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How to Make Summer School Effective and Engaging (Opinion)

Today’s post finishes up a two-part series on how to make summer school a place that students want to attend …

‘What Is the Instructional Purpose?

Kathy S. Dyer is an educator who has served as a teacher, principal, district assessment coordinator, and adjunct professor:

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, engaging and empowering students to finish the unfinished learning and to take their unique skills (and confidence) to the next level. Prioritizing the way forward for learners using summer learning programs as a vehicle can be empowering. Consider these questions as you look for ways to make summer learning more enticing (and effective).

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? Or is it getting ready for the next grade?

2. Who is delivering the services? Experienced teachers? Paraprofessionals? Teacher-candidates? Are these teachers who want to be there?

3. What are the expectations for program content? Reuse school year curriculum? Aligned to standards? New work or a strengthening course? Customized to consider the cultural context of the school and the learners? How will fun be incorporated?

That last question may be the crux of the summer school challenge. Parents want a program that is going to advance their child academically and is also going to allow them to have fun. Learners want to “get it over with,” so if fun can be part of the learning experience, it becomes something different (perhaps) from what happens during the school year.

Based on my experiences as summer school principal, I would say there are a few key ideas that can make the program more enticing for students (and staff).

· Time: Consider one class a day for a block period (three hours) for four weeks. It is easy for students who work to plan their schedule, as well as for parents.

· Course variety: Offer a range of courses depending on your identified purpose. Include options such as required courses and engaging topics.

· Interactive learning: Implement hands-on activities, group projects, and experiments that promote active learning. The block schedule allows time for these. Incorporate educational games, field trips, and guest speakers. If a block schedule is new to staff, offer professional learning on the topic.

· Relevant learning: Emphasize the practical applications of the knowledge taught. Show students how the concepts they learn in summer school relate to their life and what comes next in school.

· Supportive environment: Maintain small class sizes to allow for personalized attention. Create a positive and inclusive atmosphere.

And, last but not least, if you have a building in your district with air conditioning, and it is possible to hold the summer program there, do so, for everyone’s sake.

My question to school districts is: How could your summer school program look so learners wouldn’t want to miss it?

‘Creative Writing Summer Camp’

Altagracia H. Delgado, also known as Grace, has been in the education field for 28 years. She is currently the executive director of multilingual services for Aldine ISD, in the Houston area. She is also an elected board member of the Texas Association for Bilingual Education:

Commonly, students come to summer school because they have failing grades or have not passed the state assessments during the year. In addition to this, most English learners come to summer school because they need additional time learning their second language or, in middle and high school, they need to recover credits to continue a pathway for graduation.

However, none of these reasons implies that summer school cannot be engaging or fun for students. Investing in enrichment programs that can combine content, credit earning or recovery, and English-language development can be a great way for students to have effective and empowering experiences during the summer school session.

One way in which we have been able to engage high school students in English credit recovery while developing their new language is by developing a creative writing summer camp. This summer session provides students with opportunities to work with an author, develop reading and writing skills while expressing themselves through personal narratives, and to create and develop characters for a play that is performed at the end of the session. This public-performance addition to the camp helps our students practice listening and speaking skills in a more creative way.

Because we wanted our students to have formal and informal speaking practices, in preparing for the play, they also had the opportunity to work on the creation of props, background and costumes while practicing their parts. To close out this experience, students’ parents and guardians and English-learning students in primary grades were invited to attend the high school students’ performance. The incorporation of the final performance really gave our high school students something to look forward to because they understood that they were modeling language for our younger learners.

At the end of the final performance, our primary students were able to interact with the now actors, ask questions, and get their autographs. Feedback from the high school students gave us great insight. They shared that they felt more confident about their language-acquisition skills and expressed pride for being brave in a public space.

We understand that due to the academic load many of our students carry to continue their graduation pathways, sometimes creative outlets are not accessible to them. But what we also have learned from this experience is that when we listen to students’ interests, we can learn how to integrate these into lessons that can become more meaningful to them and stretch them in the learning, while also building their confidence.

Supporting Newcomers

Aisha Ansari and Elena Ruiz direct Aspire & Reach Educational Consulting Services, which customizes curriculum and provides professional development and/or coaching sessions to drive student success:

We helped develop a summer school program rich in language acquisition for newcomer students. In the state of Texas, the term “newcomer” is used when addressing the language instructional program (Bi/ESL) of students born outside the United States.

Our school district designed a program last summer that included eight days of rigorous oral production using interactive magazines, as well as a parent and student showcase of work. The use of sentence starters and sentence frames was highlighted as one of the strategies to support students in speaking, reading, and writing. Students were able to read and convey their hard work and ideas in an instant thanks to the use of simple sentence-frame starters!

The Summer Language Program was centered on thematic science lessons in which all learners were engineers and designed—to name a few—cars, boats, and roller coasters. One of the final activities was a field trip to the Museum of Natural Science, where students gained experiences and made connections to classroom concepts.

Thanks to Kathy, Grace, Aisha, and Elena for contributing their thoughts.

Today’s post responded to this question:

What should be done to make summer school more enticing to students, and effective?

In Part One, Diana Laufenberg, Chandra Shaw, and Michelle Shory offered their suggestions.

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at [email protected]. When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo.

Just a reminder; you can subscribe and receive updates from this blog via email. And if you missed any of the highlights from the first 12 years of this blog, you can see a categorized list here.

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