Education insights

Combating the summer slide in the K-12 classroom

The first few weeks of any schoolyear, it can feel like learning happens in slow motion. Not only does it take students a few weeks to re-adjust to school routines, but often their performance suffers due to what is commonly known as the “summer slide.” 

The summer slide is one name for the learning loss students experience over the summer break. Researchers have found that the setbacks can be significant — a 20-36 percent loss in reading skills and a 27-50 percent loss in math skills, depending on factors like their age and family income levels. Further Reading: Why Digital Equity Is More Than Solving Access Issues 

This loss of key knowledge and skills forces teachers to spend the first few weeks of the year reteaching concepts from the prior grade level. 

Many schools have begun combatting the summer slide by assigning summer homework, such as reading and math assignments due at the beginning of the school year. But when learning loss happens anyway, teachers need strategies for helping students get caught up so they can work toward their grade-level-appropriate educational goals.  

Here are five ways educators and schools can recover from the summer slide. 

1. Giving assessments to determine areas of loss

Summer learning loss can vary widely by student, both in content and severity. So it’s a good idea to first get a sense of where each student has fallen behind and to what degree.

Start the school year with an assessment covering key concepts from the previous year. Then, go over the assessment with the entire class, enabling discussion and questions. If possible, ask students to grade their own assessments as you discuss. This will serve the dual purpose of giving students a refresher on key concepts and helping identify areas where they need more assistance.

2. Grouping students for collaborative learning

Another key benefit of conducting a summer slide assessment is it gives you the information you need to group students into learning pairs or teams.

Foster successful collaborative learning by grouping students with others who are strong in the areas where they’re weaker. For the first few days or weeks of class, allow students to work together in these groups to help everyone catch up on key concepts they might have forgotten. You can also ask each group to prepare a presentation on a key concept to share with the class.

3. Personalizing lessons

Knowing where each student has had learning setbacks makes it much easier to personalize lessons at the beginning of the year.
Personalization doesn’t have to mean each student gets their own lesson plan — you can group students into two to three large groups based on commonalities like their proficiency with key concepts, their preferred style of learning, or their subject matter interests. Personalization can also happen spontaneously as you watch students work — you can use your classroom management software to discreetly share new concepts with students who are faster and further along and redirect students who need more assistance. Further Reading: 3 Ways LanSchool Can Make Personalized Learning Possible

4. Offering after-school tutoring groups or programs

While all of the above tactics can help many students get caught up after summer learning loss, some students will need one-on-one assistance.

If possible, work with school administrators to offer after-school tutoring for students who are struggling to remember key concepts from the prior year. This is a good opportunity to recruit help from older students or those in your class who have not experienced as much learning loss. Alternatively, you can help students organize after-school study groups where they can help each other with supervision from you or another tutor.

5. Involving parents in the effort

Parents may not be aware of how much the summer slide has affected their students. There may be opportunity to recruit more-involved parents to help their kids recover from learning loss.

This may mean tasking parents with administering practice quizzes at home or ensuring their kids are completing their required reading. In some cases, parents may also have the means to hire a private tutor, which can be a significant help for struggling students. At the very least, communicating with parents about their student’s learning loss will give the parent context on their student’s current struggles and status.

The best way to combat learning loss is to prevent it 

There are ways to prevent or mitigate learning loss before it happens by engaging students’ brains while they are on break. It makes sense to prepare now for winter and spring break to reduce your struggle with post-holiday concept loss.  

Think of fun homework assignments or short brain exercises students can complete on their break to help retain key concepts. Ideally, these will not be time consuming or taxing, but will give students a refresher. You can even assign your post-break quiz or assessment as homework so students know exactly what they’ll need to remember when they return. 

Looking for more tips? Here are Five ways schools can address learning loss 

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