Planning Ahead for Summer School: Strategies for Accelerating English Learners' Growth

Planning Ahead For Summer School

Even in winter, summer has the power to summon happy memories—sounds of children splashing in swimming pools or laughter as they rush around the neighborhood playing tag, to the feel of sun-soaked warmth on bare feet. The freedom of summer can be joyous. For many long-term English learners, the season starts with the knowledge that they have overcome a major hurdle—or made great strides—with their academic language during the school year. It's important that they maintain their confidence and progress even while they're enjoying the sunshine and long days.

In today's era of rigorous performance standards, it is more imperative than ever that English learners avoid the precipitous drop-off in growth that can occur as a result of summer learning loss. This is important for all English learners across the grades, and it's more urgent for long-term English learners (LTELs) in Grades 4–8. These students are reaching a point in their academic careers when the course selection decisions they make in middle school can impact their ability to take the college preparatory courses they'll need in high school for successful college admission.

Confidence and engagement are as essential as academic skills and language growth for success with today's standards. Do English learners feel confident enough in their academic English to take an advanced middle school history class, or will they settle for something known to be easier? Will they be able to refine and grow their command of the nuances of academic language as it applies to a variety of disciplines?

Long-term English Learners have typically acquired proficiency with conversational English (basic interpersonal communication skills), but need to overcome the hurdle of proficiency with academic English (cognitive academic language proficiency). It can be challenging to ensure that they are deeply engaged in the content they're learning across the curriculum, while simultaneously expanding their academic language skills. This is why time spent in summer school can pay high dividends; it provides an added dose of intensive support in an environment that's free of the bustle of a regular school day, and it can be preventative and enriching at the same time.

Summer School can be a time of focused engagement in academic language across the curriculum; and with the right program, it can even be fun and invigorating. Here are some tips for strategizing for optimal summer school success for long-term English learners.

Summer School Strategies for Long-Term English Learners:

  • Offer highly engaging content that supports learning across the curriculum (literary and informational texts, and multimedia in the form of language-rich videos, podcasts, as well as social content, such as blogs).
  • Ensure the content students engage with is at grade level. Offer numerous scaffolds that support grade-level access and achievement, such as:
    • General academic and domain-specific vocabulary support prior to reading
    • Media that builds background
    • Prompts to dig deeper with specific, challenging sections of text
    • Ongoing tips for students across listening, speaking, reading, and writing
    • Support provided at challenging points in a lesson at different levels, depending on what students need—(not too much and not too little).
  • Include online tools that support and enable access to the grade-level content—such as eBook versions of your print books, which provide audio access, give students the ability to highlight and annotate the texts, and enable students to share their online notes with you so that you can seamlessly monitor their language usage and growth.
  • Organize content by unit topics. This provides LTELs with opportunities to deepen their conceptual knowledge and their understanding of how academic language works across different types of texts within the same topic.
  • Most importantly, ensure that academic language learning is an active process in which students use their growing language to communicate across all language modalities—listening, speaking, reading, and writing. We cannot limit our LTELs to language usage tied to scripted call-and-response teaching. They must be able to expand on their language skills in a variety of ways through:
    • Collaborative discussions with peers on the topics they're learning about
    • Active, collaborative work on brief and extended projects and performance tasks
    • Writing for a variety of purposes in response to what they are reading
    • Sharing responses to curated online resources in a teacher-monitored social media outlet

I know, you're probably now thinking, but summer is short; how can I possibly pull all this cool content together? My response is to consider a comprehensive program that offers all of the above in different formats to accommodate and allow for time and flexibility. After all, you too will want, and need, to preserve some time to feel the warm beach sand between your toes!

For more on successful strategies to engage and motivate English learners, see Escalate English.

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