Public school districts across the U.S. made the difficult decision to end the Spring 2020 semester early due to the challenges of distance learning imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. For safety reasons, some schools are considering the option of pushing back the start date of the Fall 2020 semester and/or moving fall classes online.
Both of these choices mean that many students will have a much longer summer break than usual, which has caused parents, students, and educators to ask: How will a longer break from formal education affect students’ learning?
This article tackles this question by explaining how an extended break from education can negatively affect students’ learning over time. To help students and parents combat the negative effects of extra summer vacation, this article also provides:
- Five resources for bridging the gap in learning this summer
- Four tips for students who want to continue their education independently, and
- Three tips to help parents support summer learning till school’s back in session
There’s a lot to talk about, so let’s get started.
The good news is that summer is a great time to relax. The bad news is that summer vacation can put you behind on your educational goals. (Insert sad trombone here.)
What’s Wrong With a Longer Summer Vacation?
Under normal, non-pandemic circumstances, studies have shown that students already experience “summer learning losses.” That’s a fancy way of saying that students start a new school year with knowledge levels that are slightly lower than what they were at the beginning of the summer.
Unfortunately, coronavirus is making that situation even worse. New research suggests that the extended time students are spending out of school classrooms due to the overlap of COVID-19 school closures and regular summer break will result in more drastic learning losses this year.
So far, the projections for student learning losses due to COVID-19 are speculations based on existing evidence, but they definitely give us some concrete insight into how COVID-19 can continue to affect students even after schools reopen. Specifically, research shows that:
- Student achievement tends to slow or decline over summer months
- These declines tend to be steeper for math than for reading
- The extent of loss (proportionally) increases in upper grades
However, it is also important to recognize that these declines will vary based on the age and grade level of the student, the subject (math, reading, science, etc.), and other factors like existing achievement gaps based on income disparities and race. The big takeaway is this: students with less access to learning support through their school districts and in their homes have been found to experience the greatest learning losses during school closures.
The learning losses caused by COVID-19 school closures may make the situation even worse for some students. For example, students whose semesters ended early may not have learned skills that they need to know before entering the next grade level. This means that many students will begin the next school year needing to make up for skills that were lost during the previous school year, rather than starting the new year on track to learn new content on their grade level. That could leave many students playing “academic catch-up” for months--or even years--to come.
But there is hope: with a little research, time, and effort, you can work to bridge the learning gap this summer. We’ll overview five solid resources for bridging the summer learning gap next.
Resources like Khan Academy can help students narrow the summer learning gap and give them a head start on the next school year.
5 Resources for Bridging the Learning Gap
Many students and parents might feel at a loss as to where to begin with summer learning. The five resources listed below are a good place to kickstart sustained learning this summer.
Some high schools are already recommending that their students use Khan Academy Math to keep their math skills fresh this summer. Khan Academy’s online math courses cover all high school math subjects and include video tutorials, practice and quizzes, and unit tests that assess how students are doing with the material.
Students can use Khan Academy’s courses online, for free and at their own pace, to review math concepts they learned last year or to introduce themselves to the math subjects they’ll learn in the upcoming school year.
As an added bonus, Khan Academy provides comment sections on each of its tutorial videos. If a student has a question about the learning content, they can post a comment and expect a Khan Academy tutor to send them a thoughtful response.
#2: Educational Podcasts
If you don’t want to sit in front of a computer all summer, then consider setting aside time once a week to listen to an educational podcast instead. Educational podcasts are a great way to keep students up-to-date on new ideas and research in science, math, and technology, or to facilitate critical thinking about history and literature. Absorbing educational material through listening can also help students practice paying close attention to lectures, which will make them more successful in the classroom as well.
With these benefits of listening-to-learn in mind, consider listening to one of the following educational podcasts on a weekly basis:
Stuff You Missed In History Class, a podcast that brings little-known and underrepresented historical events, stories, and people to life on a weekly basis.
StoryCorps, an NPR podcast that engages students with oral history as a form of preserving and sharing humanity’s stories in order to build a more just world.
Science Friday, a podcast covers a range of scientific topics and features listeners that call in with riveting scientific questions.
But Why, a podcast about subjects that kids young and old are curious about.
The educational podcasts listed above are free, appropriate for high schoolers, and available on Apple Podcasts and Spotify!
For many students, seeing new concepts modeled visually is crucial to their learning experience. For students who learn this way, the YouTube tutorial channel Brightstorm could be a solid resource to work into your weekly learn-from-home rotation.
Brightstorm provides over 1,300 study videos for all high school subjects, including math, science, and English. Each video features a teacher who is an expert in their subject area demonstrating and explaining a core concept or skill using a whiteboard. The channel provides tutorials for everything from finding an equation of a polynomial function to writing a thesis statement for an essay.
Even better: access to Brightstorm’s 1,300 videos is free. If you want even more resources, you can become a paid member to access their entire catalogue 5,300 videos ad-free.
If you're taking a foreign language, Duolingo can keep your skills sharp.
If you took a foreign language course last year and plan to take the next level during the school next year, you might be worried about losing all of the progress you’ve made! Luckily, there are great language apps that can keep you on track.
One of our favorites is Duolingo. Duolingo uses gamification to provide foreign language lessons, providing personalized learning, rewards, immediate grading, and the promise that your vocabulary will improve quickly. You can also jump ahead, so if you have the basics of your foreign language down, you can move up to more challenging lessons right away.
This language learning app is also free--all you need is a web browser or smartphone to use it.
For those looking for a more structured and in-depth learning experience, Numerade is a free online resource that offers summer camps in STEM for high school students. The two-month long courses allow students to prepare for the specific STEM courses they will be taking in the upcoming fall semester. Numerade’s courses are taught in a video format by top educators and include courses in precalculus, calculus, physics, and chemistry.
Each course that Numerade offers is structured into a “summer camp,” with individual course topics being assigned each week. While you can complete the camp at your own pace, the best approach to participating in Numerade’s summer camps is to work through the designated content for a given week, then use any extra time you have practicing with that content before moving onto new topics.
Numerade’s courses are offered online, so as long as you have an internet-enabled device, you should be good to go!
4 Tips for Students Who Want to Bridge the Learning Gap
There are plenty of resources out there for students who want to take ownership of their learning over the summer. These four tips can help ensure you’re on track to tackle the next school year!
Tip 1: Get Familiar with Online Learning Systems
If you’re taking courses through your school using a distance learning method over the summer, one of the first things you’ll want to do is to familiarize yourself with the Content Management System (CMS) your school is using. Whether your school chooses to use Blackboard, Canvas, or another similar CMS, there will be lots of features to get acquainted with before your classes begin.
To get familiar with your school’s CMS, the best place to begin is by exploring. Browse around the different features of the CMS and make sure you understand how they work. Specific features to get familiar with include video chatting and conferencing, how to post to a discussion board, how to access quizzes and tests, and where and how to submit assignments through the CMS. Getting the hang of how the CMS works at the beginning of the course will save you time later on.
Taking some time to learn how the CMS works will also help you identify any questions you have so that you can get support. If you don’t understand how something works, contact your teacher or your school’s IT/tech support for more information.
Tip 2: Set Up Daily Study Time
One of the most important things you can do to make sure your learning efforts pay off during the summer is to be consistent with your study time. We recommend starting your morning with an hour or so of studying at least three days a week while school’s out due to COVID-19. Many people have a greater ability to focus in the mornings, and completing your study time first thing will free you up to focus on other things for the rest of the day.
If you are trying to focus on multiple subjects during the summer, try to focus on one subject a day each week. While it’s important to keep your skills up in each subject you’re taking, it’s also important to rest up to avoid burnout. Having recurring, weekly study time should be enough to ensure that you don’t lose what you learned in each subject over the break.
Tip 3: Use Independent Learning Resources
We already listed several independent learning resources above, but it’s worth reiterating: independent learning resources are an excellent way to tailor your summer learning to your specific needs, availability, and interests.
If creating a self-guided learning experience is important to you during COVID-19 school closures, pick out resources for the subjects you want to study and be intentional about using them every week. It’s important to be consistent with the independent learning resources you use since most of these resources are designed to a difference when used repeatedly over a period of time.
Tip 4: Study With Friends
If you have friends in your grade, consider forming your own distance learning group over the summer. For example, if you choose to listen to an educational podcast on a weekly basis as a group, you could discuss what you learned with your friends in a video chat or phone call. If you decide to take free online courses that involve quizzes and practice problems instead, you could work on the solutions together or compare your approaches to solving equations!
Whether it’s working through math exercises together, discussing summer reading in a book club, or trying out science experiments at home, having accountability with friends from school can help you feel more motivated to learn during the summer. And hey--everything is more fun when your friends are around.
Parents can do a lot to help their kids bridge the summer learning gap. Keep reading to learn how.
3 Tips for Parents to Help Kids Stay on Top of Their Education
The cancellations of regular, face-to-face summer activities have left parents concerned about how their kids will stay active and intellectually engaged over the summer. Our three tips for helping your child stay on top of their education can help you keep your kids occupied when summer plans are on hold.
Tip 1: Focus on Math
Research suggests that students' math skills are most affected by extended learning gaps. While this projection is definitely concerning, the good news is that there are so many resources that parents can get their kids connected with for math practice over the summer.
Work with your child to settle on a reputable math program that your child can use on a recurring basis during the break. When you’ve selected a math program to use, encourage your child to prioritize completing the program’s activities during their independent study time each week.
As you see your child working through the math program, be positive and supportive. Math anxiety is common for children and adults. Even though the possibility of math achievement setbacks during the COVID-19 pandemic might increase that anxiety, the best way to combat those feelings is by having a positive attitude about math. A great way to alleviate these anxieties is to remind your student that you are proud of how hard they are working on math and that you’re proud of them!
Tip 2: Focus on Specific Skills
Another way to help your student with summer learning is to work with them to make a plan for targeting specific subjects or skills. If you’re informed about your student’s progress during the previous school year, you’re probably aware of specific areas where their skills could improve.
For instance, if you know your child struggled most in their chemistry course last year, help them seek out summer learning resources that target the skills used in chemistry. If your child had issues with vocabulary quizzes in English class, on the other hand, encourage them to set aside time to focus specifically on vocabulary building exercises each week.
Helping your student build a learning plan that meets their needs as a learner can take some work, but the good news is that you have the most important resource for creating a learning plan right in your home: your child. Sit down and talk with your child about where they struggled in school last year, and ask them what they want or need to practice. If you can work together to figure out what your child’s needs are, you can chart a path toward the appropriate learning resources for your child as well.
Tip 3: Reach Out to Your Child’s School
Schools and teachers recognize that an extended vacation isn’t ideal for their students’ learning in the long term. Because of this, many schools are committed to providing remote learning support over the summer. It’s important that parents take advantage of any resources their child’s school provides, since these resources will be tailored to prepare students for learning at your child’s school next year.
To get started, browse your school’s website for learning resources. Many schools are building online repositories of learning resources for parents and students to use over the summer. Look over these resources, record any questions you have, and reach out to the school if you are uncertain about how to best use those resources to help your child.
Similarly, if you want to create a learning plan based on your student’s progress the previous school year, contact your child’s teachers to ask if there are specific skills or topics they would recommend that your child focus on during the summer, based on their performance the previous year. Just be patient: teachers are scrambling to prepare for the next school year, so it may take them a little while to get back to you!
If you’re a high schooler, summer is the perfect time to start prepping for your SAT test. (As an added benefit: it helps you stay sharp on key learning concepts, too!) Here’s a guide to building your own custom SAT study plan in four easy steps.
Planning on taking the ACT instead? We have a step-by-step study plan for you, too!
Summer studying doesn’t have to be boring. You can use games to make it fun. You can find tons of games on our blog, including these learning games aimed for kids and this post about games that can teach you high-level vocabulary.
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Ashley Sufflé Robinson has a Ph.D. in 19th Century English Literature. As a content writer for PrepScholar, Ashley is passionate about giving college-bound students the in-depth information they need to get into the school of their dreams.