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From Boredom to Brilliance: 10 Tips for Crafting an Engaging Summer School Experience

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June 12, 2024


Summertime – it’s the season for fresh lemonade, toes in the sand, and lots of relaxation.

Unless you’re teaching summer school, that is.

For many of us, the idea of teaching summer school isn’t necessarily a pleasant one. We might be bummed about the loss of “recharge” time – something so many of us need in order to return feeling refreshed in September – or, perhaps even more often, we might be concerned that we aren’t reaching our students as effectively as we could be.

Summer school tends to have positive effects on student achievement, helping to reverse summer learning loss, achieve learning gains, and boost overall student success. However, very few students actually enjoy the experience of attending summer school.

We want this post to change that!

When done correctly, summer school can engage and excite students in all kinds of new ways – and it can leave you feeling inspired as their teacher, too. In this post, we’ll tell you how to upgrade your summer school curriculum so you can keep your students immersed in their learning right up until Labor Day.

10 Tips for Crafting an Engaging Summer School Experience

summer school kid with popsicles

Ready to make a splash this summer? The good news is that you don’t have to be by the beach to do it. Here are some of the best tips for creating an engaging summer school experience.

1. Encourage Attendance

This might sound obvious, but for students to succeed in summer school, they actually…well, they actually need to be there.

Attendance rates for summer school are historically poor – even worse than they are for students throughout the rest of the year, by about 20 to 30%.

Unsurprisingly, it’s only the students who show up who end up making progress. 

So how do you get students to attend?

There are a few ideas. The most obvious is coming into the experience with a friendly, positive attitude. Show your students that you’re happy to see them and you’re glad they’re there.

Also, if possible, make the program as engaging as possible. Your curriculum doesn’t have to be solely focused on reading and math. Instead, you might want to consider incorporating field trips, art, music, and athletics (more on this later).

2. Call Home

Before summer school even starts, take some time to ring home. Talk to the students’ parents and talk to them about any barriers that might exist for having their child in summer school.

Be open about any concerns you have and start a friendly dialogue with the parents of the students in yoru class. Make sure they know they can contact you at any time if they have concerns about their child’s progress. 

3. Go With the Flow

As flexible and adaptable (and able to think on the fly!) As you have to be a teacher during the normal school year, the challenge is tripled during summer school.

Summer classes tend to be short, and you won’t have a lot of time to spend with your students. Don’t get too discouraged if you can’t squeeze a full curriculum into the calendar. Don’t push topics or activities that don’t work well with yoru students. Instead, be okay with making quick decisions that benefit you and your students in both the long- and short-term.

4. Less is More

Again, don’t expect to cram everything into a short window. This will only stress your students (and yourself) more. 

Carefully consider the most important concepts and units you want to cover. Organize your materials ahead of time, then plan your curriculum around your goals. Aim to go a mile deep rather than a mile wide – aim for depth, not breadth. 

Here are a few more tips for managing your time (and expectations):

  • Encourage cooperative learning with reading groups, research teams, and writing groups.
  • Minimize written assignments – if you do them, keep them short and manageable.
  • Include participation as a key component of the grade (this can also help with the attendance issues as described above).
  • Bargain with homework. Tell the students that if their work gets done in class, they won’t have to have any homework.

5. Make the Curriculum Meaningful

Let’s be honest – this is something you really need to be doing year-round, but it’s even more important when you have students in summer school. You’ve got to make that curriculum count! Busy work has no place here.

Take every opportunity you can to relate the curriculum back to real life. Connect students with topics that interest them and try to allow more flexibility for creative projects and those that are personally tailored to each student’s unique interests.

6. Let Them Choose

There’s a good chance that you’ll be teaching a much smaller class during the summer than you might in your regular, year-round classroom.

Because of this, you have much more flexibility in how you choose to structure your days. Whenever possible, let your students choose their own adventures for the day.

Here are some ideas:

  • Offer project choices with varying topics or formats to cater to diverse student interests and learning styles.
  • Implement flexible seating arrangements, allowing students to select where they work best in the classroom.
  • Provide options for assignments, such as different prompts or creative mediums, empowering students to showcase their strengths.
  • Incorporate student-led discussions or debates on topics of interest chosen by the class.
  • Allow students to pick their group members for collaborative projects, fostering teamwork and accountability.
  • Introduce choice boards or menus for independent activities, enabling students to select tasks that align with their preferences.
  • Encourage self-paced learning by offering a range of resources or activities for students to choose from based on their readiness and curiosity.
  • Incorporate technology tools that allow for personalized learning pathways, giving students autonomy in how they engage with content.
  • Facilitate student-driven goal-setting sessions, where learners can choose their objectives and track progress towards achievement.
  • Organize themed days or events suggested by students, promoting engagement and ownership of the classroom experience.

7. Offer Rewards

You may need to double up on extrinsic motivation when it comes to summer school. Chances are, there are about fifty places your students would rather be on a bright, sunny August day than sitting in a classroom.

Provide incentives like ice cream parties, movie days, and extra outside time to help entice your students to get their work done. You don’t need to get too elaborate – a little goes a long way.

8. Get Silly

Again, this should be part of your everyday teaching philosophy, not just during the summer, but do your best to not take yourself too seriously! Crack a few jokes, including funny curriculum resources like the ones from Stanfield Company, and make things as lighthearted as possible.

9. Get Outside

Don’t waste the beautiful summer weather by spending it all indoors. Whenever possible, take your teaching outside.

Whether it’s doing your lectures in the school soccer field or taking yoru class on a nature hike, make sure plenty of fresh air is at the top of your priority list.

10. Have Realistic Expectations

At the end of the day, you can only do what you can do. You only have a couple of months to work with these students, and while you might not be able to expect massive gains, at the very least, you can prevent the summer slide with the right kind of academic programming.

While the academic gains you’ll see from summer school aren’t huge, they aren’t trivial  – they’re what you’d see from a few extra weeks of school. Plus, summer school offers all kinds of intangible benefits, too, like helping students reconnect with their friends and keeping them engaged in school so it’s easier for them to jump back in come September. 

Final Thoughts

summer school

When it comes to converting boredom to brilliance and crafting an engaging summer school experience for your students, remember that each day is a chance to spark creativity, learn something new, and make unforgettable memories.

As you navigate through the sunny days of summer learning, let curiosity be your compass, laughter be your soundtrack, and kindness be your constant companion. 

Whether you’re exploring new books, trying out exciting projects, or sharing stories with friends, seize every moment as an opportunity to shine just as bright as that summer sun.

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