Aside from the fact that summer school inevitably fell during the 20 most beautiful days in July, I rather enjoy teaching summer school. I’ve always been big on second chances. Plus, I tried to make it as fun for me as for the students.
I did have some parent complaints, though, about my summer school classes. Seems they thought it was supposed to be a punishment. I just can’t get behind making education a punishment. In fact, I tried to make the experience pleasant and engaging for my students and myself.
Here are some of the things that helped make my 20 days of Summer School enjoyable, in spite of the enticing, beautiful weather out side.
- Be careful re-teaching the same books or activities– know your audience. Your summer school students might be there for attendance reasons. Or they may have completed select readings from the course they failed. Repeating the same readings may instill in them additional information missed the first time. Or it may bore them, increasingly the likelihood of misbehavior.
- Personally, I prefer to pick something wildly different that the local high schools tend not to use. It increases my chances of engaging the students in large part because they’re not likely to have read it before (nor will they read it again.)
- Include Choice. Students may not have a choice of being in summer school. Even some who “chose” to be there may very well be attending under duress, such as from highly displeased parents. Allowing choice in projects or readings allows them some measure of control over the experience. And if they have some control, they’re less likely to try to fight me for control. After all, these generally aren’t the studious, well-mannered students who are in summer school. They’re still good kids, but they may be more prone to missteps in behavior.
- Task Cards, Student Contract or Choice Boards are great for offering choice. Even something as simple as allowing a prediction to be written as a narrative or drawn as a comic strip (focus on predicting, rather than writing).
- Use projects with a variety of types of activities. Great if also including choice. If summer school uses block scheduling (of a sort), then you’ll be staring at the same students for 2, 3, or even 4 hours a day, several days a week. Reading or writing for that whole stretch would be arduous for all involved. Projects allow flexible movement in the classroom and can be intermingled with other tasks, like mini-lessons or related readings. In particular I enjoy real-world projects for high engagement.
- Bonus: projects tend to be faster to grade as well, which can help with keeping on top of student grades, so they are continually aware of their standing. I liked to give grades on Thursday, then threaten to call home on Friday about missing work– very motivating!
- Balance rigor with accessibility in tasks. Unlike a traditional classroom where you will have ample time to get to know your students and their work over the course of a couple weeks (or more), the summer school classroom has no time to spend on getting to know. When selecting texts, consider keep the texts accessible– say on or slightly below grade level– so you can catch most of the students. Then, use the projects or assignments to allow and push students to higher level thinking.
- Be Flexible. It’s like the last month of school, but it’s the only time you have with these students. The weather is likely very nice– your classroom… may not be.
- Be flexible on the stories and activities. Be flexible on which normal school rules you can be lenient on or ways to make the classroom more relaxed. Consider low-stakes quizzes and projects over unit tests and in-depth formal research papers.
Lastly, for me, it was important to keep in mind that this was my summer, too. If I was poring over tons of summer school essays and reading questions, then I was spending my summer still teaching at the same sort of level– or above– as during the school year. It’s important to fully recharge during the summer so we can be prepared to tackled the long school year. (Or at least make it until Christmas Break!) In this way, projects and engaging texts combined with flexibility and moderate content helped me still enjoy enough of my summer to recharge.