The sun is shining, the students are fidgety, the number of remaining school days is scrawled in the corner of the board, and the time has officially come. That’s right. Just when you thought it was time to pack up your classroom for the year, you remember that summer school is right around the corner, and it’s time to revamp your strategy.
It’s easy to save this task until the very last minute each year, especially with everything else that you and your students have going on during the regular end-of-year festivities. However, saving summer school planning until the last minute can make these next few weeks difficult for everyone involved.
Plan ahead and give yourself time to create an effective strategy for the summer school session that will keep your students engaged and give them the chance to fully demonstrate their understanding and improvement. Consider these strategies to help you create a comprehensive and rigorous plan for the summer school session.
Focus on growth and core competencies.
Let’s face it. It’s impossible for any student, especially one who has earned a place in summer school, to make a year’s worth of progress in a few short weeks. However, that doesn’t mean that there’s no room for them to demonstrate growth and improvement. Fashion each unit and lesson around the idea of demonstrating progress. While students might not reach full proficiency, they can move further than where they were at the beginning of the session.
Furthermore, as an instructor, it’s nearly impossible to cover all of the nuances of your subject or course in just a few short weeks. Choose to focus on the core competencies in which your students must show proficiency or improvement in order to advance to the next grade level. Yes, that means breaking things down to their most essential parts and losing a lot of the nuances that you normally dig into during the regular school year, but unfortunately, that’s the nature of the credit recovery beast.
Give students some choice.
Create a daily plan that allows for at least some student choice. Maybe you give them two options for their reading or writing assignment, or maybe the assignments are static, but students have a choice regarding when to work on each thing, as long as they hit certain milestones each day.
No matter your approach, giving students at least some agency during this session will help them to feel slightly more control over their outcome. It’s likely that many of them, whether by choice or accident, lost their control during the school year. Give them a fresh start and a chance to demonstrate their progress. Help them to find their ownership of this process and encourage their ability to recover their credit and join the rest of their classmates at the beginning of the school year.
Choose short but deep reading material.
The few short weeks of summer school unfortunately do not afford the time to read entire novels, let alone multiple examples. Develop reading assignments that are short and more manageable, but that also offer deep learning opportunities. Choose brief articles or stories over longer pieces of writing (i.e., consider poems and short plays over extended works).
Rather than spending the majority of the time reading, choose shorter pieces into which you can have students dig deeply, exercising their higher order thinking skills while wringing out as much content from each reading as possible.
Craft assignments that serve multiple purposes.
Create assignments that address multiple standards and competencies so you can get more bang for your buck during this short period of time. Try to squeeze every bit of instructional value out of each lesson by combining multiple standards related to your subject matter when you can.
For example, have students read a short piece of writing, incorporating a vocabulary lesson into their reading. Then, ask them to respond to a writing prompt about that reading, and in English classes, perhaps focus on a particular grammatical issue. Finally, ask students to present their writing or participate in a discussion about their reading and writing.
Structuring your summer school session around at least some discussion time will allow you to guide your students to some deeper understanding, but, as an added bonus, it can also give them the chance to shine when their usual (possibly over-achieving, shine-stealing) classmates aren’t around. The students that you’ll teach in summer school can really find their own voices when they aren’t surrounded by their usual classful of peers.
Differentiate across all levels and abilities.
Differentiating across grade levels, learning styles, and ability levels, among other things, can be difficult in any situation, but it can also make or break the progress that a student can show in a short amount of time. Take some time before summer school starts to orient yourself to the students who will be in your class.
Send out a quick email to your department to gather some intel about those students--what are their strengths and weaknesses? What exactly did they struggle with during the regular school year? Are there any strategies or techniques that work really well for a particular student? Gathering this information prior to the start of summer school can give you some time to differentiate before even meeting your students. Then, use that differentiation information to your benefit during all lessons and activities. Assess each student individually, but if you’re able, group them by similarities to make differentiation a little bit easier.
Use tools that can facilitate learning (and save you time!).
There are innumerable tools that are available online that can help your students learn and grow, and can help to save you time during feedback and grading as well. For example, Turnitin offers multiple tools that can help your students focus on their reading and writing skills this summer. Turnitin’s Feedback Studio is a great place for students to submit their writing, onto which you can drag-and-drop feedback and score using a standards-aligned or teacher-created rubric.
If you’re looking to provide more scaffolded writing and revision practice, consider using Turnitin’s Revision Assistant, where students can respond to one of over 180 unique prompts, and then revise based on immediate, formative feedback. (Pro-tip: Revision Assistant offers a 60-day free trial to last the duration of your summer school session.) Revision Assistant also offers a summer school plan, which lays out a four-module example of how to use Revision Assistant effectively during summer school.
Finally, expedite your grading of any multiple choice or short response assignments using Turnitin’s Gradescope. Make strategic use of these and other available tools to help facilitate a smooth summer school session.
Whether the students in your summer school session are there because they need extra time and practice in a small, focused setting, or because they ignored their work during the school year, summer school should be a chance for all students to prove what they can accomplish. Using these strategies, consider revamping your summer school strategy in a way that will benefit both you and your students, and then watch those students blossom and grow during summer school this year.
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