Ways to combat the summer slide
By Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur
Are you looking for summer learning activities beyond the usual reading log or assigned summer reading books? Would you like to reduce the summer slide in academic skills for your current class or get a head start with the class that will be sitting in front of you in September? Do you want to engage with your students during the summer in a collaborative learning environment?
As teachers, we want to relax during the summer, and so do our students, but summer can provide a great time for a low-pressure academic activity. At the elementary level, this will involve some communication with teachers in the grades ahead of you or behind you to determine the best way to coordinate summer learning activities. At the middle- or high-school level, such activities will most likely be on a per-subject level, but communication with other teachers is still essential.
Once you know your target group of students, you can work with them to come up with a topic or project, set some parameters, and let their creativity take over. It is also possible to utilize tech tools in order to have class interaction during the summer months.
When assigning a topic for summer work, it is beneficial to get students’ input. They will be far more invested in the project if they are excited about it and feel ownership of the tasks instead of blaming you for ruining their summer vacation. Ask your students about their summer goals. What would they like to accomplish this summer? Is there something new they would like to learn? Would they like to develop greater proficiency in a skill area that they already enjoy? Do they plan to take part in a local library summer reading program?
Summers are a great time for exploring new places. Do their families have travel plans? What can they learn about their destination? If they will be spending the summer in their own community, would they like to plan a dream trip by utilizing the internet, travel books, and maps to plan a fantasy excursion?
Students can keep summer scrapbooks, created on a computer or in physical books, that record their activities and adventures for the summer. They can incorporate photos, drawings, text, physical memorabilia — their imaginations are the limit. Students can include lists of books they read, places they go, camps they attend, games they play, shows they watch, and more.
You can also encourage your students to deepen their faith during the summer. Ask them to consider where they find God each day or something to thank God for as well as how they have been of service to other people. Suggest that they include some of those reflections in their summer scrapbooks.
As the teacher, you can create a summer scrapbook as well so you can share some of your own experiences with your students when they return in the fall. You could also provide your students with preaddressed postcards to write to you during the summer, giving you a quick update of what they have been doing with their summer. Be sure to write back. Even in this era of instant communication, there is nothing quite like receiving a piece of personal mail addressed to them in the family mailbox.
It is also a good idea to get parents invested in any summertime learning activities. Parents are often as worn out by the school year as teachers and students. Summer can present its own set of challenges for parents who may be trying to juggle additional child-care responsibilities on top of their usual duties. After an academic year full of homework battles, they may not be eager to make sure their child completes a homework assignment over the summer.
It’s important to make sure students are excited about any summer projects so they will want to do them and it won’t become a family struggle. If possible, you can set up an incentive for completing their summer project. Depending on school policies, this might be a pizza party, a dress-down day for all who take part, or perhaps a chance to win a special prize.
It can also be helpful to provide parents with a list of free or low-cost summer activities for families to enjoy. While this list will vary depending on your community, good resources for ideas include local libraries, park and recreation departments, museums and education centers, farms, nature preserves, national parks, and community art and music centers. In addition, local businesses may offer reading incentive programs for children.
You can also provide parents with online resources that can help them incorporate some learning activities into the summer months. ReadWriteThink.org offers a number of parent-friendly resources and activities for various grade levels that develop literacy skills in fun and practical ways. StartWithaBook.org provides themed reading activities, including book lists and additional hands-on projects. A few of the topics included are dinosaurs, inventors and inventions, money, time travel, superheroes, music, and poetry. There is sure to be something to spark the interest of every child.
Summer is also a great time for hands-on science observation and activities. You could provide parents with information on starting a basic garden, recognizing native plants and animals, observing the constellations and the phases of the moon, or simple experiments families can do at home. Reading Rockets has a series of downloadable tip sheets available in both English and Spanish to help promote literacy in the sciences.
Do you want to be able to interact with your students over the summer and have them communicate with each other, as well? Are you comfortable with technology or willing to learn some new skills and tech programs this summer? There are several tech tools which allow for group collaboration and sharing of knowledge. This can be especially useful and appealing for middle-school and high-school students.
Seesaw is a collaborative online work environment that offers many features for group sharing, learning, and interaction. Students can share their learning via photos, videos, drawings, and texts. It is compatible with hundreds of other apps and available for free at the basic, but still highly functional, level.
Each student can have his or her own portfolio in addition to a class blog. Teachers can also use Seesaw to communicate and share work with parents. It includes built-in translation tools, which can be very helpful in communicating with families if you are teaching in a multilingual community. In addition, teachers are able to approve all student content before it is shared with families.
Flipgrid is a video discussion platform that can be used to create a social learning network. You can post a topic and an introductory video to spark a discussion, and then students can post their own videos (restricted to a certain length) to respond to that topic. It also offers a free level of use and can be used with any browser, Chromebook, tablet, or mobile device. Teachers are able to moderate responses so that no objectionable content is posted.
Currently available for iPad and Chrome, the Book Creator App allows students to combine text, images, audio, and video in order to create a finished product that can be shared with you, their fellow classmates, and their families. If you are interested in sharing your students’ creations with a larger audience, books can be published on the iBooks store and shared with the world.
New to this type of software? Monica Burns — an EdTech consultant, author, and speaker — has hosted a series of 45-minute webinars on learning to use and make the most of Book Creator. They are available on Bookcreator.com. Topics covered include getting started, creating comics, documenting field trips and special events, integrating writing with math and science, writing in response to reading, and utilizing other apps in conjunction with Book Creator. Additional webinars are planned for this summer.
Whether you utilize traditional materials or a tech-based program to help keep the educational fires burning brightly, summer need not mean a break from meaningful learning for you or your students. Summer provides a unique opportunity for hands-on, family-based learning, which should be encouraged and cultivated so students return in the fall refreshed and eager to learn new things.
Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur, MAAT, is editor of TodaysCatholicHomeschooling.com
and is a homeschooling mother of three children.
Image credit: Shutterstock 442321717
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