As the final days of the school year approach, teachers and students alike are eager for the long, lazy days of summer. Summer break does offer a less cluttered calendar for increased rest and play, but it also offers unique opportunities to help meet the needs of struggling students. Consider these five ways summer can serve struggling students in the months ahead.
End-of-school assessments often offer insight into how well a student has mastered concepts and skills from the previous academic year. In addition to testing, you may have noticed certain weaknesses or areas of struggle for your student in classroom assignments—or parents may have observed this for themselves at home. Regardless of how we spot areas of concern, summer offers the extra time that is needed for remediation in any academic area.
In light of any concerns, what could students (and their parents) work on throughout the summer months in pursuit of academic progress? Does a child need to revisit phonics concepts, memorize math facts, or increase reading comprehension? Would his small vocabulary benefit from exposure to read-alouds, audiobooks, lectures, or theater performances? Does her handwriting require more repetition and practice than her peers? Does his slow processing require more time to digest new ideas? Summer is ripe with opportunity for this important work. Instead of allowing struggling students and their parents to leave the school year discouraged about certain skill deficiencies or a lack of expected progress, equip them to continue learning with the hope that they need not begin the next school year exactly where this one ends!
The attention, time, and focus that academic work requires leaves struggling students feeling exhausted at school’s end. They are happy to check their backpacks at the door and put classroom work behind them—hello, summer! Summer offers the opportunity to motivate such students to continue learning. Without scheduled concepts to cover and prescribed homework assignments to complete, summer opens the doors for creative approaches to education. How can you encourage your struggling students to recover the joy and wonder of learning between this academic year and the next?
If a student (or his/her parents) have felt stifled by classroom practice or the pace of learning during the school year, harnessing the power of summer for creative learning is particularly important. What creative ways could this student work on not-yet-blossoming skills? Could you recommend a different math or reading curriculum to try? Is there a different approach to learning writing that she might resonate with? What games or activities could help reinforce necessary knowledge? Make learning a joy, and struggling students will find increased motivation to overcome the obstacles that are bound to show up along the way.
It makes sense for parents and teachers to evaluate any need for skill remediation at the end of an academic year. However, we are less apt to look ahead in an effort to ward off next year’s overwork and overwhelm. In doing so, we are forfeiting a critical opportunity to support struggling students; looking toward the school year ahead offers struggling students the chance to tackle necessary learning at a slower pace and in a more comfortable environment.
If you have students who have not made the progress you had hoped to see this semester—and especially if you are concerned about their future academic progress—consider encouraging them and their parents to meet with next year’s teachers. If the reading load will be heavy, are there texts that a student could begin reading over the summer? If there are difficult concepts to tackle, are there audiobooks or videos that could help prepare a struggling student’s mind to receive this new teaching? If the volume of writing will increase, are there ways you can help students plan and prepare for that? Begin those conversations now; the communication itself will serve struggling students, in addition to any profitable exercises he might engage in throughout the months of summer.
Struggling students are easily identified by their relative weakness compared to a particular standard. Yet these are also students with gifts, passions, abilities, and even exceptionalities in other areas. Due to the nature of classroom learning, such interests, abilities, and pursuits often go without encouragement—but summer is wide open for exploration! View it as an opportunity for struggling students to explore subjects or skills that interest them, and watch them build character and perspective that will support them in the coming academic year.
Consider encouraging your struggling student to dive into a new interest over the summer. Does she play an instrument? Does he want to learn a new language? Is she a gardener? Does he love to build inventive contraptions? Does she want to take up archery? Is he enamored with animation? Encourage parents to have these conversations with their students; it helps the whole team to look for ways to leverage a student’s strengths and interests in order to help them overcome weaknesses.
While summer is full of opportunities to support struggling students and encourage their growth—academic and otherwise—it is also a chance to rest. No one is exempt from this need, but struggling students feel it acutely. Whether due to increased effort at attention and focus, longer time requirements for the completion of homework, more repetition needed for memory work, or another catalyst for fatigue, struggling students often end the school year flat-out tired. And they need our permission to rest.
Rest can take a variety of forms; it need not entail sleeping summer away (although I do look forward to no 8:00am classes myself)! Rest results from a slower pace, a less demanding environment, and reduced emotional or relational stress. It stems from less cluttered schedules, activities that bring pleasure, and comforting community. Encourage your struggling students (and their parents!) to rest well this summer. What a good gift from God these months are to us all.
As the school year ends and you tell your students “good-bye” until August, consider how you could encourage them to harness the power of summer for their edification and growth. May the last words we give our struggling students as they walk out our classroom doors be words of encouragement and hope, seeking to reflect the “God of hope” who “fill[s] [us] with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit [we] may abound in hope.” (Romans 15:13)
Feautre Image Photo by Johnny McClung on Unsplash