Strategies and Activities to Prevent Summer Slide

As we navigate the impact of the pandemic on all aspects of our lives, we focus on what we’ve learned since spring 2020 and how to implement this knowledge to recover and rethink education.

We’ve seen great examples of learning at any time from any place, so it seems we should set aside old thinking—like the idea that learning stops when summer starts. In fact, proposing that students should take a break from learning has a negative effect on student achievement.

I’m a huge fan of the work of John Hattie, who has prepared a list of 250+ influences on student achievement. Here’s where doing nothing in the summer stacks up:

Summer vacation effect: -0.02
Likely to have a negative effect on student achievement

We know that throughout the pandemic, most students experienced at least some interruption in their schooling and may have not reached their full potential. That said, we also know children and youth learned and grew academically and socially due to the exceptional work of educators. Let’s look at what Hattie’s list of influences has to say about continued learning during the summer:

Summer School: +0.23
Likely to have a positive effect on student achievement

In some cases, summer school is perceived negatively, so how does something potentially efficacious earn a bad reputation? Perhaps it’s because it’s you typically have to attend summer school if you didn’t pass a test or get a good grade. What if we rethought summer school as a strategy for accelerating learning for all students? In so doing, perhaps we could move summer school into the most efficacious area on Hattie’s list: the blue zone, where we could potentially accelerate student achievement.

How to Avoid the Summer Slide

To start a movement to promote summer school for all, let’s rebrand it as summer learning. With that in mind, here are ideas and tips for adopting a positive mindset about keeping students engaged and learning all year long—plus, we’ve included some activities to prevent summer slide, too.

Encourage Daily Reading

The “summer slide” includes the period when students lose ground in reading because they take a break from books altogether over the summer, research shows. The effects can be cumulative.

Let’s take this opportunity to refocus on gaining ground over the course of the summer. Reading voluminously is known to positively affect student learning, so the most important task will be for you to get books for your classroom—for the current school year and summer school students. This can be in both the traditional and digital formats, as both have positive and different impacts on building reading brains, according to Maryanne Wolf in Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World.

On the digital front, the state education department of Delaware is offering an online library of 3 million eBooks to all students! Library systems are also gradually reopening and are always go-to sources for books in all formats. Often, libraries offer incentive programs for summer reading.

As important as it is to access books, it’s not enough to just pile them on; you need to match students with appropriate texts through scaffolding and helping them discover their interests. Before students take off for the summer, help them identify a range of texts to read. Also, reinforce the best practices for independent reading they have practiced throughout the school year. Here are some “Do Nows” for making the upcoming months a summer of learning. These will work whether students are in the physical classroom or at home.

  • Co-develop a reading list with students. This can include recommendations that fall into categories such as “My Favorite Book of 2021.” Students will enjoy seeing their names in print as recommenders!
  • Identify resources in your community for getting access to great texts in all formats.
  • Leverage the executive function skills, which may include setting goals like the number of books or words to read and planning for time to read.

Take Learning Outside

This concept had some solid research behind it before the pandemic and is gaining momentum now. With the better weather plus the experiences gleaned during the pandemic, it looks like outdoor learning has staying power and will become part of what we consider schooling in the future, let alone the remainder of this school year and summer school.

Outdoor learning embodies two big ideas. One is to consider the outdoors a classroom with places to explore and learn about as part of better understanding our environment. Another is to go outside for any subject and take advantage of the safety of a well-planned outdoor space. Having variety in spaces to learn can have various benefits.

“Outdoor learning has staying power and will become part of what we consider schooling in the future.“

One pre-pandemic study demonstrated that outdoor learning, in this case learning about nature, positively impacted learning by boosting student motivation, enjoyment, and engagement in calmer, safer environments. The experience contributed to reduced stress and restored attention among students as well.

There are so many places and spaces for learning that we may not have even taken note of yet! My elementary students loved a lesson where we measured the schoolyard using a measuring wheel. We even presented ideas for using the space better for play and quiet for those students who wanted a choice. Here is the only Do Now you need for taking learning outside.

Check in on All Students

All students learned and experienced this last school year in different ways socially, academically, and even physically. This is a good time to check in and make recommendations to students for summer and the next school year. Some students may have learning gaps due to interruptions and distractions, and some may have made gains. Students may have experienced both on a subject-by-subject basis.

Also, our children need safe spaces to record their own experiences and express how they are doing and feeling. The end-of-school activities we are familiar with (like writing a letter to your future self, summaries of a favorite book or bravest action, or discussing a hope for the future) may be used as informal assessments. And end-of-the-year formative assessments can contribute to a final and wholistic profile of the student.

Most students will have the opportunity for in-person or online extended learning experiences. New funds are being invested in tutoring and formal summer programs. With the promise of one-to-one computing inching closer to reality, tailored experiences can be made available to students who may not be able to travel somewhere outside of home.

Here are the Do Nows that will transform the notion of summer school as remediation to summer learning as accelerating learning for all:

  • Administer low-stakes assessments and surveys to find out how students are doing socially and academically.
  • Update student profiles to provide for continuous learning during the summer and beyond.
  • Change the narrative from “what I did during summer vacation” to “what I learned on my summer vacation.”

Prioritizing Summer Learning Loss Prevention

As we rethink shifting from a more deficit-focused mindset to a more asset-based one, rebranding summer school to “summer learning” moves us in the direction of accelerating learning for all. As a summer school graduate myself, I was happy to have more time to read what I wanted, to play math games, and even to make a lanyard.

It’s my hope that our children and youth have access to a variety of safe spaces and places conducive to promoting all aspects of their development. Let the planning begin to avoid the summer slide!

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