Thursday / February 22

Five Recommendations for Increasing the Impact of Summer Learning Time

Why do meta-analyses of summer school suggest that it’s not very useful in ensuring students’ learning?  If you follow John Hattie’s work, you know that he collects studies of studies that allow him to scale a wide range of interventions for their overall impact on student learning.  Of the over 300 influences, based on over 350 million students and 1800 meta-analyses, summer school is pretty low.  The average impact of all of the things we can do to improve students’ learning is .40.  Summer school is .19, below average.  Thus, we should proceed with caution as we create extended learning opportunities for students.

Importantly, the studies that are used in these meta-analyses reflect the past but may not predict the future.  Given what we know about summer school and the impact it has historically had, we can make changes to increase the likelihood that it will make a difference.  In other words, how can we ensure that summer learning time is maximized?

In the past, summer school has been, by and large, a remedial effort.  Students were encouraged or required to attend summer school if they failed to make adequate progress during the year.  As we were writing this, we asked a current high school student about summer school.  In response to the question, have you ever attended summer school, Jio said, “No way.  That’s for the kids who fail.  I don’t want that rep.  People talk, you know.”

One district we know of tells parents that their child must attend summer school to avoid grade-level retention (failing and having to do that grade level again).  At the secondary level, summer school has been used for credit recovery when students do not pass classes, often mathematics and English.  In both cases, students are placed in summer classes with other students who experienced failure. These summer classes often lack language models and peer teaching.  In addition, teachers typically use a generic curriculum that is not tailored to the needs of students or they spend a significant amount of the six weeks assessing the students, leaving less time for actual instruction.

What can we do to change this?  We have five recommendations to improve summer learning time:

  • Know each students’ learning journey. Give summer learning teachers current, accurate information about what students have already learned.  This will ensure that time is not spent on things that students already know and instead on things that still need to be learned.  Before this year ends, invite teaches to be strength-spotters and name the areas of growth for every student.  Capture this for the teachers who will be working summer school.
  • Focus on student confidence. There are students whose relationship with learning has been damaged. If we were able to rebuild their confidence during summer, students would be much more likely to learn and be ready for a new start in the fall.  The figure below provides ideas for rebuilding student confidence.
  • Accelerate not remediate. Remediation programs tend to focus on a single skill and slow down the learning process until students reach mastery.  Students find these lessons boring. Remediation has a deficit orientation and students (and their parents) in remediation programs start to believe that they can’t expect as much learning.  Instead, we borrow from the research on gifted students and focus on acceleration, which has an effect size of .68.  Some aspects of acceleration are included in figure 2.  Note the focus on building confidence, which we already discussed.
  • Create enrichment opportunities. Encourage lots of students to attend summer school and make it an opportunity to teach and learn things that are often neglected. Why not have writers’ camps, science explorations, integrated arts, to name a few?  Allow students to explore topics that they are interested in.  Re-ignite their curiosity and passions.  Let them see that learning is a joy and that there are lots of things to learn.  And address their learning needs within these enrichment opportunities.
  • Integrate social and emotional learning. Take the time to recognize where students are in their social and emotional development and teach these skills as you would academics.  Let’s agree that students need more than basic skills and that summer learning should include the whole child.  Yes, they need to read and write well, develop scientific thinking, conceptually understand mathematics, and understand their place in time, among many other academic goals, but investing in students’ social and emotional development is also an investment in their future.

Let us be so bold as to say that any unfinished learning that has occurred as a result of the 2020-2021 school year is not going to be fully addressed this summer.  Rather, summer school is an opportunity to re-start learning, re-build relationships especially between students and their own learning, and rebound to be even better than we were before.

Ways to Build Student Confidence




Set goals together. One of the most effective ways of building student confidence is making sure everyone is on the same page about learning goals. Again, the value of clear learning intentions and success criteria cannot be overstated. To build confidence, students and teachers need to understand and agree upon the goals for learning.
Encourage self- and peer
Providing students the responsibility for helping both themselves and others improve learning by encouraging ownership of it is a huge step toward building student confidence. When students learn to self-assess, the role of the teacher becomes to validate and challenge rather than decide if students have learned. When we do this, student understanding, ownership, enthusiasm for learning, and, of course, confidence increase.
Give useful feedback. Feedback should make someone feel good about where they are and get them excited about where they can go. This is the exact mindset that develops as we continue building our learners’ confidence in the classroom.
Empty their heads. Students tend to lose confidence in themselves because they feel they’re struggling more than they are. Every once in a while, we’ve got to get learners to unpack everything in their heads through review and open discussion to show them just how much they’ve accomplished.
Show that effort is
Nothing kills confidence more than for a student to think they’re the only one in class that doesn’t understand something. Focus on the effort that everyone is making. A good way of building student confidence in such a case is by having that struggling student pair up with one of the others who has aced the topic and get them to explain it.
Celebrate everyone’s
Any kind of success in learning, no matter how big or small, deserves to be acknowledged and celebrated. This might mean more to some students than to others, but it’s still a great way of building student confidence. After all, everyone is there in the classroom to learn together and to support each other on that path.

Source: Adapted from Wabisabi Learning. (n.d.). 6 ways of building student confidence through your practice. Wabisabi Learning.

Figure 2:

  • Identify skills and concepts that have yet to be learned.
    • What tools do we have to notice what students still need to learn?
    • How can we ensure that we do not focus instructional time on content students have already learned?
  • Provide key aspects of knowledge in advance of instruction.
    • How can we use what we have learned about asynchronous learning to build background knowledge and vocabulary?
    • What content can be previewed before synchronous learning time?
  • Increase the relevance of students’ learning.
    • How can we capture students’ attention and interest and ensure that they see the value in the things that they are learning?
    • Can our students answer the question “why am I learning this?”
  • Create active, fast-paced learning experiences.
    • Can we develop lessons that move quicky, perhaps cycling through information several times, and allow students to engage?
    • How can we ensure that students are active, and practice, as part of our lessons?
  • Build students’ confidence.
    • Are the students building their confidence in their learning as that helps build competence?
    • What successes do students have that we can celebrate?
    • How can we learn to be strength-spotters rather than deficit-describers?

Source: Fisher, D., Frey, N., Almarode, J.,& Henderson-Rosser, A. (2021). The quick guide to simultaneous, hybrid, and blended learning. Corwin.

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Written by

Douglas Fisher, Ph.D., is Professor of Educational Leadership at San Diego State University and a teacher leader at Health Sciences High & Middle College. He is the recipient of an IRA Celebrate Literacy Award, NCTE’s Farmer Award for Excellence in Writing, as well as a Christa McAuliffe Award for Excellence in Teacher Education. He is also the author of PLC+, The PLC+ Playbook, This is Balanced Literacy, The Teacher Clarity Playbook, Grades K-12, Teaching Literacy in the Visible Learning Classroom for Grades K-5 and 6-12, Visible Learning for Mathematics, Grades K-12The Teacher Credibility and Collective Efficacy Playbook and several other Corwin books.  Nancy Frey, Ph.D., is Professor of Literacy in the Department of Educational Leadership at San Diego State University. The recipient of the 2008 Early Career Achievement Award from the National Reading Conference, she is also a teacher-leader at Health Sciences High & Middle College and a credentialed special educator, reading specialist, and administrator in California. She has been a prominent Corwin author, publishing numerous books including PLC+The PLC+ PlaybookThis is Balanced LiteracyThe Teacher Clarity Playbook, Grades K-12Engagement by DesignRigorous Reading, Texas EditionThe Teacher Credibility and Collective Efficacy Playbookand many more.  To view Doug and Nancy’s books and services, please visit Fisher and Frey Professional Learning. 

Latest comment

  • This is a really good article and I like the solutions proposed here as well. Whenever students view learning as punitive or remedial in nature they don’t have buy in and we need to make sure that we make the learning positive and worthy of their time. Thanks for the article.

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