The summer months represent a key opportunity to assist students who lost their learning momentum during the pandemic and need to get back on track. However, to make the progress needed the time must be carefully planned and learning needs to be as engaging and productive as possible.
Of course, summer has always been available for learning catch up. Yet, multiple studies have pointed to the relative ineffectiveness of summer school to generate ample learning. In fact, a metanalysis of research studies conducted by John Hattie indicates that traditional summer school often does little to move learning forward.
If we hope to have this summer generate the learning outcomes we need, we must plan carefully and design learning activities that offer the greatest potential for success. Repetition of instruction and learning approaches that failed to produce adequate results during the year hold little potential for success. Asking students to repeat lessons they already learned during the year makes little sense. Ignoring the lack of connection many students felt with their learning does not bode well for turning the situation around.
As we design for a summer of learning that accelerates progress, builds on what has been learned, and renews a sense of joy in learning we must be thoughtful and strategic. To accomplish this goal, we can consider six design elements.
First, the learning we plan for students must include a sense of purpose. We need to be clear about the value and utility of what we present. We also need to help students see and feel purposefulness in the learning challenges in which they are asked to engage. Whether pursuing goals students have set for themselves, seeing connections with applications students value, or earning opportunities for social and recreational activities, learning is easiest when connected to something important to students. Without the presence of worthy purpose, we cannot expect students to connect, commit, and persist in the learning we offer.
Second, the learning we ask of students must begin at the level and location of their current learning. Presenting instruction and asking students to learn content and skills that are beyond their readiness is not likely to be successful. Likewise, needlessly repeating content and introducing skills students have already learned wastes time. Nevertheless, students may need opportunities to renew, reinforce, and apply skills they have learned to further build recall, create automaticity, and strengthen their ability to use current skills to master more advanced challenges.
Third, the learning we present to students needs to be accompanied by context. Asking students to learn content and skills without connections and clear application will be a difficult task. However, in a meaningful context new learning can generate interest and excitement that will support learning and recall. For example, introducing and practicing fractions in the context of following a cooking recipe can be a meaningful and enjoyable task that also leads to learning.
Fourth, we can give students opportunities and support to track their learning progress. Offering a meaningful role and responsibility to capture data and mark progress can be a motivating activity. Whenever we can give students opportunities to feel ownership for their learning we open the door to greater commitment and progress.
Fifth, we can design activities to position students to share and support each other’s learning. Learning can be a social activity. Peer support and engagement can energize students and build confidence. Further, when students explain their learning to peers and provide support and encouragement to each other, they experience value and a sense of belonging, two crucial elements to support learning, especially for students who often struggle.
Sixth, we need to find ways to make the learning experience enjoyable. It is true that learning is not always fun. Sometimes it is hard. However, introducing fun activities that also support learning can shift the experience for students in ways that lead to greater effort and commitment. Of course, experiencing progress and success also are enjoyable feelings and can generate confidence to keep trying and learning.
Summer may be our best opportunity to lift students whose learning has lagged and get them back on track. However, we must be thoughtful and strategic as we design the services, activities, and supports we will offer during the crucial weeks between academic years.