For an eighth-grade math teacher like me, the arrival of spring means I’ve almost finished teaching the concepts my students need to succeed in high school.
It also means it’s time to gear up for the next challenge: helping students to retain their math knowledge over the summer.
Research shows that students across all socioeconomic backgrounds experience nearly three months of learning loss in math over the summer.
Summer learning loss is not just about students losing content knowledge. As the teacher for the next school year, the level of loss determines how much review time needs to be built into the schedule.
Time spent on review is valuable, but ultimately takes focus away from grade-level content, which can hinder students’ chances of growth over the year.
As an eighth-grade math teacher at Helen Y. Davis Leadership Academy, a public charter school in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston, I was eager to find a way to help students retain knowledge from the prior school year and practice their math skills over the summer.
My students are nearly all students of color, with 90 percent classified as high needs, 35 percent of students classified as special education students, and 19 percent English Language Learners. The stakes for these students are especially high when it comes to the summer slide.
Through EdVestors’ Zeroing in on Math initiative, our students had access to a digital tool, TenMarks Math, for the year. We wanted to take advantage of the two months when those licenses usually remain dormant for students – in July and August.
To attempt to combat this learning loss, I gave assignments to rising seventh- and eighth-graders throughout the summer and set up a Google Classroom for students to communicate with me and one another. As a tech program with videos and games, the program wasn’t as dry as many others common for summer math work. The promise of a celebratory lunch of their choosing and prizes to those who completed the assignments upon return to school in September didn’t hurt!
Before going on summer vacation, we had a few “step-up days,” when I have classes with my incoming students. During that time, we explored the Google Classroom I set up for the pilot and discussed the norms of its use. Over the summer, in addition to assigning TenMarks, I monitored the Google Classroom and responded to emails weekly.
Going into the summer, I had many hopes about potential benefits for my students. I knew that with practice over the summer, the foundational standards of the previous grade would be kept in the forefront of my students’ minds during a time when they were not at school. Even with just one assignment per week, students would be thinking mathematically and exercising their problem-solving skills, whether spending the summer near or far from Boston.
The pilot was immensely successful. Using a pre-and post- STAR Math assessment, participating students showed 5 months of growth, while non-participating students saw a decrease of 3 months, as research suggests. In addition to these student outcomes, I was able to get to know many of my incoming students before they entered my classroom in September, and my fellow math teachers and I were able to incorporate student results into our summer planning.
However, I did not anticipate what turned out to be the biggest benefit to my students’ math learning. Without the opportunity to come into school the next day with questions for me, students were forced to ask questions about problems that stumped them via email and Google Classroom.
Having email interactions about complex mathematics topics was challenging at first, but students had to quickly become very aware of the way they used mathematical language. These conversations during the summertime were instrumental in strengthening conceptual knowledge and building mathematical endurance for students. I noticed a huge difference in their comfort in exploring new concepts introduced throughout this year.
As I am preparing to send students to high school in the coming months, it has been most exciting to see how students have grown to become effective math communicators who see one another as powerful resources in their learning.
It’s critically important that we find ways to curb summer learning loss in order to give students a chance to be the best students they can be.
Giving students an opportunity to continue their learning growth year-round provides them the best chance to reach their maximum potential. This effort turned a likely slide backward into a great leap forward.
Josh Gresham is an eighth-grade math teacher at Helen Y. Davis Leadership Academy, a public charter school in Boston.