Summer learning is particularly key this year to help students accelerate and regain some ground that may have been lost over the past 15 months. Even if you still have not determined what you may be able to offer, it's not too late, and even a short summer program can help students gain momentum for the new year. Whether you are just getting started or putting the finishing touches on your plans, here are our top tips for how to design summer learning that is maximally effective – and fun – for students, families, and educators:
1. Start by focusing on students who would benefit the most from a summer program.
Examine the data and listen to feedback from teachers about which students need the most help, where it may be helpful to focus (e.g., specific subjects or power standards), and the specific services they will need. Prioritize these students for access to summer learning, and survey your teachers to see who may be interested in leading summer programs, as well as your plan for compensation. Then, assess your capacity to serve additional students and map out what your staffing should look like based on what you are able to do. Ensure teachers and trained professionals are leading instruction to make the most positive impact on learning outcomes. For more guidance and staffing considerations, download NIET's editable Summer Learning Planning Guide and use the tables on pages 4 and 5.
2. Provide transportation, especially for prioritized students.
A large obstacle to student participation in the summer months is lack of transportation. Districts should plan efficient, streamlined logistics and communicate them to families, with particular focus on ensuring that students who most need summer learning opportunities understand the options available to them for transportation.
3. Allow students to safely learn with other students in person.
Students are eager to socialize and learn with their peers. As you design summer programs, as much as possible allow students to attend in person, create activities that mix academics with play while following health protocols, and help students take a break from screens.
4. Make content extra relevant and engaging.
Summer learning is not remedial learning. Research shows that focusing on remediation results in students falling farther behind. Instead, teach grade-level content; connect lessons to everyday life; help students see how this will benefit them; incorporate movement, music, and art; and take learning outdoors. If part of your program is asynchronous, balance screen time with writing, drawing, or building. Encouraging teachers to make the learning fun can be rejuvenating for students and educators alike.
5. Provide students with choices for their learning.
Teachers and leaders should think outside the box about how to involve students and incorporate their interests. For example, perhaps there are choices where students can pick an elective course on Fridays, or teachers can provide students with multiple options or topics for a project. As much as possible, allow opportunities for students to personalize the content and apply their learning to everyday life and personal interests.
6. Incorporate writing.
Writing helps students think broadly, organize thoughts, and deepen self-reflection and expression, and it is key to growth across academic content areas. Activities can be as complex as analyzing a text or as simple as writing a sentence in response to an "icebreaker" question. Help students make connections to see writing as a necessary tool outside of the classroom, like on social media or TV scripts.
7. Provide students with books and texts that they can keep.
Providing students with their own materials can give them responsibility and pride in their learning, as well as the flexibility to engage with the content at home and with their families. If providing these kinds of materials is not in your budget, consider asking local nonprofits or local bookstores if they may be able to donate books. Many are willing to donate or fundraise to help, and even giving students just a couple books of their own can make a big difference. If options are limited, give students some choice in what they can take home.
8. Offer incentives for attendance.
Students should be accountable for their attendance, just like during the school year. Districts should set expectations, consequences for failing to meet them, and communicate their policies to families in advance. Schools should also offer incentives, such as individual and class rewards for highest attendance, stickers for younger students, extra credit points for older students, or inclusion on an "Attendance Honor Roll."
9. Make the case for why students should come.
Summer learning should not be something students feel they have to do but want to do. Advertise how you are designing summer learning to mix academics and play; movement, music, and art; and safe interaction among students. Schools should also focus on building a positive community and culture with ample opportunity for collaboration and relationship-building. Everyone should be warmly welcomed into the school building.
10. Help educators to use this as an opportunity to strengthen their instruction more broadly.
Think of summer as enrichment for students and teachers. Include intentional time for teacher collaboration, one-on-one coaching, and relationship-building. It is a great time to encourage teachers to try new strategies and to pilot PLC collaboration that gets you a head start for the school year.
Bonus tip: Consider how to bring the freedom of summer learning into schools year-round.
We often hear from educators that they like the autonomy and flexibility they have during summer learning to be extra creative or focus on special topics. While it is always necessary to ensure instruction is aligned to state standards and curriculum, that does not mean we can't make learning fun or make application to everyday context. Engaging students and making their learning relevant increases their desire for ownership and drives success long-term.
No matter what, creating an active community of summer learners – even if it is just for a few days – will help teachers and students as they look ahead to the next school year. And it's not too late to get started. For additional information and more ideas, download NIET's Summer Learning Planning Guide.