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Help Students Beat the "Summer Slide" in ELA

Terry Heick

founder/director at teachthought. humanist. technologist. futurist. macro thinker extraordinaire.
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Summer is nearly here, which probably has you giddy, overwhelmed, and pensive all at once.

It's time to relax, but there's no time to relax because . . . next year will be here before you know it . . . and you've got three national conferences and two district trainings and a school "thing" that you're not really sure what it is but you know you have to be there . . . and if one person says to you, "Hey, but you get summers off," you're afraid of what you'll say back . . .

And you also just read an article about "the summer slide" that can essentially undo a significant chunk of the progress your students have made this year -- especially those students who needed that progress the most.

Deep breath.

How does it make sense for you to respond?

What can you do to help mitigate the loss of academic progress in English language arts? If we can agree to focus on reading and writing (rather than grammar or speaking, for example), the following tips can help.

8 Tips to Stem the Summer Slide in ELA

1. Stay in Touch with Students

It doesn't even have to be on academic terms. Staying in touch with your students can help them in a variety of ways, from learning to continue professional relationships, to offering advice and resources in a pinch, to stabilizing the lives of some students that need it most.

2. Send Them Home With Books and Magazines

On the last day of school, send students home with free books, magazines, or anything you think there might be the slightest chance that they'll read.

If you've got certain students who really, really need to keep their literacy skills fresh -- and if you're worried that they may not accept your gift of free magazines -- create individual bundles for students. Personalize them based on content (automotive or sports car magazines, for example), or form (comic books, short stories, etc.).

You can also invite them back to class after other students have left, or even call home to arrange a pickup or drop-off.

3. Meet Students at Their Local Library

Pick one day a month to meet students at a library that's local to them. Even if you have to pick three or four libraries to get to everyone, if you spend 90 minutes at each, you're still only talking about one afternoon a month. You can use this time to meet with students from last year, or get to know students from next year's class.

What should you do? Literary scavenger hunt. Young authors' meeting. Poetry hour. So many options!

4. Start a Reading Program

Whether it's a contest, a book exchange, or a team-based competition; whether or not it uses points, has prizes, or is just for pride; whether it's physical or digital -- however you do it, create even a very basic program that will make students feel compelled to read during the summer.

Let them know that their reading is valued, and that it matters outside the classroom.

5. Start a Digital Book Club

Speaking of reading programs and book clubs, digital reading is now more accessible than ever thanks to free eBooks, less expensive eReaders, and more powerful smartphones. Even two- or three-year-old smartphones can handle most current reading apps, such as Kindle's reader.

You can create a basic blog or Pinterest page, for example, and curate trending books that your students might like, or interesting free eBooks that they may not otherwise consider. Figure out a way to start a digital conversation about a digital book they can read anywhere, and you're on to something!

6. Encourage Students to Blog

As important as reading is, writing is just as important. While you'd certainly want to limit academic writing in the summer, blogging is incredibly flexible. It can be about any topic using any form with any number of embeddable digital artifacts. It can be about pop culture, music, shopping, friendship, technology, video games -- whatever interests the student.

7. Frame Simple Ongoing Projects

Give students ongoing projects -- blogs to keep up, businesses to run, art portfolios to maintain, stories to write, community projects to be a part of. Anything will work if it keeps them feeling valued and plugged in.

8. Hand-Pick MOOCs

If you want more than reading and writing, there are hundreds of quality eLearning courses from dozens of credible sources to keep students busy. And while you may be concerned with "letting kids be kids" during the summer, most MOOCs that I've seen have, at most, weekly assignments. These could be finished -- or modified to be finished -- in an hour or two per week.

All of this is hardly summer-stifling stuff. If there's anything you can add to this list, please tell us about it in the comments section below.

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Joyce Zito's picture
Joyce Zito
Middle school language arts teacher

These are all wonderful ideas! My school always implements a summer reading program, but I love the idea of creating a digital book club or blog where students can discuss the books as they read. It would be much more meaningful to discuss the books as they are reading them, as opposed to the first week back at school.
My school is implementing 1:1 iPads this coming year, so I thought it would be neat for the students to create iTrailers for their favorite book. It would be kind of like a book talk, but more fun! The students could pair up with someone in their class who also read that particular book, or work with family members to act out their book trailer. It wouldn't seem like work to the kids, but would involve creative and critical thinking..two skills we don't want our students to lose over the summer.
Thank you for all of your great ideas! I am a new member of edutopia and I look forward to following your blog.

Daren Howard's picture
Daren Howard
Expanded Learning Coach and Advocate

I love these suggestions and I hope more and more teachers begin to treat summer this way. That said, this post seems to undervalue the non-cognitive learning that occurs when students go to museums, camp, and travel. If I were making these kinds of recommendations to administrators, I would focus on #7. These small projects are a great start, especially if you don't have a more robust program like those we have researched at Summer Matters.

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