By Teachers, For Teachers
Summer school stigma: the idea that no one wants to be in summer school, not even the teacher.
If you ask me, summer school gets a bad rap. Those who look at summer school with a "glass half full" perspective will see a chance for teachers to step up as leaders and get some freedom from the binds of forced curriculum. They’ll also see a chance for struggling students to work in smaller classes with personalized instructional strategies.
Instead of focusing on the stigma of summer school, it’s time that you and your students start taking advantage of the great opportunities summer school provides.
Before you can reap the rewards of summer school teaching, however, you first need to get past the negative ideas of summer school and address the real challenges of the summer schedule.
With only a few weeks at your disposal, you’ve got to set an upbeat tone from day one. Make it fun and show that you want to be there.
To start off on the right foot, work on a project together to create a sense of unity. Many summer school students are those who struggle in class, so innovative projects that tap into different learning styles can help.
Summer school may be competing with kids’ other plans, hanging out with friends, playing outside, etc. By bringing your class together and using that energy toward an active, engaged project, you’re making summer school fulfill these outlets.
Some teachers recommend a transforming a typical writing assignment into a video project in which you have day “shoots” outside.
With limited time, focus on in-depth learning rather than overly cramming in curriculum. For example, if you teach English, stick with a few short stories or poems or a single shorter book rather than trying to cramming in a semester’s worth of reading. It’s about their comprehension and writing skills, not a count of pages read.
To figure out where to focus, look at the learning objectives and organize around themes. For history classes, this might mean covering material thematically rather than chronologically. For math, this might mean focusing on the real-life applications within your curriculum. For science, this might mean carefully executing a few experiments to focus on method rather than facts.
By nature, summer school is typically populated by struggling students who struggled during the school year. Your first challenge will be to create an environment in which students feel respected and engaged rather than punished for failing the first time around.
With so little time, you’ll have to get to know your students quickly. Why not start out by finding out what their interests and talents are? You could even have a Talent Show & Tell – whether the student wants to show off their video game high score or a basketball trophy.
Not only will you learn ways you can use students’ talents within your instruction, but they’ll start out their summer school session with a sense of confidence.
Now that we’ve dealt with the less-than-ideal struggles of summer school, let’s maximize the advantages of the summer school schedule.
Fewer students and a typically shorter day will help to keep you and your students from burning out.
It’s all about your attitude. You can either dwell on how much you’d like to have this time off or how much material you need to fit into a few weeks OR you can stay in the moment and enjoy your experience. This is a great opportunity for more personal interaction with your students. Best of all, you and your students can still enjoy most of your afternoons to recharge.
Good weather typically means your students are bouncing off the walls. Why not use that energy to your advantage?
First step, get up out of your seats and open up those warm-day drooping eyes. Fill your days with skill-building games, outdoor learning activities and engaging projects.
Some schools use themes within their summer enrichment programs to get the kids excited about learning. For instance, the pirate theme involves a field trip to the local museum’s pirate exhibit, pirate-themed lessons calculating pirate’s treasures and a pirate dress up day. AAARRRRRE you loving school now kids? You bet!
During the summer, you’ve got much for freedom within your curriculum than during the school year. Take that freedom out for a ride.
Parkway South High School in Manchester, Missouri encourages their teachers to be as innovative and experimental as possible in their summer school programs, according to a local community news article.
Joe Rhodes, who teaches modern U.S. history, said during the summer he tries to be more laidback and "switch things up a bit." For example, at the end of the class, the students participate in a Supreme Court mock trial.
"I want it to be a whole lot more about them," Rhodes said. "I don't want to be just in front of the class pointing at notes. I want them to be able to display their opinions, and I think that's what helps keep them motivated."
What projects have you always wanted to try, but not had the time or freedom to do them? Now’s your opportunity.
Ed tech expert Meg Ormiston recommends rich problem-based learning for summer school in which groups of students wrestle with real world problems with no wrong or right answers.
What summer school teaching strategies do YOUR students love? Share in the comments section!