Easy Ways to Ramp Up Summer Learning

With spring finally showing its true colors, many of us are planning for summer—making the to-do list for what will be accomplished around the house, watching the stack of books grow to where it’s dangerously close to toppling over, and scheduling the trips that we aren’t able to take during the school year.  

For those of us with our heads, hearts, and hands in schools, we spend a significant amount of our “off” time reading professionally, participating on committees, and attending workshops or conferences.  This summer, I encourage you to take the NCLE challenge by consciously considering how you can increase the capacity and impact of your professional activities.

Here are some possibilities to consider:

Connect summer activities for students with professional learning opportunities for educators.  Learning Forward’s article, "Think Summer," from the December 2013 issue of JSD describes the importance of professional development for the staff of any summer programming.  Traditionally, teacher learning and student learning occur separately in the summer.  But what if they were to join forces, offering creative opportunities for teachers to practice new strategies in authentic settings with students, while reflecting in real-time with their peers?

On April 30, two different summer school initiatives shared stories of how they included the development of teachers and instructional coaches as core objectives of the program. If this idea intrigues you, check out the archive for the web event Sharing Our Practices: Developing Literacy Teaching and Learning in the "Off-Season." You may also be interested in following the Extending Learning Experiences for Early Career group on the Exchange,  where the design team is wrestling publicly with how to make the most of this unique opportunity. 

Whether you’re working on developing new standards-aligned activities, working to better integrate technology into the classroom in meaningful ways, or trying out new strategies and models like project-based learning or Socratic seminars, the summer months provide the flexibility to try new things, and summer school or enrichment activities provide a pool of students who would benefit from the extended learning time. This article (pdf) from the National Council of Teachers of English provides an additional example of this type of summer learning experience.

Ramp up the impact of summer professional reading. Are you planning to catch up on those professional books and journals you’ve been meaning to read? Rather than going it alone, why not enlist some like-minded colleagues to join you? If you’ve been part of a book club, you know the joy and energy that comes from discussing the book with friends. Sometimes, protocols can help to structure and enrich the conversation. I’m a big fan of the Four A Text Protocol that asks readers to consider assumptions, agreements, arguments, and aspirations.

You can also hold one another accountable for applying what you’re learning in concrete ways. Consider establishing a joint inquiry or action plan to support each other as you carry your new learning into the classroom. Determine how you’ll know if you’re successful, and schedule regular times to come back together during the school year to discuss the process of implementation.The Evolution of a Book Study Group describes the benefits and challenges experienced by a team of district administrators when they decided to take their book study group to this next level of shared learning.

Get more out of your workshop and conference attendance. The book study ideas above are also useful when attending workshops and conferences Bring one or more peers along, and set aside time to reflect and share together. Then establish a plan for putting new learning into action.

Strengthen your collaborations. Are you already part of a team that will be spending time this summer working together to design curriculum, schedules, shared strategies, and/or assessments? You can ramp up this process in a couple ways. First of all, don’t end your collaboration when the designing is complete. Establish plans for how you will measure the success of implementation, and schedule opportunities to revisit and revise over time.  Strengthen the effectiveness and impact of your team by taking the Asset Inventory for Collaborative Teams and using the results to set goals for improving how you work together.

Most of all, let others know about the work you are doing as a district, as a study group, or as any configuration of educators working together around a common cause. Read Jennifer Hernandez’s recent Perspective, A Work of Art: The South Literacy Liaison End-Of-Year Workshop Experience, reflecting on the impact of opportunities to learn with and from one another. Through her willingness to share this story publicly, Hernandez ensured that many more teachers can be inspired by the experiences of the participants in the Downers Grove Literacy Coaching initiative.

If you haven’t done so already, we invite you to “Put your team on the map” and describe the topics and questions you are pursuing to strengthen your practices.  This enables NCLE to connect you with other teams working on similar topics, as well as point you toward resources that can support you in your work together.

If you already have a group on the Exchange, post an update to share your team’s progress—you’ll give your summer activities some transparency and inspire other teams at the same time. And the few moments you spend sharing your own team’s story will be invaluable in helping NCLE spread the word about the value of collaborative professional learning.