As the school year winds to a close, many teachers are looking for methods to keep the learning alive for their students. Allington and other researchers remind us that summer setback often affects our neediest learners most.
So, the question becomes:
How might we connect ALL students to rigorous, engaging learning beyond the classroom?
In some ways, this type of design inherently demands educational transfer. We need to design experiences that encourage students to use what they know without us. Given that the learning will happen outside the traditional school structure, the design also has to utilize authentic engagement and intrinsic motivation.
- RELATED STORY: Featured Interview with Kristen Swanson
This is a tall but worthy challenge. Luckily, social media offers us exciting, free ways to continue learning conversations in digital spaces. It’s never been easier to interact with learners across large distances in real time.
Although we may never figure out the perfect solution, here are a few practical tips to guide your choices. (It’s also a wise idea to include students in the design process as they’ll likely have even more solutions!)
1. Go mobile.
Although many students from high needs areas may not have access to a computer or Internet, many students DO have access to mobile devices and cell phones. When you design your learning experience, try to ensure that students can use a phone to check in. This will greatly increase participation for students of all walks of life. Here are a few free tools that work well with mobile devices:
- iPadio – iPadio allows you (or your students) to create, share, and listen to podcasts using a mobile device. This would be a great way to share brief learning updates or thoughts on a reading or current event. Best of all, it’s free.
- Class Pager – Class pager allows you to ask students questions, send reminders, or provide feedback via a mobile device. It works with any mobile device and it’s free!
- Blogger – If you want to have a collaborative class blog over the summer, you can set up a Blogger blog to accept posts from an email address. If you share the email address with students, then they can email images or messages from their phones that will post to the site. Importantly, you can set the blog to require approval from you before a post goes live. All of this can be configured in the “settings tab” when you log in. Again, this tool is free!
2. Make it relevant.
If we want students to actually engage with the work we design on their own time, students must find it inherently interesting. We need to tap into students’ intrinsic motivation and curiosities. Here are a few strategies to design relevant work:
- Ask the kids. This might seem like a no-brainer, but it is sometimes forgotten. Ask students what they want to learn about over the summer. Increased autonomy will result in increased participation.
- Use tasks with real audiences and real roles. Don’t make summer work too “teacherly.” Instead, ask students to become engineers, doctors, lawyers, coffee shop owners, etc. Send students out into the community to gather data or design real solutions.
3. Figure out scalable ways to provide feedback to students.
The most successful digital spaces provide learners with lots of feedback. To keep students coming back to a digital conversation, actively create a feeling of belongingness. Here are a few strategies to provide feedback:
- Don’t try to provide all the feedback yourself. You are only one person, and you can’t realistically read every post or comment! Have students comment on each others’ work. Invite community members into the space and encourage them to provide feedback. In short, make the space flat and diverse, not linear.
- Craft a few “go to” responses. Is there a conversation about genetic engineering happening in the space? If so, figure out 3-4 basic responses that you can use. Then provide these responses to students. If you have a frame from which to start, it can really speed up the feedback process.
Remember, use the suggestions above as a guide, not a recipe. There’s no “wrong way” to create digital learning during the summer months. Find something that works for you and your students. If you are thoughtful, you’ll help students stay connected to learning all summer long!