5 Summer School Secrets to Improve Student Engagement

Summer is in full swing, which means students are looking forward to summer camps, adventures with friends, and maybe even a jaunt through Europe. The one summer activity that most students aren’t super excited about? Summer school. If you find yourself teaching summer school, you’re going to have to work extra hard to grab the attention of your students and keep student engagement high. That’s especially true considering that a study of college students found that 92% of them used their phones to text during class.

Don’t give up! You can engage and inspire your students even with all the extra distractions of summer. Here are five innovative ways to up your student engagement and make learning cool, or at least not a dreaded slog.

Change Up Student Seating

Most classrooms seat students in the same standard row pattern. In an article for Inside Higher Ed, English professor J. Mark McFadden explains why this is the perfect format for peak disengagement. “With that type of configuration, four out of five students are forced to stare at the back of the student in front of them. This classic arrangement lends itself to typical inattentive behaviors: students furtively checking their phones, halfheartedly crouching behind the person in front of them or casually wondering about the upcoming Sigma Alpha Epsilon formal.”

To keep his students on their toes, McFadden arranges their desks in a big group circle. This one change makes it impossible for those back-row students to hide away and prevents front-row students from dominating the conversation. It also allows the teacher to be a part of the discussion instead of some distant figure droning on in the front of the classroom.

Take It Outside

Students studying together outside

Let’s face it, your students are probably daydreaming about being outside under the shining sun. Why not give them what they wish? If the sun isn’t too scorching, or if a generous tree will provide some shade, invite your students for an outdoor lecture and/or group discussion, a la Socrates. All that fresh air and outdoor stimulation will keep your students awake and help them engage with the topic. It could even improve their mood and their health!

A study from the University of Derby and the Wildlife Trust found that study subjects who spent 30 days interacting with nature (which included anything from taking a walk to feeding birds) reported a statistically significant increase in feelings of happiness and healthiness. According to the study, “that connection with nature may provide people with resilience to meet the challenges of everyday life, while also facilitating exercise, social contact and a sense of purpose.”

Turn Students into Teachers

Today’s high school teachers and college professors are adapting to a new generation of students. Generation Z was born with the internet at their fingertips and they’ve never known anything different. In an article from eLearning Industry titled: “Here Comes Z,” author Karen Wondergem explains that “Gen Z wants to be part of the process of learning, not passive bystanders. They are resourceful learners whose attention span is hindered by a constant bombardment of information.”

Invite your students to engage with the material by assigning them the task of teaching specific lessons to their fellow students. Let them be as creative as they like, and you might be pleasantly surprised at the gusto with which they accept the challenge.

Wondergerm explains that Gen Z makes up for their goldfish-like attention spans, “with their creativity, self-discovery skills, speed to process information, and the ability to handle multidimensional learning experiences.”

You might find your students presenting zany YouTube videos, one-person plays, or setting up science experiences for the whole class to participate in. It also doesn’t hurt that numerous studies have found the best way to learn material is to teach it to others.

Make Creative Pairs

Two college students working on a project together over coffee

Mark McFadden has one other useful trick up his sleeve to challenge his students in a unique and profound way. He often pairs students of different backgrounds and political views to work on a collaborative and challenging assignment together.

As McFadden explains, “Last semester I paired an all-star defensive end on the football team from the gritty north end of Hartford, Conn. with an aspiring marine biologist from tony West Hartford. Similarly, I paired the son of the university janitor with the daughter of a man who once served on the university’s Board of Governors…”

This type of assignment is sure to make some, if not all, your students feel a little uncomfortable, but that’s the point. Summer is all about inviting new experiences, meeting new people, and learning about different cultures. That can happen right in your classroom, and your little experiment could break through assumptions, open minds, and even create new friendships.

Invite Technology

Many teachers make the mistake of trying to fight technology for their students’ attention when they should embrace technology and all the possibilities it offers. As Karen Wondergem points out, “with easy access to global information, Generation Z ambitiously seeks knowledge through the technology that is ingrained in their day to day experience.”

Think about how you can use technology to make your classroom experience better. Top Hat, maker of educational apps, suggests searching for YouTube videos to present in your classroom. “A crafty YouTube search can yield a video relevant to almost anything in your curriculum and paired with an essay or academic journal, a slightly silly video can go a long way in helping your students contextualize what they are learning.”

Other ideas include starting a private classroom Facebook group or Slack group where students feel safe asking questions or getting feedback. With free or low-cost software, your students can make movies, create slide decks, record a song, or even start their own social movement, complete with a hashtag.

One other great option is to use Poll Everywhere to get real-time feedback from your students. Our software allows you to launch polls and ask important questions your students can answer right from their phones.

Give them different assignment options and see what they want to do. Ask if they want to dive deeper into a topic or move onto the next segment. Give a quiz at the beginning of the semester to learn about existing assumptions or to see what your students know about a certain topic. Poll Everywhere makes it easy for your students to make their voices heard in a unique and interesting way.

With these five tips, your student engagement will be as sizzling as the summer sun, and your semester will fly by as fast as… well, as fast as summer itself.