4 Tips to Address Math Summer Slide

Every year, math teachers must contend with “summer slide,” or the annual forgetting of math knowledge that happens away from school. On average, students forget around 2.6 months worth of math skills every summer, a number that is worse than in reading and exacerbated in districts with a lower socioeconomic status.

With the additional weeks of lost learning in the spring, students will need extra support this fall. Luckily, there are tools you can use to address this early in the year and get your students not only back on track, but also primed for yearlong success.

Try These 4 Tips to Combat Summer Slide

1. Extend math learning beyond school hours

This tip doesn’t mean giving students more homework; it means thinking about how students’ interests and activities outside of school can keep them flexing their math brains. For example, if a student likes playing video games, facilitate a math project that requires collecting data or creating charts about a game they like to play. Or, if a student likes to help their family with cooking, encourage the family to talk about measurements, fractions, and ratios when cooking.

Supporting students’ math learning outside of class may also involve providing families with helpful activities, vocabulary, or lessons. Research shows that when parents are anxious about math, their fears can impact their children’s own attitudes and performance. The extra time spent with family over the last few months means students may have absorbed some of their math-fearing family members’ beliefs. You can help students and their families feel more comfortable and confident in math with simple at-home math activities or by calling attention to everyday tasks that lend themselves to math-positive conversations.

2. Build growth mindset in math instruction

Summer slide can result in a dangerous cycle for students: they feel like they’re not “math people,” lose skills over the summer, then fall even further behind the following year. This seemingly validates their beliefs that they’re not “math people.”

To help students reshape their math self-image and boost their confidence, cultivate a growth mindset in your classroom from the very first day. Use growth-minded language and phrases in class, such as “change is possible” and “failure isn’t the end of the world—it’s an opportunity to learn.”

To break the cycle and instill more positive beliefs about math, words need to be backed up by actions. If you tell students you value problem-solving more than correct answers, how will you show them this is true? One strategy is to play math games that encourage students to solve problems in different ways instead of focusing on correct.

3. Get students to read, read, read

The students who are hurt the most by a summer—and in this case, nearly two summers—away from school are English learners and students who otherwise need intensive intervention. These tips are about math class, but math can’t be discussed and employed without language. Improving students’ reading ability will reap gains in math class, too, and in the long term, will help them catch up.

Look for math readers that your students can use or find age-appropriate math-themed books to read as a class. Even books without a math theme can be used so long you call attention to numbers, shapes, measurements, and other mathematical ideas that are found within the story. You can also have students keep a math diary and reflect in words about their challenges and achievements after each math unit. And, even if it must be done online for now, have students engage in discussions about math and encourage them to reflect in writing about their discussions. It’s important for as much discourse as possible to happen with the other students able to hear and participate.

4. Differentiate learning

I imagine nearly every teacher reading this already differentiates their lessons. But this fall, differentiated learning isn’t just a best classroom practice, it’s key to addressing summer slide. Given the current limitations on in-person learning, schools must focus on ramped-up assessment, targeted and differentiated instruction, and, whenever possible, one-on-one tutoring.

This year, it will be critical to understand where students are when they enter your classroom, whether that’s a physical room or your group video chat. Not all students will have forgotten the same content from last year, so make a plan to ensure all students get the refresher they need instead of a whole-class review.

If it’s feasible, have students retake end-of-year, end-of-semester, or end-of-quarter exams to test their knowledge. If your students made study sheets or flash cards (physical or digital), motivate them to revisit those past resources and give you the tools to get the right content in front of the right students. Remember to encourage all students at all levels of learning that growth and success are possible.

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There are many strategies out there to help students accelerate their learning. Our free guide on accelerating learning was designed by top learning scientists and outlines actionable strategies you can implement the next day.