Educators will often talk about the importance of staying engaged over the summer in order to curtail the effects of “the summer slide”, and they also will mention the time needed in the fall to formatively assess students and to review skills that have deteriorated.
Students without access to both devices and broadband can suffer even more in comparison to their peers. This does not mean that students use devices over the summer are always doing so for education purposes, but the reading and creating of digital assets can indeed help in maintaining skills.
Rethinking summer device check out policies as more districts implement a one to one program for their students and as teachers (and summer school courses) move towards digital formats, having access over the summer becomes even more important for students and learning. But what happens to student devices at the end of a school year? Should a school check them in for the summer in order to take inventory? This approach does have some advantages. Specifically it guarantees that the device will be there in the fall to check out to students who are coming back to school. Checking devices back in acknowledges the fact that it could be difficult to recoup the device of students move. At several secondary schools in Beaverton, Oregon, students have the option to check out their chromebook for the summer if they have the need.
However, checking in devices does have significant disadvantages. First off, it takes quite a bit of human capital to check in all devices and then to store them. Next, there is always a fear of damage or loss, especially in districts with high mobility rates of students.
Despite these challenges,, though, is the fact that school issued computers might be the only way that students can access digital content from home over the summer. (The home broadband connection is another challenge, but districts are working on this issue as well). Taking away a device that has recently empowered a student and perhaps their whole family is a significant opportunity cost.
Going to where the kids are of course, the vast majority of school districts in the U.S. do not have a 1 to 1 policy, so checking out devices over the summer to selected students might seem like a mute point. With that said, there are still opportunities to explore. For example, many students receive meals (sometimes breakfast and lunch) at school during the summer. If this is the case in a district, it makes good sense to invest some money in the supervision of a computer lab at the school for specified times. Simple supervision means opening labs and letting students have time online. A more structured approach could actually include guided practice and an exploration of materials and resources that might be used in the coming year for specific grade levels.
Another idea is a full family approach. This Beaverton this summer, our ELA and Title 1 Teacher on Special Assignment is leading an innovative effort to support a pre-k summer reading program in each of 14 our Title 1 Schools. The district will be supporting three students and their families with an iPad to share wonderful learning opportunities, local community activities and provide access to lots of digital books to read aloud. The goal is for this early connection to be a welcoming and informative support to their upcoming entrance into Kindergarten. Additionally, the project is partnering with IT and Future Ready to address home connectivity challenges so that families who don’t currently have home internet can take part. This effort hopes to foster literacy skills before students reach schools and will provide both immediate and long term benefits.
Finally, it benefits schools to find out what types of programs are being offered at public libraries with respect to literacy and technology. Meeting with local librarians lets them know what types of experiences students are having in schools with regard to technology, and school districts can promote summer public library programs in their materials and end of year messaging. Coordinating both curriculum and opportunities helps students and is just best practice.
A one size fits all policy for student device use over the summer is a fairly rigid approach that does not address the problem of the summer slide. A more flexible approach might have more risks, but in this case the benefits far outweigh the costs. In the end, it is a matter of finding ways to say yes instead of finding ways to say no.
Here is a list of further resources to help students prevent the “summer slide.”
Here are three tips from Scholastic to prevent the summer slide in reading:
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