Just last week we celebrated an official end to the school year — final exams, field days, picnics, yearbooks, graduations, cleaned-out lockers and stripped-down bulletin boards kicked off the start of summer. Everyone was feeling like this:

But as we write this week, we realize that for many this start of summer is quickly followed by the start of summer SCHOOL. That’s right, thousands of teachers and students will be returning to the classroom in the next week or two for various remediation and extension programs. Last week was full of freedom, optimism, and sunshine…but now you’re back to this:

Bare walls, empty bookshelves, and 2-4 weeks to build relationships, set goals, and push students to high levels of learning. It’s a daunting task. So, summer school teachers, this post is for you!
Luckily, the same principles that helped you create an awesome, high-achieving classroom during the regular school year will also work here. And there was never a better time to take risks and try out a new strategy — summer school is a great chance for teachers to stretch and grow just as much as students. Just keep one simple rule in mind: whoever is doing the thinking is doing the learning.
You can keep them thinking (out loud, on paper, in groups, with a partner, non-verbally, etc.) and actively processing with strategies like these:


How it keeps them thinking

 Jigsaw: Split students into groups of even numbers and ask each group to read or research something different related to your learning goal. These are called “expert groups.” Then, rearrange your groups so that one person from each “expert group” forms a new group. This is called a “teaching group.” Each “expert” teaches the other students in their “teaching group” about what they read or researched.
This puts the entire burden of thinking on the students, not the teacher! Students feel accountable to learn in their “expert groups” because they know they will eventually have to teach others the material they are learning. It also helps them practice their teamwork and communication skills.
 Teach-Learn-Switch: This strategy works well when you have a text or set of information that is easy to split up into small chunks and the order in which students learn the content does not matter (i.e. learning vocabulary words, Supreme Court cases, geographic features, etc.). Assign each student one item and ask them to explain it in detail on a notecard. Then begin an activity where each student finds a partner and proceeds to teach their partner what’s on their card, learn what’s on their partner’s card, and then switch cards. Then ask students to find another partner and repeat, this time teaching whatever is on their NEW CARD (whatever their previous partner taught them about). Continue to switch until every student has taught and learned every card.
This forces students to teach and learn from each other, not from the teacher. And it sure beats copying vocabulary definitions or other lists of information from books or lecture presentations, both of which can be done with almost no thinking at all. Students’ minds are working hard throughout this activity because they are held responsible for explaining everything they have just learned to someone else.
 Silent Conversation: Pose a complex question to students and ask them to “discuss” it in small groups without talking by writing their ideas on a big piece of poster paper. Give each student a different color marker so you can track who “says” what. Encourage them to use images and diagrams to add to their responses, and to draw arrows between ideas to show connections. Afterward, ask students to explain their group’s ideas to the class.
Because the conversation is silent, students can all “talk” at once by writing their own ideas down simultaneously and then responding to others at their own pace. If you tell students that you want to see equal participation from all members, you can easily track who was doing the thinking through the colors of the text. Giving students the space to think together and build on each other’s ideas helps them see how their ideas compare to others’ thoughts and helps ensure that ALL kids are thinking and contributing during a discussion.

You’ll notice that all three of these strategies simply allow students to carry the burden of thinking during class. They can teach and learn from each other. They can explore and build on each others’ ideas. They can’t participate in these activities without having their brains turned on…and if they try you will spot it right away. They also keep kids engaged, moving, and using multiple modalities to reach various learning styles.
The best part? Putting the burden of thinking on the students means that it’s not on YOU!