In the next couple of weeks, most schools and student learning will have concluded for the year. When I say concluded, I mean it in the strictest sense of the word. Many students will do virtually nothing educational for the next 2–3 months. Unfortunately, the students who will do the least are often the ones who are already the furthest behind. The term “summer slump” or “summer slide” is used to describe the learning that students lose when they are not actively involved in educational activities. Researchers claim that students lose between 1–3 months of learning over the summer period. Other researchers claim that the majority of performance differences between rich and poor students are due to the summer slump.
Schools have tried various approaches to deal with the summer slump. I was involved with a summer school program that lasted for approximately two weeks, and students attended a half day each day. As I reflect on that experience, I questions if that was the most valuable use of time and resources. A two week summer school session hardly constitutes continued learning. My argument isn’t that that type of summer school doesn’t work, but I question if it is the best “bang for the buck” for schools. I’m also not entirely sure what that ideal model would look like, but I do believe that technology opens up lots of possibilities for schools.
Here are a couple of ideas that may be effective for schools that can provide their students with laptops throughout the summer. Because most schools focus on the areas of reading, writing, and math in summer school, my suggestions focus on those three areas.
Assign students high interest reading books, and have them reflect on the books using online tools. Set-up places for students to have synchronous and asynchronous conversations with one another.
Allow students to choose topics that they find very interesting to research. Create ways for them to share their findings with others. Encourage and guide students throughout the process.
Math is an interesting topic. Much of what students do in traditional summer school programs is drill, drill, and drill! If that is your school’s approach, technology certainly provides a cheaper and more effective way to do that. Online programs provide immediate feedback as well as media that students find much more attractive. Educators can also find sites that challenge students with higher level math problems. Set-up online ways for students to communicate about their solutions to challenging problems. Encourage them to see how many ways they can solve the same problem.
All of those suggestions were intended to have a couple of common themes.
- Students were constantly writing!
- Although students weren’t working together physically, there was a great deal of collaboration between students and the teacher.
- Topics and content were relevant to students, and they were given choices whenever possible.
I also am not calling for the end of face-to-face summer sessions. Many of our students need those positive social interactions throughout the summer. My recommendation would be to simply reduce the number of those meetings and spread them throughout the summer. All of these ideas are common sense things that I thought up fairly quickly. Schools that truly want to take on the summer slump should think creatively about how to provide students with ongoing support and learning for the entire summer. Technology is a tool they may drastically alter the way that learning takes place.