Why I am teaching summer school with no grades, student work requirements, or pay and you should too

Learning is primarily a function of motivation and opportunity; the more you want something the harder you will work to get it and opportunity is something we rarely have a choice in. When you offer students a free opportunity to engage in summer learning with few requirements and tell them they can do as much or as little work as they want you cater to both motivation and opportunity.

Why no grades or work requirements

Summer learning should be about learning. There should be no stress involved and no fear of not achieving a desired result, if you learned something it was a success. One goal I have with this summer learning program is to teach students it’s okay to take a risk in your learning; getting something wrong helps you gain a better understanding. Grades often prevent students from taking these risks, because failure has consequences students often play it safe and give an answer they think the teacher wants instead of what the student really thinks or believes. By removing the grades from summer learning you give those motivated students the tools to gain deeper understanding and hopefully motivation to continue down this path.

Of course no grades will prevent many students from fully participating in this program; there are no consequences for not doing any work. Why does learning, or lack of, have to be punished? Our goal with our summer learning program is to let knowledge be the reward, if you want to gain some understanding and that makes you feel good about yourself then sign up and sign in. If you don’t want to “waste” your free time on school stuff then don’t, everything is purely up to the student and for the student’s benefit.

Why put in all this work for free

We all know teachers are not as compensated for their work as other professionals, the average teacher salary doesn’t match up with the average salary for people with equivalent levels of education but we knew that going into the profession. Technology has made programs like this easier, you can post a task for students online and you don’t have to worry about going to the copier or coming to school. Because there are no grades or deadlines you don’t have to input grades or many of the other non-teaching tasks that consume a large amount of our time outside of the classroom. As an administrator I don’t get the opportunity to teach students as often as I would like, which is a big factor in me deciding to do this, and I will always be a classroom teacher at heart. But the biggest reason for this is that anything our students learn over the summer will come back with them in the next school year and keep their brains in the learning mode. In a time where test scores determine whether or not administrators and teachers keep their jobs we may not be able to afford to not offer a program like this.

Potential problems

Many people will say that this is a program with will only cater to the motivated student who is already at the top of their class and that will be the case for most of the students. For that my argument would be; should we stop catering to the students who still want to learn in the summer? Do we tell students they are too smart and we don’t have time for them because we have to focus on students who don’t perform as well academically? We should continue to offer education to anyone who wants it regardless of their academic levels. We spend a large amount of time on remediation, and we should. Students who are struggling need opportunities to succeed. But if we make the content interesting and relatable to students we may also pull in some of those students who struggle simply because “school is boring.” Many students fall behind not because of ability level but because they don’t see the merit in learning the material at the time and don’t realize the impacts it has on future academic success. This is why we have learning modules set up with experiments, movies, youtube, and a variety of things students rarely get to do in class because of the pressures of state mandated testing. If students can make a connection to learning in the summer that may bring them in with a more positive outlook in the fall and that brings us back to, can we afford to not be doing this?

What does your school offer in the summer in terms of learning programs? Please leave your ideas, thoughts, and (constructive!!) comments below.

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