Ten minutes into class, Eric asked, “Am I passing?” I was observing the first day of summer school for students who had failed 8th grade. Of course Eric was primarily focused on this high-stakes question. But I was a little worried—I knew we had to get Eric engaged in more interesting questions if he was actually going to learn this summer.
The urgency to pass has always driven most summer school students. But this summer, districts have significantly expanded the number of students who must attend summer school because of the increase in chronic absenteeism over the past two years of COVID-19. How can we help students get more out of summer school than just a P for showing up and doing the minimum?
I kept watching to see if the teacher could get Eric and his classmates to focus on the actual work they were doing. He posted Eric’s writing from the previous day on the overhead projector, and Eric said, “Wow.” I wasn’t sure whether Eric was reacting to the power of his writing or to the fact that the teacher had made his work so quickly visible to everyone in the class. The teacher read Eric’s entry to the class, pointed to a sentence, and said to everyone, “When I read this last night, sitting at my kitchen table, I could feel Eric’s rush of confidence.”
Eric blinked a few times, pursed his lips, giggled somewhat shyly. To the students staring at him, he said, “Yeah. I knew we were going to win.” The teacher then shared an entry in which a different student wrote about the frustration he felt during the same game. The teacher told the class that he shared that student’s frustration because he too would likely have lost in the same situation. That student smiled and nodded his head. Then, when the teacher said that he would give all of the students this type of feedback every night, I saw a few other students glance at their computers and scroll down to the space for their next journal entry. They sat up a little straighter and leaned forward, preparing themselves to write.
The students knew that their insights had been noticed. The time that teachers spend this summer giving frequent, brief, and authentic feedback makes students like Eric feel like their work can impact others, a possibility that will cause them to dig into intellectual challenges rather than do just enough to pass.