As schools expand summer learning programming to address lost instructional time during the pandemic, efforts should focus on offering accelerated learning experiences as a motivator for students, as well as aim to include as many students as possible who want to participate, speakers recommended during a Tuesday webinar hosted by the Learning Policy Institute and AASA, The School Superintendents Association.
Federal stimulus funding has provided school districts the opportunity to strengthen summer programing that should include research-based strategies, such as incorporating social, emotional and academic components into enriching experiences for students, said LPI President and CEO Linda Darling-Hammond, who also serves as president of the California State Board of Education.
School systems are using this summer to kickstart academic and SEL pandemic recovery efforts but are also looking at how to continue accelerated learning initiatives into the 2021-22 school year and beyond, as well as how to finance these programs for long-term sustainability.
The researchers and administrators who spoke during the LPI and AASA webinar predicted summer school won't be like it used to. For one, the “drill and kill” approaches of summer school in the past will be replaced with hands-on, experiential learning and instruction, which could make going to school in the summer months motivating and fun for students, they said.
Rather than remediate and fill the gaps in students’ knowledge, accelerated learning would meet individual students where they are academically and help them improve both academically and in their positive relationships with educators and peers, as well as their self-confidence as learners.
“Every child is motivated to learn the next steps that are in front of them to learn,” said Darling-Hammond. “Very few children are motivated by systems that rank and sort and label them in relation to other children.”
Research shows several components make summer programming effective, said panelist Jennifer Sloan McCombs, senior policy researcher and director of the Behavioral and Policy Sciences Department at the RAND Corporation. Recommendations based on the research include:
Offering a 5-6 week program that is full-day and includes academic and enrichment activities.
Having class sizes of no more than 15 students taught by trained or certified teachers, and particularly staff with experience in providing supports to students with disabilities and English learners.
Providing a positive site climate, which includes strong relationships, establishing behavioral expectations, and ensuring positive adult engagement. These practices help drive students' enjoyment of the program and regular attendance, McCombs said.
Diana Greene, superintendent of Duval County Public Schools in Jacksonville, Florida, spoke about how her district is ramping up summer programming to offer a variety of academic, robotic and field trip experiences. Students in the summer program will be introduced to the 2021-22 grade-level standards, and lessons will not be computer-based. Students will not be sitting at desks all day either, Greene said.
The summer program, which is still in development, aims to be open five days a week for 6 weeks for rising 1st- through 9th-graders. Priority for participation will be given to students who had attendance struggles this school year and who are at least a school year behind academically, she said. The hope, Greene said, is the summer program can be available to all who are interested, but funding for transportation is a consideration.
High school students have options for self-paced programs to work on credits for graduation, as well as ACT and SAT preparation courses. A new offering for high school students is a 3-week writing enrichment program that combines writing with research of local history in preparation for the city’s bicentennial in 2022, Greene said.
“[Duval’s summer programming] is really about ensuring that every student has an opportunity to experience something different than what they would have during the normal school year,” Greene said.