By Andrew Hawk
Summer learning loss is a frustrating occurrence for students with learning disabilities and their parents and teachers. After teachers and parents have spent nine months working to help students catch up to same-age peers, seeing students’ academic gains decimated by the muggy months of summer can be heartbreaking for all involved.
It is true that the majority of students, if not all students, experience academic regression during the summer months on some level. However, typically functioning general education students recover the lost knowledge faster and with less effort than their classmates with learning disabilities. Finding ways to reduce summer learning loss helps both teachers and students transition into the next school year. Here are some ideas you might try to help counter summer learning loss in students who have learning disabilities.
Send Home Materials
Most teachers I know send home something for students to work on during the summer months. Whether students utilize these materials is questionable. I usually send home student-made flash cards for addition, subtraction, multiplication, and/or division, depending on the student’s abilities. I also encourage students to keep a journal during the summer and make daily entries. In addition, I ask students if they will visit the library during the summer. If they say no, I let them select two or three books from my classroom library. This is a big leap of faith. I usually get most of my books back, but to me, sacrificing a few books is worth it to get students reading during the summer. This is a decision each teacher will have to make individually.
Offer an Incentives Program
It is not enough to simply tell students to read and practice math over the summer. If it were, there would be no summer learning loss. Brainstorm an incentives program that is doable in your area. My school does a monthly reward drawing for academics and behavior. I give students monthly tracking sheets for reading and math facts practice. I reward their efforts with extra entry tickets. This works for me, but you might find that a different incentive fits your needs better.
Recruit a colleague to help you organize a parent workshop. In the workshop, discuss summer learning loss and its effects on student learning. Follow this up by sharing strategies that parents can use to combat summer learning loss. Ideas could include those mentioned in this blog post or others that you and your colleague come up with. Some ideas may be things that parents will have to do on their own. For example, trips to museums are a great way to fight summer regression—especially if parents have their students write their teacher a letter describing the event.
Do a little research to see if there are any learning day camps in your area. Sometimes libraries, Boys & Girls Clubs, and other local organizations offer day camps for local students. Pricing for these camps is often income-based, but sometimes they are free on a first-come-first-serve basis.
Look for Tutors
If you teach near a college (I am located close to Purdue University), you might be able to find college students who need to collect a certain number of public service hours. Many colleges are adding a public service requirement to their degrees. A quick call to the education department should point you in the right direction. In addition, high school students working to become members of the National Honor Society need public service hours. Both of these options would be free for parents. If you have parents of students with learning disabilities who are willing to pay for tutoring, you may want to recruit colleagues.
Research and create a list of free online resources that students may work on during the summer. Websites like Coolmath.com and ABCya.com offer free learning games that can help combat summer learning loss. Whether this is viable in your district depends on whether students have internet access at home. If you think this is a good idea for your students, I recommend incorporating an incentive for a certain number of minutes per day.
This is another idea that requires internet access. Emailing back and forth with students during the summer has great potential as a way to reduce summer learning loss. Students work on reading skills when they read your emails. They work on writing skills when they type their responses. And, if you put four or five practice problems in your email, you can incorporate math, too. This summer is the first year that I plan to try this strategy, and I am excited to test it out.
Extended School Year (ESY)
ESY is a program for students with Individual Learning Plans (IEPs). This program is for students who are at a pivotal point in their learning when the school year ends or for students who show a lot of regression during long breaks from school. Whether or not students receive ESY is a case conference (IEP meeting) decision. These programs vary from district to district, but could be conducted individually or in small groups. Teachers can qualify students for ESY by doing a pretest before a long break, such as winter or spring vacation, and a posttest afterward. If students show regression, they should qualify for ESY. Ask your special education contact person about ESY if you think your students with learning disabilities would qualify.
Andrew Hawk has worked in public education for sixteen years, starting as a teaching assistant in a special education classroom. He has taught first, second, and fifth grades as a classroom teacher, and for the past five years, has worked as a resource room teacher, providing services for fourth and fifth graders. Working as a special education teacher has given him the opportunity to work with a variety of age groups and exceptionalities. Andrew earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education at Indiana University East in Richmond, Indiana. In 2011, he earned his master’s degree in special education from Western Governor’s University, and in 2016, he completed a second master’s degree in educational leadership, also from WGU. When Andrew is not preparing for school, he enjoys spending time with his wife and daughter.
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