Monday, April 22, 2013

Summer Slide by Mikey Smith, M. Ed

Each year around the end of May, the school year ends and a countdown of sorts begins as parents wait for their children to utter those two little words: “I’m BORED!” While it can be annoying to hear your child complain about boredom incessantly, enrolling him or her in some sort of summer program or camp might not only save your sanity, it could also help your child avoid something researchers have termed “Summer Slide.” 

Although it sounds like a cool ride at a water park, Summer Slide is no fun at all -- the term refers to the learning loss the average student suffers each summer. Research shows that many students, particularly those not involved in some sort of engaging, constructive summer activity, start the next school year a month behind where they should be. For students who are on grade level, the idea of losing a month or more of learning is alarming, but for those students who might not be performing at grade level in the first place, Summer Slide can be catastrophic.  As students get older, the subject material covered in every subject each school year becomes more and more complex, making it harder and harder to re-learn topics at the beginning of each year. Moreover, many concepts build on one another because courses are vertically aligned, meaning that if a student lacks the basic concepts, it is impossible for them to move forward in their learning. 

While Summer Slide clearly affects individual students each year, teachers also suffer the consequences as they must start each new school year not with new material, but with in-depth reviews of material that was learned the prior year. Bertha Bishop, who teaches multiple grade levels, has a unique perspective on Summer Slide. Since she teaches Spanish to students in many different grades, she is able to chart the progress of students from one year to the next. She also knows exactly what she teaches from year to year, and where students should be upon entering the next grade level. In her experience, however, most students do not start the year ready for new material, and Bishop, like most teachers, must review for the first few weeks of school. 

She notes, however, that reviewing is not limited to the beginning of the year. “At least twice a month I have to stop and review something from a previous year,” Bishop says. “The older students seem especially forgetful when it comes to grammatical concepts and vocabulary.” Reviewing prior learning is of course integral to strong teaching, but having to review key concepts frequently before moving on puts classes behind. This makes it almost impossible for teachers to cover all the concepts they need to cover in order for students to be ready not only for the next grade level, but also for the standardized tests each year brings. 

So what can parents do to combat Summer Slide and help students start the next school year strong? One of the best tools to help combat learning loss is to enroll students in engaging, well-executed summer programs or camps. Bishop, who must remediate summer learning loss of students in her classroom each year, tries to prevent Summer Slide in her own fourth grader by enrolling her in a variety of summer programs. “She seems to get lazy when she’s just left to her own ‘schedule’ and just lays around. She needs to be pushed to do things and, especially, stick to them and finish them,” Bishop says.  “I like it when she has things to look forward to, but I don’t overschedule her either. She has plenty of “do-nothing” time as well.”

Striking this delicate balance between organized activities and down time is as important as finding a program that is a good fit for each individual student. While enrolling students in academically oriented courses seems like a no-brainer in the battle against Summer Slide, research has also shown that students who are engaged in physical activity reap academic benefits as well. This is great news for parents of students who would rather stick a fork in their eyeballs than attend a summer writing or math camp! 

Parents can also take many steps to help their students avoid summer learning loss by engaging them in simple, at-home learning activities. Many schools, for example require or at least recommend summer reading for their students. If your child’s school doesn’t offer such a program, your local library more than likely does. Parents can also log onto a variety of websites to find high-interest summer reading recommendations for students, including:

Taking an active interest in what a student is learning can also help parents to incorporate learning experiences into everyday life throughout the entire year, summer included. “Keeping up with what students are learning could help parents make connections with children later,” Bishop says. “If my daughter is learning percentages for instance, I can ask her to figure one out when we go shopping sometime. Whatever she is studying in language arts or social studies may lead us to a certain book at the bookstore.” Combining formal summer programs with engaging at-home discussions and activities can not only help your student avoid Summer Slide, but can bring your family closer together. Who doesn’t want that? 

Interested in learning more about academic and athletic summer camps? Raising the Bar offers over 150 sessions of 47 different courses to 2nd – 9th graders, ensuring that we have something for EVERYONE! To find out more, log onto the summer section of the RTB website TODAY!

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