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Checklist for Your Online Summer School Program

February 20, 2020 Sarah Williamson By Sarah Williamson
Summer School Program

I know it may seem like summer is months away, but it’s not too early to begin making your district’s plans. Let's face it, sitting on a beach sounds a lot more appealing than sitting in the classroom on long, hot summer days. But summer school programs are gaining steam.

School leaders across the country are changing the structure of summer programs to meet a wide range of student needs. While summer school used to be offered almost solely for struggling students to recover lost credits, districts are now implementing innovative ways to expand educational opportunities for all students.

For example, California recently required all districts to provide a health course at least once in middle school and once in high school. Schools were faced with the challenge of fitting an extra course into students’ already packed schedules and ensuring that their health courses were properly aligned to standards. Fullerton Joint Union High School District, in Fullerton, California, took this as an opportunity to help incoming freshman transition to high school and start completing graduation requirements before school even began.

The district offered the two-week course through their existing online academy. Nearly 75 percent of incoming ninth graders completed their health course. Administrators were so impressed with the completion rates that they will continue to offer the course during the summer.

High quality digital curriculum enables flexible programs that offer personalized learning options tailored to each student's needs. The challenge is that not all online learning programs are created equal. It can be helpful to refer to the national standards for online courses and consider the following checklist that a quality digital curriculum should offer:

  1. Active learning. When students are active participants in their lessons, they "learn by doing" and deepen their engagement with the material.
  2. Purposeful use of media. Students should have many ways to explore and understand new concepts. They should participate in a variety of ways to read, listen, inquire, manipulate, explore, and discuss the content.
  3. Scaffolding. Relatable problem-solving guides share explicit strategies that enable students at all levels to be independent, confident learners. Scaffolds support students as they master academic processes.
  4. Study guides. Study tools should help improve study skills and support more than simple note taking. They should encourage students to graphically organize information, guiding students to capture key concepts from instruction.
  5. Check for understanding and self-assessment. The "learn by doing" instructional approach provides opportunities for students to check their understanding through frequent formative interactive activities. These low-stakes or no-stakes assessments should make students continuously aware of their progress toward mastery.
  6. Plenty of formative feedback. Program features designed to build confidence and comprehension may include modeled responses, targeted feedback, and hints that support students' understanding of concepts.
  7. Relevant, real-world examples. Purposeful use of media that references real-world examples, including text as well as a variety of video clips, slide shows, and other imagery, effectively support middle and high school students.
  8. Supports successful completion of activities with audio and visual cues. When students are asked to read, write, calculate, or perform tasks, they should be supported in successful completion through both audio and visual cues that guide them clearly through complex tasks and processes.
  9. Engages students in rigorous standards-based curriculum that fully prepares them for assessments. The overall goal of any digital curriculum should be to present standards-rich instruction, presented in clear and concise language that's accessible to all students.
  10. Real-time data. Both students and teachers benefit from real-time data for assessment of student comprehension that provides actionable feedback that can be used to increase learning, or to develop personalized learning plans.
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