With the chaos of the year behind me and the start of summer school complete, a surprising wave of relaxation has taken over. In preparation for summer school I had been nervously gathering materials and planning through my days, anxious about a new group of students whose skills and interests were foreign to me.
It has been a complete week, and so far it seems that all of my frantic bracing for the unknown was all for nothing. Summer school is such a breeze! I say that enthusiastically because up until this point summer school has always been difficult from the first day to the very last.
Last year I ran summer school much like I did my classroom. We had our daily schedule which we adhered to as much as possible, we had lots of academic tasks that needed to be finished in almost the same order that I had been completing them during the year, and because last year I actually did have the students I had during the school year, I was simply continuing on from where we left off.
Oh, and we played in the water sometimes.
I think it took a new class and a whole new environment to shake me out of my rigid ways to realize just how carefree school can feel while not actually being any less academic than the entire month of September.
The truth is that this summer I was completely unsure of where to pick up and where anyone had left off, and again I have students who span the range of skill sets. I knew our schedule would be riddled with activities such as computer lab, APE, and multiple snacks and wiggle breaks, so a cemented daily schedule was out of the question.
I used to be a camp counselor, and all I can remember clearly is the constant sense of “Dear Lord please help me keep these kids entertained and in a group for 45 minutes,” which I somehow pulled off, so I thought I’d try to treat summer school somewhat like camp.
I’ve been planning “periods,” which are 45 minutes long, and can be squeezed or split into any amount of time. It is working so well I think I am going to plan my year this way. Instead of seeing a line of “to-dos” in the morning, they just see three activities that we need to complete. Rather than label them “math” and “language arts” with a description of what we will be doing, I name the activity and give a preview of how fun it will be. It sounds so simple, I don’t know why I wasn’t doing it before.
I know we need to post our schedule for our administrators to see and so our students can practice following a schedule/telling time, but the more I look back the more I realize my students just shut down when they saw a block of text 3 feet tall by 2 feet wide every day.
My students this summer haven’t shut down yet when they see their three goals for the day, and they have completed more activities and learned/retained more new concepts in this past week than my last summer school class did in a month. Well, maybe not exactly that much, but my point is that because we are focusing on what the activity is rather than what concept it is reaching and where it falls in the middle of a huge schedule, we are getting through our activities much more successfully and the students are much happier learners.
I think this next year we’ll have two schedules: one for my students presented in a manner that energizes them, and one for everyone else presented in a manner to strictly inform. Wouldn’t it be nice if every day of the school year felt like summer?