How to Combat Summer Slide and Plan for Success in the New Year
It is half way through the school year, and the holiday break is behind us. Teachers and students are settling into their daily routines and great learning strides are being made. But this time of year also means that state testing is quickly approaching. And although there is still a lot to be done before the end of the year, if you’re like most school administrators you are already thinking about what your summer learning program is going to look like.
Consider These Stats on Summer Learning Loss
According to research from the National Summer Learning Association, on average low-income students lose at least two months of learning in math and two to three months of learning in reading during their time away from school on summer vacation. This is known as summer learning loss or summer slide. Unfortunately, this not only affects where students start the school year academically. It also eats into instructional time for the new school year. This is evidenced by the fact that 9 in 10 teachers report spending at least three weeks at the beginning of the school year re-teaching content from the previous school year.
How to Prevent Summer Learning Loss
Try these tips and suggestions for building a strong summer program to combat summer slide and support family engagement over the summer for students to hit the ground running at the start of the new school year.
It is important get organized early in order to have enough time to plan out all of the details of the summer program. Spending quality time preparing at the beginning will help ensure that the right team is in place to support the program and that students and families will have a positive and enriching experience.
Here are some questions to consider when planning. We will dive more deeply into many of these over the course of the rest of the post.
- Will the summer program be used for intervention or enrichment (or both)?
- When will the summer program take place?
- How will I decide which students will need to be involved?
- How will families be notified that their children qualify for the summer program?
- Who is going to run the summer program? Or will it be a team of people?
- Which teachers will be conducting the summer program?
- What kind of training will those teachers need and when does that need to occur?
- What resources will teachers and students need to be successful in the summer program?
- Will I purchase a program or bundle of resources to use or build one from scratch?
- Will students use a consumable resource or will teachers photocopy student materials ahead of time?
- Are there any community partners that can support the summer program or provide resources to support and engage the students?
- Does transportation need to be arranged for students who participate in the summer program in order to ensure attendance?
- How will I encourage family engagement in order to support student attendance?
Select a Leader and Qualified Educators
Every successful project begins with a great leader. It is important to select a leader who is organized, has good people skills, and who is a genuine champion of the summer program in order to get people excited. Depending on the size of your summer program, you may need to assemble an entire team to support the planning and execution, as well.
Studies also show that students are more likely to get good results in a summer program if highly trained educators are teaching the academic portion of the summer program. However, if this is difficult at your school/district, make sure to build in adequate time to prepare and train the paraprofessional staff who will be handling the academic portion of the program.
Any good book or article on project management will tell you that in order to achieve success you need to define what success looks like. For a summer program, this means setting goals for student outcomes as well as teacher outcomes. I recommend using the SMART acronym to help you write those outcomes. The goals should be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time bound. By creating your outcomes using this acronym, you will be able to easily define and measure success. And don’t forget to share the goals with everyone involved in the planning and implementation of the summer program so that everyone is on the same page!
Remember the Data
Data is important for two reasons: 1) It can help you decide which students should qualify for the summer program, and 2) It can help you determine whether the program was successful by demonstrating students gains. Consider using data that you already have available from your school or district. There is no sense in recreating the wheel and making more work for everyone if quality data already exists!
Once you get into the summer program, it will also be important to have data to show student gains. If don’t have any school or district-mandated assessment for your summer program, make sure the program you select has some kind of diagnostic and/or summative assessment so that you don’t have to create your own, as that can be a time consuming and laborious process. This data can also be used to evaluate the program at the end of the summer program and help inform decisions for the next year.
Choose a Program that Fits Your School/District
Every school/district is different and has unique student needs. It is important to think directly about your student population—demographics, academic needs, social needs—when selecting a program or designing one yourself. Regardless of how you choose your program, here are some things to consider:
- The lessons should incorporate research-based instructional strategies and best practices aimed specifically at academic achievement.
- The lessons should develop students’ vocabulary and language skills.
- Differentiation strategies and suggestions should be included to meet the needs of all students.
- Games or other enrichment activities/opportunities should be strategically integrated to support learning and keep students engaged.
Engage Families and Students
Obviously, it is important to use data to determine which students are most at risk in order to decide who should attend the summer program. It would be amazing to include all at-risk students, but it is likely not possible given constraints like budget, staffing, and space. Given that all students are at risk for summer slide, it is good to have a plan to engage your whole student population over the summer, too.
Consider running a school-wide competition for summer reading and/or math. Just like a fundraiser or capital campaign, give students incentives for hitting certain benchmark numbers. For example, if students read more than X minutes they get an extra 5 minutes of recess. If they read more than X minutes, the teachers will do a crazy activity like getting a pie in the face. If they read more than X minutes, they get a school-wide spirit day (e.g., crazy hair or crazy sock day). And the highest level could be a school-wide event that also includes families, such as donuts or bagels and juice on a Friday morning before school.
Communicating reminders and encouragement about the competition as well as parent resources and tips over the summer will keep people connected throughout the break and can keep momentum going. Text messages, mass voicemails, or emails are easy ways to stay in touch with families during the summer weeks.
Finally, students are more likely to spend time reading a book that they choose rather than one that was assigned to them. This can be hard for students who don’t have a large home library or frequent access to the local library over the summer. In order to send books home with students over the summer, partner with local community organizations to organize a book drive toward the end of the year. This will give you a large bank of books for the students to select from and take home to keep before school lets out.
Keep Things Exciting
Studies show that students will not make gains in the summer if they don’t consistently attend. It is important to keep them engaged so that they want to make attendance a priority. One way to do this is to blend academics with hands-on experiential learning. Some ideas include STEAM/STEM experiences, robotics challenges, problem-/project-based learning, or virtual field trips. If these types of programs don’t exist at your school already, find companies or community partners that could help make that possible through monetary donations or even through donating their time/expertise during your summer program.
Just like a sports team on game day, students should feel excited when they step on campus. The décor of the classrooms/learning spaces and the overall atmosphere is important to consider. This doesn’t have to be elaborate. Simple things such as music, bubbles, cheering and lots of smiles, dance breaks, or balloons can keep the day exciting.
Depending on the age of the students, also consider offering graduation credit or credit recovery, food, or other appropriate positive incentives that encourage attendance and participation.
Conduct a Debrief Session!
It is easy to finish the summer program and turn your attention straight to the new school year. After all, the kids come back in only a few short weeks! Yikes! However, you spent so much time and energy on the planning and implementation of this program, and getting feedback will only make things more efficient and easier for next year.
Make sure to get input from all of the key participants and stakeholders in the summer program in order to see how it all went. For teachers, consider keeping their feedback anonymous. It is likely that they will give more candid feedback and suggestions for improvement next year if they don’t have to attach their names to some sort of survey or response sheet. It is also important to get feedback from the families and students involved. They are ultimately the ones affected most by the program and can provide great insight, not to mention the invaluable experience of feeling heard and knowing that their voices matter.
I hope that you have found some valuable takeaways to support you in the planning, implementation, and reflection process of your summer program. But no matter how you decide to support students in limiting the effects of summer slide, remember to keep it fun and put them first.
If you are looking for engaging books and parent resources to support your students and increase family involvement over the summer, consider these take-home backpacks. They are filled with fun activities and books to engage students in summer reading and math and prepare them for the coming school year. You can download a free sample here!