Reinventing the Summer School Experience: 6 Ways to Propel Academic Growth

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A new vision has arrived for summer schools. Faced with ever-higher benchmarks and dismal international comparisons, K-12 school leaders are innovating to arrest and reverse the negative spiral that often coincides with summer break.

Summer programs no longer mean a mandatory detention, with rote drilling for kiddos who are on the verge of falling behind.  Today’s experiential academies and camps bring new ways to bolster skills in math and reading, and intervene where necessary to prevent summer learning loss.

Solid funding streams, interactive curricula, and engaging collaboration are bringing extended learning experiences, mitigating learning loss, and giving more equal access to students attending summer programs.

Funding – The Every Student Succeeds Act passed in December 2015 bodes well for out-of-school time learning, according to the National Summer Learning Association (NSLA). It gives the states more power to create summer learning to impact student achievement, including targeted resources for at-risk students and new grant funding to strengthen the alignment between schools and community partners. And, NSLA’s state policy report says that many school districts, communities, and states across the US are embracing new ways to keep kids learning throughout the summer—with 22 states and DC passing over 40 new pieces of legislation related to summer learning.

Curriculum and instruction – Summer programs are short, and teachers are time-strapped to come up with effective programs on their own. According to The RAND Corporation, summer programs need anchored in commercially available, evidence-based curriculum packages, to maximize student outcomes and support students with special needs.  And, these comprehensive solutions contain the built-in professional training teachers need to familiarize them with the curriculum and optimize program impact.

Community collaboration – Preventing the summer slide is most effective when community organizations including schools, libraries, parks, community centers, parent groups, social service agencies and others work together to advance summer school programs.

Make Summer Count in 6 Ways

Although we have a long way to go, six best practices for designing a summer program offer a curriculum with substance, to help avert the 2 months of potential learning loss for all students. Whether they’re struggling, keeping up, or ready to move on—all will benefit from an intentional, high impact program that also contains fun, celebratory summer experiences.

  1. Deliver academic rigor.  Summer is a great time to prepare students for the intellectual challenges they’ll face in future schooling and the workplace. Well-structured programs that include rigorous, research-proven curriculum platforms will best sustain achievement and drive gains in literacy, math and other subjects. Giving teachers a proven framework for daily activities provides an easy solution for summer school implementation. Tip:  Adding rigor to program design provides students with the three facets of rigorous learning: conceptual understanding, procedural skill and fluency, and application of learning in context. Number Worlds for grades PreK-8 is proven to develop all of these. Project-Based Learning modules within each lesson build the conceptual understand students need to handle increasingly complex information and topics.
  2. Address individualized learning. Blended and personalized learning and remediation courses that accommodate individual student needs are as important during summer, as during the regular school year. The best programs offer a variety of instruction and methods to address different learning styles and cultural backgrounds—from small-group tutoring, to mixed student groupings; or from group projects, to 1:1 digital learning. Tips: SRA FLEX Literacy’s digital experience reinforces non-fiction reading, motivating “low” readers with interesting content, and reducing frustration by keeping stories short yet impactful. Another literacy program, SRA Reading Labs 2.0, enhances comprehension, vocabulary, fluency, word analysis, and study skills by challenging students with informational and literary text at different genres based on their interest; and also create a deeper understanding of short reads with hidden “secrets” and text-dependent questions.
  3. Provide preemptive intervention. Whether students are catching up or ready for AP, a proactive approach will improve foundational skills, and prevent future difficulties like inclusion in Tiers 2 or 3 instruction, or remedial credit recovery. Engage all students, maintain focus, and keep behavior in check with game-like activities and real-world projects. Tip:  Math requires regular practice and repetition. Building Blocks provides instruction based on each student’s unique understanding and learning trajectory. Students play a series of games based on their abilities, and progress automatically through the program once they master each math concept. If a student struggles to understand a particular concept, Building Blocks delivers content and games designed to improve his or her fundamental understanding through targeted remediation and feedback. Students develop the necessary math skills at their own pace, aligning the learning experience with their natural development.
  4. Remediate skill deficiencies. Summer programs should ensure a good match between the content and the grade level desired. For one, a scaffolded approach to RTI (response to intervention) can raise student progress, and help close the achievement gap. Commercial curriculum solutions provide built-in data capture with formative, interim and summative assessments—so you can effectively place students where they need to be, and monitor progress. Tip: SRA FLEX Literacy for Grades 3-12 reading intervention meets each student at their lowest skill gap, so no matter their reading level, students are kept engaged and interested.
  5. Accelerate progress.  Speed each student’s academic edge by first reinforcing the reading and math objectives taught during regular school days. Next, strengthen and stretch math and ELA skills using evidence-based developmental texts and computer-based activities that accelerate students beyond their actual grade. You can further transform learning by introducing content and concepts students will face in the new school year. Tips:  To accelerate reading abilities, children in Early Interventions In Reading (EIR) receive 20–30 minutes a day of supplemental instruction in addition to a strong core reading program. EIR follows a three-day routine in grades 1-2 and a five-day routine in grades 3-4 using fast-paced, relatively short lessons. And, Building Blocks is being used widely in summer schools to increase students’ skills and confidence in math—a critical skill for today’s economy. Students use Building Blocks to catch up to grade level math requirements, or accelerate math performance above grade level.
  6. Enrich the curriculum. Go beyond the expected instruction in numeracy and literacy by adding enrichment in science, arts, physical education, sports, STEM, computer coding, community service, and more. Nurture the connection between doing the things children and adolescents love, and learning around their interests. Tip:  Project-based learning provides highly relevant instructional support that makes content more engaging for struggling students. SRA FLEX Literacy Projects Experience quickly boosts literacy skills through reading, writing-centered activities, and group collaboration.

Summer programs enhanced with strong curriculum solutions can go a long way toward arresting the summer learning loss and closing up achievement disparities.  They can help stop the year-over-year accumulation of deficits that can lead to achievement gaps preventing later success. Grades, behavior and attendance all improve with the running start kids have when they return to school.

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