Teaching summer school as an ELA teacher? Answer these questions before you begin.
I taught summer school three times, and each time, I loved it. That’s not an exaggeration; I really enjoyed myself.
Why? Well, each class was small. Students knew me well, and we could sit on the floor and openly discuss confusion. I had lots of freedom over content.
Plus, all students knew they were in summer school because taking the class the first time didn’t work out. This admittance removed any facades the students felt they should have around their peers.
Even though summer school was a pleasant experience, I didn’t feel immediate success.
The first time teaching summer school, I did many lessons on short notice because I didn’t have enough of a feeling for what to expect. I also rewrote many plans. Looking back, I could have prepared more by asking a few questions beforehand.
When you are teaching summer school, answer these questions before you begin.
What are expectations for this class? Which standards do I use?
Understand what students should leave the class knowing. Your department chair or principal should give you an idea. It might simply be the standards for the class! Ask if the expectation is that students write a paper or if alternative assignments are acceptable. Do you need to teach a specific novel or short story? Are you free to choose what to read?
The class you are teaching may have a curriculum, but for teaching a class in a short period of time, you will need to adjust. Ask if anything cannot be eliminated and plan from there.
Realize that the students have been through the class once, so you might not need to introduce the concepts; you may need to review them in a different manner. Consider previous approaches and think of a different (scaffolded, technological) way to present the information.
After you understand the goals for the class, think about where your students are headed…
What class are these students headed for?
To get students to Point C (the next class), look at what you should make Point A and Point B.
I wanted my summer school students to feel prepared and confident for the next step, so I developed the class seriously; Points A and B needed to matter.
For example, if you are teaching a freshmen summer class, look at what sophomores will need to know. Create those steps that will allow students to step into that next class with confidence.
Keep in mind that Points A and B probably will not be the same as during the normal school year. These students have heard some of this information before. They still need to learn it, but they probably need to learn in a different way. That means you should ask…
What will interest students the most?
Summer school is long—many hours packed into one day. Don’t choose literature or nonfiction that your students will dislike. Don’t teach texts that you find uncomfortable.
Summer school allows a bit more freedom. For me, if I met the standards, I could teach whatever literature I wanted.
That meant I created activities and assessments from short stories outside of the textbook. I found high-interest stories and then developed grammar lessons from the stories. Students chose their own assessment, and some chose a test!
For interest, I really allowed students to have choice. I was lucky; my school had several sets of novels we could read. I let students vote! They really appreciated it.
It frightened me the first time I was teaching summer school. Aside from the overall standards, I decided everything else. These kids didn’t find success through this class the first time, and I wanted them prepared for the next level. I very much felt that I had a responsibility for them not to become a statistic.
Reflecting, my nerves through summer school would have been calmer if I had known which questions to ask before planning. What I eventually developed looked like this:
After you know the standards and expectations, you’ll know where to start with grammar. If your school works toward language standards, students will be lost the following year if they don’t work with grammar.
Students might feel ill-equipped to work on grammar, so I purposefully:
- built on prior knowledge
- built confidence
If you don’t know students, give a quick pre-test and stress with students that the assessment will show their growth and will not be for a grade. I take into account that these students are probably in summer school because they didn’t earn a credit. Highlighting their growth really builds community and student buy-in.
Decide where the most dire deficients are and work from there. (I typically grab sticky notes and a paper copy of the standards.) Then, start with an activity that will engage students and set them up for success like an adjective one-pager. From that activity, you can naturally transition into vocabulary or writing.
Hands-on grammar works well for discussing parts of a sentence, parts of speech, and sentence structure. With grammar manipulatives, you can teach punctuation rules, even tricky punctuation like semicolons. Because students work at their own pace, the activity is easily differentiated.
You might chunk grammar lessons too. For instance if students should understand and apply active and passive voice, start with a manageable chunk. Students should understand subjects, verbs, and prepositional phrases. Review that information, and then build to verb voice. As you continue working with grammar concepts, you can apply them to student writing.
During summer school, I provide fast feedback for students with their written responses to literature. I mentioned that I frequently teach short stories, and the short writing assignments lend themselves to those. I’ve always had small classes during summer and been able to conference with students. I keep a running list of errors that need targeted practice. This checklist and the assessment from the grammar pre-test allow for greater differentiation.
If you write a formal paper while teaching summer school, model the process with students. A large paper overwhelms many students, and students taking summer school might absolutely fear them.
When I teach apprehensive students, I might write the entire paper with them. If I look at the large picture of their lives, I want students to be capable of writing for their next step in life. The modeling might be a bit of a gradual-release, but not always.
Other writing options include a literary analysis essay, media literacy response, or an argumentative letter.
I sprinkle informational texts with literature, and doing so allows me to frame an essential question all students will be successful at answering.
For instance, I once taught Of Mice and Men during a summer session. You can add an excerpt of “Harvest Gypsies” and a piece about current migrant workers. You could center the essential question around treatment of migrants. These readings and discussions will spurn discussion and will lend themselves to writing. Tying literature and informational texts together helps me accomplish more in a shortened summer class.
Finally, I provide student choice whenever I can. I believe many students struggle because they can’t convey their understanding. Since graphic organizers lend themselves to scaffolding, I’ll ask students to choose one to show their analysis of a story.
Summer school provides a unique opportunity to reach students who didn’t earn credit for perhaps a variety of reasons. Helping them enjoy and understand literature boosts their success.
Experienced summer school teachers, what questions would you ask? What activities engaged your students? Take these ideas and make them your own, and enjoy teaching summer school. I certainly did.
Looking for more summer school curriculum ideas? Reading and Writing Haven has you covered with her post.