By Scott Sterling
The idea of summer learning loss is nothing new. According to the National Summer Learning Association, the research showing that students regress in their learning over the course of the summer goes back over 100 years. In math, the loss is measured in two months’ worth of learning. Low-income students also lose two months in reading, even though their middle-class peers actually gain reading skills over the summer, highlighting the lack of summer learning opportunities for low-income students.
Teachers may feel powerless to stop this decline. After all, once summer comes around, they tend not to see their students until August. But teachers can play a role, mainly by providing thoughtful guidance for parents, who cite summer as the most challenging time for them to keep their children engaged.
Reading list best practices
A mainstay of summer learning is the summer reading list, where schools provide book options that students may or may not be held responsible for at the beginning of the next school year. Overall, the summer reading list is a good idea, but there are ways to make the most of the opportunity.
The first consideration should be whether students will understand and enjoy the selections by themselves. They won’t have a teacher there to guide them through Shakespeare or Plato, so the primary goal of the reading list should be accessibility. You want everyone to want to participate.
Vary the genres. Not every student is engaged by novels and fiction. Make sure your reading list includes some non-fiction and informational pieces. There are plenty of books that cover serious topics, yet are still accessible to older students. For the younger students, mix in some short biographies and books about topics of universal interest.
Finally, it’s 2016 and technology abounds. Students are keeping in touch over the summer, so they might as well discuss the books they are reading. Set up a Facebook page or message board to give students a place to organize and compare their thoughts.
Online summer camps
Summer camp is a great experience, but many students don’t have the means to participate in one. Although not as ideal as an actual camp, there are online summer camps out there that can keep students engaged and help exercise their brains.
Camp Google has been run by the technology giant for the past few years. Each week has a theme. The site provides videos and projects for students to complete that revolve around that theme. The site itself is free, but the materials for the projects need to be sourced.
Make: Online is the online version of Make Magazine, a publication devoted to promoting the maker movement that is taking over many schools. Throughout the summer, students are provided with activities and projects that have them creating, building, and customizing. Some of the skills are advanced, so this camp is more for older students.
Are your students obsessed with Minecraft? If so, Connected Camps might be of interest. For rates from $49-79, students can be enrolled in camps that use the popular game to teach architecture, coding, game design, and other STEM concepts.
Many families travel of the course of the summer. Letting the kids plan some or all of the vacation can be a great learning experience. They can guide the family to places that will interest, rather than bore, them. Older kids can even take charge of the more complicated arrangements based on a budget given to them by their parents.
Set up a class Instagram page for students to document their summer adventures and share with you and their classmates. If possible, have it include next year’s class as a way to build community and rapport before even stepping foot on campus.
Produce an online field trip. Using Google Earth, Street View, and other websites, students can virtually visit sites that would otherwise be out of reach. In particular, think about national parks, monuments, and museums. Their websites can really bring the experience home.