If you follow my blogs, you’ll note that I have been writing recently about the ineffectiveness of summer school (here, here, and here). Along with colleagues, I wrote a review of research on summer school, which is summarized here. The reason for the ineffectiveness of summer school, I proposed, is that when summer school resembles regular school, it can be boring. Kids are sitting in school while their friends are playing outside. As a result, attendance in summer school programs intended to help struggling students can be very poor, and the motivation of those who do attend may also be poor.
However, there are two major exceptions to the otherwise dismal outcomes of studies of summer school. One is a Los Angeles study by Schacter & Jo (2005), and the other is a study by Zvoch & Stevens (2013), done in a small city in the Northwest.
Both of these studies focused on disadvantaged students in grades 1 or K-1. Both provided small-group tutoring interventions. Schacter & Jo (2005) gave students phonics instruction in groups of 15, followed by small-group tutoring. The Gates-MacGinitie reading effect size was +1.16. Zvoch & Stevens (2013) also provided group phonics instruction followed by tutoring to groups of 3 to 5. The effect size on DIBELS measures was +0.69.
The large effect sizes seen in these two studies contrast sharply with all the other studies of summer classroom programs, which had a mean effect size near zero. What this suggests is that the best instructional use of summer may be to provide one-to-one or small-group tutoring to struggling students.
In summer, 2021, the rationale for summertime tutoring is particularly strong. If current trends maintain, most teachers will have received Covid vaccines by summer, and increasing numbers of schools will open by the end of the current semester. To close schools that could be open for summer vacation seems a waste. Also, assuming the American Rescue Plan is passed (as expected), it will make a great deal of money available to serve students who have lost ground due to Covid school closures, so schools will be able to afford to pay for tutoring during the summer.
The problem with summer school is that it cannot be made mandatory, and many students will not want to attend. However, in summer 2021, providing tutoring during the summer for students who do choose to attend (and keep attending regularly) could be of great value, even if most students who need tutoring do not attend. The reason is that there are so many students who will need tutoring in September, 2021, that not all of them can be tutored right away. Providing tutoring in the summer gives some students a full dose of tutoring before school officially opens, so that schools will not be under pressure to tutor more students than they are able to serve in fall, 2021.
How Can Summer Tutoring Work?
Summertime allows schools to provide more hours of tutoring each day than would be possible during the school year. For example, teaching and tutoring were provided 2 hours a day for 7 weeks in the Schacter & Jo (2005) study, and 3½ hours per day for 5 weeks in the Zvoch & Stevens (2013) study. If tutoring were alternated with sports or music or other fun activities, one might imagine providing two or three tutoring sessions each day, for as many as 8 weeks during the summer.
These sessions might be offered during a half day, so teachers and teaching assistants might teach one morning and one afternoon session each day. In fact, tutors might provide three two-hour sessions, and reach even more students.
The tutoring methods should be ones proven effective in rigorous experiments. While any whole-class teaching should be done by teachers, teaching assistants can be trained to be excellent tutors. They will need extensive training and in-class coaching, but this is worthwhile, especially because most of these tutors will continue working with additional students during the school day starting in the fall.
Tutoring in summer 2021 will provide a pilot opportunity for schools and districts to hit the ground running in September. It will provide time and resources for providers of tutoring to greatly increase their scale of operations. And it may attract students who have been out of school for many months by offering small group, supportive tutoring with caring tutors, to help ease the transition back into school.
Summertime need not be a time for summertime blues. Instead, it can serve as a “grand opening” for a successful re-entry to school for millions of students.
Schacter, J., & Jo, B. (2005). Learning when school is not in session: A reading summer day-camp intervention to improve the achievement of exiting first-grade students who are economically disadvantaged. Journal of Research in Reading, 28, 158-169. Doi:10.111/j.1467-9817.2005.00260.x
Zvoch, K., & Stevens, J. J. (2013). Summer school effects in a randomized field trial. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 28(1), 24-32. Doi:10.1016/j.ecresq.2012,05.002
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