The academic calendar as we know it is largely a relic of the past, and many educators—as much as we may love the long break—recognize that the extended summer vacation can impede learning. Studies suggest that, on average, students lose about a month of progress over the summer because of their relative academic inactivity. This phenomenon even has a name: the “summer slide.” But if we can capture the potential of these ‘lost’ summer months with just a few targeted projects, we can turn this loss into a gain. Used properly, summer is an opportunity for students to set themselves up for academic success in the fall —and this progress doesn’t have to come at the cost of fun!
During their middle school years, students are on the path toward more ambitious academic projects, taking their first steps toward an individualized, personal education with the new element of choice granted by electives and specialization. This is the moment when students need to start learning to take more responsibility for their own learning. It’s also a time when students are beginning to consider the wider world, and think about how school relates to their experiences and interests.
One way to begin this transition toward personal responsibility, and encourage students to value their curiosity, is to engage with current events. In the increasingly connected and contentious world we live in, students are constantly exposed to the tailwinds of news, from controversies in pop culture and Hollywood to political upheaval and division around climate change or gun laws. It’s more important than ever that students to feel prepared to sift through the media available to them to form their own opinion, and to evaluate the trustworthiness of different sources. As educators, we decided to meet this need with a pair of week-long writing workshops over the summer, in which students split their time between skill lessons in writing and critical reading, and a project where they can apply these skills by researching a topic of interest and preparing a news article that summarizes their finding. In Week 2 of the workshop, we move from expository to persuasive writing, learning the elements of an argument, comparing rhetorical devices in major speeches from American history, and then gathering evidence to compose a speech that is delivered in a supportive environment at the end of the session.
The goal of this program—which we have dubbed ‘Smarter Summers’—is to teach important academic skills while also helping students to test the waters with developing a voice of their own, as their awareness of the world around them grows.
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