A quick Google search using the term “summer slide 2021” turns up over 1,000 hits. “Learning loss 2021” produces over one million. (Is that even possible?) There’s so much talk of bringing students up to speed academically during summer learning, but is it even possible? How can we make up for 18 months of inconsistent classroom and remote instruction? In-person interaction with teachers and peers? Time lost to technical glitches or just glitches that come from learning from home?
We can’t. You can’t ask a flower to bloom any faster. You can’t ask your water to boil any faster. You can’t teach literary devices used in The Great Gatsby when the students have left your classroom for summer break.
Let’s remove fear-based terms from the summer learning vernacular. Hearing “You’re behind!” or “You need to catch up!” immediately triggers anxiety in everyone: students, families, teachers. But the question is: behind who? All of us in the United States (and all over the world) are in the same boat. Encourage summer learning, yes, but replace seemingly punitive measures with something enticing.
Instead of math packets, how about June Math Blitz! Instead of choosing from a teacher-selected list of books, let students choose and share recommendations with a TikTok Summer Talk! The ideas are out there, and self-selected learning experiences are more likely to result in deeper learning.
These meaningful learning experiences that I allude to require packaging, presentation and implementation tools, just as curricular learning does. This is where the technology department or teacher tech coach comes in.
Teachers may know how to use their tech tools comfortably in a structured classroom setting. Sometimes, though, it takes an outsider to offer alternative uses for these tools that still result in student achievement. It’s our job to look at all of the ways each tool can be used in the classroom. Then we make recommendations to teachers based on their summer learning goals for students. Summer gives us the freedom to play around with each tool’s features. This lets us grow in knowledge and brainstorm new applications for each. It’s a great way to judge whether a tool works for your teachers or whether there’s something better.
Here are five tips for the technology department or teacher tech coach. Consider these as you select tools and projects for your teachers to support their summer learning initiatives.
1. Ensure student safety
No matter what educators share with their students for summer learning, it most likely involves the use of technology. During the past 18 months, we’ve seen great strides in shrinking the digital divide, which is worth celebrating. Still, it’s also a reminder that children are in the vulnerable position of being online outside of school hours. It’s more important than ever to keep all students safe and secure online. Plus, families rely on the school to put safety measures in place.
When you use the Hāpara Filter, a K-12 web filter, it provides a big-picture view of students’ online activity. Because it’s pushed out through the school’s Google admin panel, it’s connected to your student’s Chrome browser. It works no matter where students sign in: school-issued Chromebook, family computer or phone.
The Hāpara Filter uses artificial intelligence (AI) to analyze images, video and text in real-time. It intelligently filters, blurs and mutes as needed. Because it’s built to protect student privacy, it blocks ads and keeps Google activity anonymous. Dashboards for IT and administration send alerts if students try to access blocked sites or need digital citizenship guidance. It also sends alerts if their activity indicates the need for mental health intervention. Teachers will appreciate how easy it is to release blocked sites for student use—no more approval hold-ups!
Even though summer is already here and devices may already be in the hands of your students, it’s still possible to install Hāpara Filter. It can be installed remotely on your devices to ensure that all students have a safe digital learning experience.
2. Offer behind-the-scenes tools to support SEL
Summer can be a time of isolation for students accustomed to being surrounded by peers and adults. We want our students to feel a sense of connection when they’re engaged in learning activities. Connection is an essential ingredient for mastering the SEL skills necessary for success in all disciplines.
There are many avenues for community building when using Hāpara Highlights. The games Gimkit or Kahoot! offer students a way to interact, either together or asynchronously. You can also foster community by setting up a message board or a backchannel for ongoing discussions. Teachers can set up an SEL choice board for meaningful SEL-related lessons. Or they can ask each student to take a turn asking the Flipgrid Question of the Week. Teachers can blend SEL skills into all learning initiatives. It’s something our students need the most of this summer.
3. Stress engagement and goal-setting
“Summer school” doesn’t sound appealing to our students. Offer teachers tools that will allow students to engage in self-selected, meaningful learning. Students can set and track goals using Google Sheets. Then they can showcase their knowledge using a Google Site or create a video created using Screencastify or VoiceThread. A choice board is a great way to organize the resources students have available.
Providing learning opportunities that are engaging, self-selected, and have real-world use will result in the most profound learning experiences. Set up a small-group discussion platform for students. They can exchange ideas around social justice issues, moderated by a different group member each week. Follow it up with a self-selected service project to implement and manage independently. Then watch what happens!
4. Ensure students can access the programs they usually use during the school year.
If you share websites or programs with students or families for summer learning, ensure that they’ll be accessible. Subscriptions usually roll over during the summer, so be sure there won’t be a lag in access. If there is a change in a program that teachers rely on, work to find an alternative quickly. Summer is an excellent time to open up avenues that allow for student choice. If teachers don’t want to use the same tools they use during the school year, check for something game-based. Or offer something new from a best-of list from Common Sense Media.
5. Keep lines of communication open
Without daily contact with their teachers, technology fails may prevent student progress. Your support in providing a channel for helping families with technology glitches is important. It could be the difference between a successful and unproductive summer.
Share simple login instructions to all students and parents. Make sure directions are clear regarding how and where parents can help their children quickly access what they need. Provide a method of contact, and make sure it’s monitored at least once a day. Adding a personal element to students’ technology-driven learning is a great way to keep everyone moving forward. Consider using Smore for sending out tech help resources, general school updates, or more general tech tips for families.