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Summer learning will play a critical role in students' return to full-time in-person learning this fall

4 steps to maximize summer learning

Summer learning will play a critical role in students' return to full-time in-person learning this fall

As we emerge from the darkness of closed school buildings, several studies have come out about the effect of the pandemic on student learning. “Learning loss” and “unfinished learning” are the main topics of conversation among educators, along with summer school programs and tutoring.

Research points toward the importance of maintaining on-grade-level instruction in the coming school year, as opposed to remediation. As such, providing access to on-grade material and instruction is paramount to helping students close gaps and move forward.

Areas of need

Analyzing the results from the winter data of the criterion-referenced assessment, areas of more need in math include number and operations and algebraic thinking and problem-solving.

In reading, students have more need with foundational skills: phonological awareness, phonics, and high frequency words. While needs will vary among students, building students’ reading foundation so they can “read to learn,” no matter what grade they are in, will benefit them greatly in the long term.

Students must begin and continue with on-grade level material this coming school year. However, if students only receive remediation in 2021-22, they will never catch up and will be further behind.

So, with so many skills to attend to and a few precious summer school weeks, it can become a hard decision: Where to put the energy?

Focusing in on summer learning

Let’s think about summer school programs in a different way–let’s use summer learning to boost access to the upcoming year’s on-grade-level instruction by narrowing the focus and prioritizing skills in select areas.

Below are steps to help summer school become an extension of the current grade, as a means to give more time toward priority pre-requisite skills for the upcoming priority on-grade material.

Step 1. Identify a few–three to four–focus standards for the upcoming school year. The goal is for students to be best able to access grade-level content when they go back to school this fall. Using your state’s standards, identify those “big” math topics that are important for students to understand by the end of the 2021-22 year.

For example, 1st grade students are understanding tens and using re-grouping in computation, while 4th grade students will be learning multi-digit multiplication using partial products in math.

In reading, comprehension in 3rd grade will be more important as students shift to “reading to learn.”

Step 2. After identifying the critical work for the upcoming year, work backward to identify the most important pre-requisite skills for those standards. These would be skills from the school year the students just finished or even earlier. Use summer learning time as an extension of time to target those immediate pre-requisite skills so students will be better equipped to access grade-level content.

In the 4th grade example of two-digit multiplication, students will be expected to decompose two-digit numbers by place value, multiply with strategies, and add the partial products. Some pre-requisite skills from grades 2nd and 3rd will include the arrays and area models, and single-digit multiplication skills and strategies. Therefore, lessons for summer school might include using arrays, area models, decomposing numbers, and revisiting place value understanding.

In reading, using a short, intensive foundational skills program for older students, would give them a phonics boost so they are ready for reading comprehension in literature and informational text.

Step 3. Use a criterion-referenced screener or create a pre-test to determine if students have the pre-requisite skills. Assessments usually report results as normative data, comparing students to students, and determining a percentile rank of the students if they were all lined up. A criterion-referenced assessment will report results comparing students to the grade-level standards expectations without the teacher having to convert the percentile scores. This is much easier for educators to determine skills that need to be addressed.

If students have the skills, teachers can move on to another standard. If they need support, teachers can deliver the lessons in Step 4.

Step 4. Deliver the lessons for what students need, monitor progress, and celebrate student success! Attending school in summer might not be the most engaging for students, especially after a year of some isolation from peers. To liven it up, look for lessons that allow students to work with partners or small groups, get students moving, or take advantage of nice outdoor weather.

A great math example that can be used in several grade levels is to have the students measure each other’s height and wing span. This lesson could be an elementary lesson on measuring with centimeters and using decimals, as well as using the coordinate plane to plot the points of height and wingspan.

In middle school this activity could be used in a statistics lesson for finding a line of fit. Creating a large coordinate plane with chalk in the parking lot would allow students to stand on their plotted point and really get them actively involved in the learning activity.

This has been an overwhelming year for educators, students, and parents on many fronts. Creating a summer school program to target so many needs can be daunting. But, by narrowing the focus to a few pre-requisite skills for priority standards educators will help move students a few steps forward toward a bright, terrific new school year.

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