when students struggle, they need intervention even more urgently than during the school year. Implementing competency-based learning will help you accurately track each student's progress, so as soon as you notice a student not moving forward as he or she should, make time for immediate intervention. The student could be legitimately struggling on the concept or just starting to slow down because of a loss of engagement. Either way, your continued support and encouragement will help your students stay on the right track.
4. Involve parents
There are some parents who are involved in every aspect of their child's education, and there are some who defer the responsibility to schools, often because they don't feel they have the time or ability to help. However, all parents know that if their child has to attend a mandatory academic summer school, then their child has fallen behind in some way. Parents want their children to be successful, so capitalize on this heightened interest to get them involved. Walk parents through their child’s goals, and suggest specific things that they can do to help. It’s also important to set expectations about how often you will communicate with parents about their child’s progress and what intervention steps will be taken if necessary.
5. Reward students for their efforts
I am a strong believer that when it comes to education, tapping into students' intrinsic motivators is the best way to keep them engaged in learning. Using a competency-based instruction model and having students work toward goals are powerful strategies to do just that. But, there is no reason that you can't sweeten the deal by offering some small communal rewards for achievement. These rewards don't have to be anything big or expensive. Try something simple, like giving students 30 minutes of free time on Friday and allowing them to bring a snack to eat at that time. To make this work, compile all of your students' weekly goals into one weekly “topics mastered” goal for the class. Then, with the class, set a percentage of that total goal that must be met as a class to earn the prize—something around 90% is good to aim for. Use a visual chart to display the goal, and each time students master a topic, have them add it to the chart. Students will love having the opportunity to get up and show off their progress, and you'll notice that their classmates will cheer for them because each student's achievement helps the whole class move toward the reward. An incentive like this can go a long way toward building the class community and a sense of accountability that will motivate all of your students to succeed.
Interested in learning about how Edmentum’s research-based solutions can provide you and your students with tools to make summer school successful? Check out our complete library of rigorous and engaging online courses!