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The summer slide impacts students more than you might think–here are 3 strategies you can use to combat it

summer-brainStudents and teachers usually can’t wait for summer–students, to have a break from classes, and teachers, to catch up on professional development and reflect on the previous school year, all while preparing for the start of the next school year.

Three strategies can help students, teachers, administrators, and community members improve educational outcomes, at the same time avoiding the summer slide and disconnectedness that comes from summer break.

These strategies have the added benefit of fitting into the regular school year, said Melissa Whipple, retired Family Outreach and Engagement Trainer at San Diego Unified Schools, who outlined the three approaches.

(Next page: Three summer strategies)

“The underpinning idea behind summer learning and out-of-school learning is that school is not the only learning place,” Whipple said. “We’d like to leverage our relationships with families, and help home and community understand that that is where powerful learning takes place. It’s not just at school. Family and culture do count.”

Those strategies include:

1. High-tech strategies: Using social media to connect with parents. Teachers can use social media and classroom websites to communicate with students and families, keeping them engaged and informed. This practice is useful during the school year and, once established, continues easily into the summer months.

“It’s important that we do this during the school year, but if we just dump it at the summer learning point, it’s not going to be effective,” Whipple said.

“Once you have a social media website up and going, it can include a lot of features, like Q&A, podcasts, photo assignments, communication boards, and you’re really building a sense of online community–that’s the beauty of them,” she added.

2. High-yield strategies: Accelerating or enriching learning by encouraging students to have “self-assign” learning. Teachers can support this mentality during the school year, ramping up efforts right before summer break, to prepare kids for a motiviating activity over the summer. Teachers then use their high-tech strategy to check in with students over the summer.

“The key to high yield is to develop those relationships during the school year, and leverage them over the summer,” Whipple said.

Teachers might want to reference the book Learning in Depth, by Kieran Egan, which focuses on asking students to become experts on a single topic from grades 1-12. Students can use summer time as “brain gain” to increase their topic knowledge, with their family’s help.

3. High-touch strategies: Learning more about school communities and building relationships during the school year to last over the summer. These strategies involve school communities, and serve to strengthen the relationship between schools and community members, stakeholders, and local businesses that could be a source of future partnerships.

For instance, school leaders might organize a community walk–a parent-led tour that highlights resources and challenges in a school neighborhood. School staff and community partners plan the walk and map out a one-hour walking tour, taking notes and photos, and finish with a meal afterwards. The walk and community observations and photos are posting on school social media outlets, leading to more community awareness and activism.

Whipple said these strategies result in:

  • Stronger learning outcomes for students, because summer becomes a family learning time, and brain drain replaced with brain gain
  • Stronger personal relationships with students and parents; these relationships will pay off during school year
  • Improved understanding of the school community and its resources and challenges
  • Stronger collaboration with colleagues, with more alignment between grade levels or subject areas that are focused on incorporating students’ summer brain gain into classroom learning

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Laura Ascione

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