Making Summer School Less of a Drag

Teaching summer school is the perfect opportunity for experimenting and expanding your classroom repertoire.

By Eliana Osborn

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Group of kids

I like to think about summer school as an experiment—a condensed time period where I can step outside my routines and comfort zone to see if there is a better way. Most of the time, your students have been through the class before, so a shift in the norm can be a fresh, positive start for everyone. Take a look at the following ideas for changing things up.

Examine Your Classroom Design

Are you a fan of small groups or neatly ordered rows? Is your classroom full of bright colors, or more along the lines of calming neutrals? Researchers from a university in England looked at aspects of physical space in the classroom to see how such factors correlated to student success. Here is an excerpt from their findings:

“Six of the design parameters--color, choice, complexity, flexibility, connection, and light--had a significant effect on learning. Light, as mentioned above, concerns the amount of natural light in the classroom and the quality of the electrical lights it contains. Choice has to do with the quality of the furniture in the classroom, as well as providing 'interesting' and ergonomic tables and chairs for pupils. Complexity and color both have to do with providing an ample amount of visual stimulation for students in the classroom.” 

What does this mean for you on a limited to nonexistent budget? You can read the full study results at this link for some ideas, but perhaps you could try something as simple as making sure your walls are visually stimulating. That means a mix of art, texture, student work, study materials, and more. If you aren’t sure what works and what doesn’t, invite in an impartial child to your classroom and have her walk around, telling you what she is drawn to.

Analyze Classroom Motivation and Discipline

Have you ever wanted to try a different system for consequences? It is scary to take the leap and commit to something new for the whole year, so a trial run during summer school might be just the right format. The old standby red, yellow, green behavior scale can get stale for kids if they use it with every teacher. 

How about a token system that has the whole class working together? Here’s a great example of using any kind of small object as tokens for calling on learners, rewarding them, and penalizing them as well.

I’m a big fan of funny quiet signals—the thing everyone does to show that it is time to refocus on the teacher. My son’s kindergarten class used the bubble face: cheeks puffed out as large as possible. Believe it or not, this proves to be highly effective for getting kids' attention, keeping mouths closed, and making everyone look a little silly.  Maybe you flicker the light switch or sound chimes. Whatever you do, if it isn’t working as well as it used to, then it might be time to explore other options.

Practice Pacing Your Lessons

The content you cover in your course is probably set in stone, whether by the state or the district. What you can control is the order and speed at which you cover that material. Except in rare circumstances, summer school can be a chance for you to move things around to see if there’s a better way to teach certain concepts. For example, do you usually cover grammar at the start of a term, and then move into types of writing? Maybe you could switch and do mini-grammar units while working on bigger writing projects instead. Whatever your field, looking at it through new eyes and moving around the curriculum pieces can often yield positive results.

Explore These Classroom Variations:

Transitions for Classroom Management

Make transition times run smoothly in your room to ensure good use of time. Use humor and games to practice these lost moments before you run into problems.

Participating in Discussions

Brainstorm class guidelines for group discussions. Talking about acceptable comments and respectful communication will foster an environment where all can be heard.

Rewarding the Good

Acknowledge and compensate those who show kindness and good character. Create a classroom system for catching others doing good things.