Three steps to developing an engaging summer school curriculum

To reach these children, we must think outside the box while planning lessons

Summer school can be a daunting time for educators. Many struggle to create a concise curriculum that effectively teaches material while meeting the shortened timeline of summer school. Some find it challenging to override the distraction of summer fun for students—especially students who struggled to concentrate during the school year. One of the main challenges that educators face is adjusting their approaches on teaching to meet the needs of summer school students whose performance during the year necessitated summer school in the first place.

Since these students didn’t learn up to standards during the school year, why approach summer school lesson planning the same way you’d approach the main curriculum? To reach these children, we must think outside the box while planning lessons. During my 30 years as an educator, principal, executive director, and superintendent, I’ve developed three key steps to consider while developing a unique, engaging summer school curriculum for the students who need it.

Step 1: Plan a curriculum that creates a self-contained classroom.
During the academic year, many students find themselves in an inclusive classroom. This is a great environment for many learners, but some students find themselves in summer school because the inclusive approach was not best suited to their needs: There may have been distractions, or the inherent “teach to the middle” strategy didn’t work for kids on the ends of the learning spectrum. Summer school brings together students with varying cognitive abilities, learning styles, and academic strengths and weaknesses. A lesson plan that creates a self-contained classroom allows for greater academic support for the students who don’t in the average inclusive classroom.

(Next page: How to plan a targeted summer school curriculum and more)

Here’s how:

  • Promote learner agency through co-authoring and co-creating projects.
  • Schedule time for teaching activities, working independently, and working collaboratively.
  • Use tools or projects that are differentiated to ensure that each student progresses at his or her own pace.

Step 2: Create a competency-based lesson plan.
Competency-based strategies are important to incorporate in a summer school lesson plan, as they allow for the flexibility needed in teaching and assessing a diverse classroom. Providing personalized-learning opportunities ensures that students can progress at their own time and pace, and this approach creates multiple pathways to the same outcome. During the school year, students are measured in time and product all too often; in summer school, educators can measure them in the process of learning if they follow this method.

Here’s how:

  • Develop projects that allow students to explore, discover, risk, and grow in a creative environment.
  • Use different forms of teaching and learning technology that give educators the ability to individualize learning for each student.
  • Adjust the role of educator to one that guides and leads rather than instructs and lectures.

Step 3: Make sure the curriculum is easy to implement.
As interactive as an educator may want his or her summer school lesson plan to be, it is important to remember that the time period is very limited. Therefore, it’s imperative that lesson plans, projects, and learning tools are easy to implement in the allotted time.

Here’s how:

  • Incorporate technology that creates flexibility of scheduling within or outside the instructional day and allows students to self-guide so teachers can focus on individuals without neglecting the rest of the class.
  • Teach through tools/tasks that don’t require an educator’s expertise in the topic.
  • Use lessons, projects, and tools that are standards-informed to ensure the time is well spent developing essential outcomes.

Summer school presents educators with several challenges, but they can overcome them with a changed perception of the education model and learning. Summer school is a place where educators can really grasp the interest of struggling students who don’t always succeed in the school year’s education model. Following these three key steps in creating an engaging summer school curriculum is a great start to transforming summer school in a fun and fruitful way.

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