Findings and Lessons


June 2018

Getting real about summer learning programs


There is much concern and data around the summer learning loss—and summer learning programs abound. For many children who end the school year struggling to keep pace or already behind, we can’t afford not to use these summer months effectively. What we have learned over the years, however, is that even though these programs are funded to prevent the well-documented summer learning loss and even boost overall reading levels, many actually aren’t designed in a way that would accomplish those goals.

So, what would a program need in order to be the start of the “summer learning gain” — for children who are struggling, especially? Here is our checklist of key features of a summer learning program that get readers moving in the right direction!

  • Built around a knowledge-and language-building plan that is fun and engaging, to motivate children during the summer months and expand their worlds (e.g., through outdoor adventures and field trips/visits to museums and parks). Given what we know about achievement gaps, every summer learning program needs to build knowledge and language; whether field-based or classroom-based, the program needs to include themes and learning objectives around big ideas and rich concepts.
  • Staffed by educators who are trained to do high quality targeted teaching based on children’s literacy skill deficits—and with a dosage that supports the expected program outcomes. To build individual readers’ skills, the program needs to be intensive and consistent over many weeks.
  • Includes collection or use of student data on code-based or meaning-based skills (read more here) so that staff can identify children’s literacy skill needs and plan targeted lessons.
  • Uses a high-quality curriculum and materials (see our January newsletter) that provide a platform for high-quality teaching and learning over the days and weeks. Whether community- or classroom-based, high-quality texts and structured conversations have to be central, giving children a chance to practice articulating ideas using the topic-related language about the theme under study.
  • Includes opportunities for children to be exposed to new experiences and then read, watch, think, and talk more about the same topic that they’ve experienced first hand, and then learned more about.
  • Includes a component that aims to provide intensive support for children needing work on the mechanics of reading – the code skills (e.g., letter and letter-sound knowledge, word reading fluency). This support should be systematic and take place daily for 20-30 minutes.
  • Engages parents as academic partners, and supports them to support their children’s skill needs.

Summer learning loss doesn’t have to be the norm. If we strategically approach these weeks ahead with knowledge about our readers’ needs at the core, and resources allocated for the kinds of high-quality community- and classroom-based learning experiences and opportunities, we could make a real difference for our kids.