As a past teacher and curriculum director, my least favorite time of the year was when we started planning for summer school. Trying to find curriculum that was condensed enough for the short six weeks of summer school yet robust and coherent enough to meet the needs of a wide variety of learners was always a challenge. Getting teachers to give additional summer hours to collect materials or browse the web for ideas meant they spent more time finding and collecting and less time planning how to bring math to life for students. What my more than 20 years of experience has taught me is that there are some keys to ensuring a successful summer school experience for both teachers and students.
1. Curriculum choice matters.
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. This is especially true when it comes to a summer school curriculum. We knew that if we wanted to move the needle of achievement for students attending summer school, we had to provide learning experiences that were not more of the same.
We wanted to give students more opportunities to explore mathematical ideas using tools, visual models, and language to help them make sense of the math we needed them to learn. We also knew students needed support in connecting conceptual understanding to more abstract representations. Our challenge was to find a way for students to see the math unfold in a coherent way so that they could continue to connect one mathematical idea to the next, rather than see math as set of individual skills.
Why does this matter? Choosing the right resources helps ensure that students have opportunities to get just-in-time support with needed concepts and skills. Summer school teachers are dedicated. Those teachers who volunteer or those who are “volentold” to teach summer school take on a huge time commitment. To honor their time, choosing a resource that includes all of the needed materials, tools, and instructional supports allows them to focus on purposeful planning rather than resource gathering.
2. Engagement is key.
According to Cathy Seeley in her book Faster Isn’t Smarter:
Student engagement means more than having students talk to each other, work in groups, or handle some kind of materials. Student engagement means switching on a student’s brain so that s/he is interacting with mathematics in deep, thoughtful, and meaningful ways.
What we found was that sparking students’ intellectual curiosity through mathematically rich problems, games, and/or relevant contexts helped them see math as more than problems on a page. When our kids began to understand that there are many ways to approach a problem, had a chance to listen and learn from their peers, and connected one concept to the next, they developed more confidence and competence. As result, they started to build a more positive disposition about math.
Why does this matter? A key obstacle in teaching summer school is student motivation. Most students are placed in summer school not by choice but necessity. This requires teachers to spark motivation when motivation is lacking. The mathematical experiences we provide for our students directly impact their motivation to learn. We had to ask ourselves, “Would we want to be a student in our summer school math class?”
3. Take a calculated approach to catching kids up.
Trying to address the needs of the multitude of learners sitting in summer school seemed daunting. Knowing time was limited, every moment needed to be maximized. In Marilyn Burns' article “9 Ways to Catch Kids Up,” she talks about the importance of building numeracy concepts and skills that fall into three areas: computation, number sense, and problem solving. She goes on to identify nine ways teachers can help build on students’ fragile understandings.
- Determine and scaffold the essential mathematics content.
- Pace lessons carefully.
- Build in a routine of support.
- Foster student interaction.
- Make connections explicit.
- Encourage mental calculations.
- Help students use written calculations to track thinking.
- Provide practice.
- Build in vocabulary instruction.
By intentionally implementing many of these nine strategies into our instruction, we were able to tap into students’ prior understandings and build from there.
Why does this matter? John Hattie’s research notes the effect size of the teacher as 1.62. Teachers matter, and the instructional practices they choose to employ have a direct impact on how students advance in their mathematical thinking.
What we discovered over time was when teachers leveraged the right resources, provided opportunities for authentic engagement, and included the right mix of instructional practices, they had the recipe to really move the needle of achievement for all students—but especially those attending summer school.
Mix and match our effective programs for a summer school math curriculum
that drives student growth.