Summer Learning Loss – Remediation vs. Skill Maintenance, Part I

Summer Learning Loss – Remediation vs. Skill Maintenance, Part I 424 283 admin

I founded ThinkStretch because the effects of summer learning loss were apparent. I saw first-hand students work hard all year only to lose learned skills over the summer. I was thrilled to see that, of late, summer learning loss has gained greater amounts of attention both in the school systems as well as in the press. Unfortunately, much of the discussion around summer learning loss and its negative effects on students fails to distinguish between academic remediation and maintenance over the summer.

Because of this, I’ve decided to write a blog post, broken into two parts, highlighting the differences between the two options, providing a better understanding of how skill maintenance programs can help to prevent the effects of summer learning loss.

In Part I, I will discuss the main differences between summer remediation programs and summer skill maintenance programs.

Summer skill maintenance programs focus on the practice of a broad set of academic skills in a non-traditional educational setting. Students use and practice mastered skills with the goal of returning to school confident and prepared to learn new material. Students absorb the message that “learning never stops” and dependence on academic remediation programs declines. Summer programs focused on skill maintenance offer a combination of academic and enrichment opportunities often offering a combination of indoor and outdoor activities and can be implemented strictly as a take-home program from schools.

Because summer remediation addresses gaps in student learning, they often have a restricted focus on a small set of academic skills, typically reading intervention and math. Remediation is a backward looking approach, focusing on those students who weren’t able to learn what was taught during the school year. Academic remediation needs are pervasive in low performing schools often characterized by high poverty levels, and students can find themselves needing remediation classes year after year. This can create a vicious cycle when not coupled with a skill maintenance approach.

Cycles of summer remediation that are not paired with skill maintenance in the intervening summers do not show sustained academic gains for students. Many schools offer intervention prior to 3rd grade, as our nation proliferates “3rd grade reading guarantees.” However, inexpensive, well implemented summer reading programs from Kindergarten to 3rd grade can stop the regression of nearly six months – or nearly 2/3 of a grade level – of reading skill loss.

As an education system – parents, schools and community – we need to focus on maintaining student skills over the summer, in addition to remediating skill losses. By maintaining school year skills every summer, the need for remediation due to predictable summer skill loss will be much lower and less costly. Remediation will always have a role for students who have not mastered skills during the school year, and the solutions to these issues are complex and focus on the classroom during the school year – not the summer.

Understanding the Benefits of Summer Learning

Understanding the Benefits of Summer Learning 424 283 admin

As ThinkStretch has continued an enthusiastic campaign championing the benefits of summer learning, we’ve found, through working with hundreds of schools and tens of thousands of students, that the summer slide can be difficult to overcome. Families, schedules and opportunities vary widely and a one-size fits all solution isn’t always possible. But we’ve also learned that summer learning can help improve a student’s school performance and retention of skills. And recently, the results of a study conducted by the Wallace Foundation align closely with what we’ve learned.

The National Summer Learning Project is a six year effort by the Wallace Foundation to quantify the benefits of two voluntary, consecutive summers of school district academic instruction and enrichment activities on low income students’ success in school. The first results of the six year study are now available and indicate a mix of positive and neutral results across math, reading and socio-emotional outcomes.

We’re excited to see that academic outcomes measured by the study showed positive impacts on mathematics scores for students. Previous studies have shown all students lose some math skills over the summer, and this study now reaffirms that summer learning programs help students retain math skills. Studies have also shown that only some students lose reading skills which might attribute to the neutral results for students’ reading outcomes.

We believe there is a large and influential role that family engagement plays in summer learning opportunities. Unfortunately, this study does not address the role of family engagement in a student’s academic success, though it does reinforce our finding that families are extremely willing to commit voluntary time to summer learning. While summer has proven to be a source of high anxiety for parents as they search for productive activities for their students, a unique opportunity is presented when summer activities are associated with their school district.

As the study progresses, it will be interesting to evaluate the level of summer learning occurring in the control group. The educational community has long recognized the positive role of summer learning in both reading and math. It is encouraged by schools, libraries and community groups, often with free book giveaways. ThinkStretch and other researchers have shown that free choice summer reading can be as effective as summer school at maintaining reading levels.

We commend the Wallace Foundation and the school districts of Boston, Dallas, Duval, Pittsburgh, and Rochester NY for the innovative efforts and rigorous study of the important issue of summer learning loss on low income students. As a strong supporter of summer learning opportunities for all students, we’re happy to see that the core foundations of our summer learning program are bolstered with the first results from the National Summer Learning Project. We look forward to following the ongoing research into best practices in the field of summer learning.

Welcome to the New ThinkStretch.com!

Welcome to the New ThinkStretch.com! 540 400 admin

We’d like to welcome you to our brand new site! We’ve made some big changes here, but our goal will always remain the same, end summer learning loss, engage students all year-round and instill a genuine passion for learning.

With the philosophy that “learning never stops”, we’ve made a few upgrades to better assist everyone that visits our site. So whether you’re a school administrator, teacher, homeschooler, parent or PTO member, you’ll be able to find exactly what you need.

Although we’ve made some major changes, you should still expect the same great content, fun and engaging activities and a summer learning program that will keep students actively learning throughout the summer.

So take a look around and let us know what you think!

Why Are ThinkStretch Medals Free?

Why Are ThinkStretch Medals Free? 225 179 admin
Our free shipments of medals are our commitment to being focused on the finish line, not the bottom line. 

Because when a student finishes a ThinkStretch summer workbook, they return to school confident and prepared to learn, and that is our mission.  I will not compromise on the high quality of the medal. The loud metallic “clank” when a student bangs the medal on their desk, or the heavy weight in their hand that makes them ask every year, “Is it real gold?”  Because when a student reads a minimum of 800 minutes a summer, answers hundreds of math facts, writes a journal entry every week and tries some hands on STEM experiments, I want to say “thank you for all your efforts” in a meaningful way.

We know purchasing processes can be tedious.

The last thing we want is for students who have persevered over the summer to not receive medals.  Our goal is for you to build a culture of summer skill review that culminates in an appreciation of students for their efforts.  By shipping medals for free, with no invoicing, no shipping charge and no hassle, we assure that nothing stands in the way of any student receiving the recognition that they so richly deserve.

Bronze, Silver and Gold are important distinctions.

We would be failing you if we simply sent all gold medals with your books at the beginning of summer and saved ourselves the hassle and cost of additional shipments in the fall.  Of course we want every student to finish his or her workbook – but for some, that may be a struggle, especially the first summer.  If we only offered gold, there would be no encouragement for the student who started too late to finish, or who simply stopped trying.  By offering gold, silver and bronze, you can reward effort and encourage more achievement the next summer.  We ship 10 gold medals for every bronze or silver medal, but we would never want to stop shipping bronze and silver because we want all kids to be recognized for what they were able to accomplish.

Why Does ThinkStretch Give Out Achievement Medals?

Why Does ThinkStretch Give Out Achievement Medals? 222 170 admin
Achievement medals are a way to say “thank you for your efforts”.  

ThinkStretch medals represent hundreds of math facts, at least 800 minutes of reading, 8 journal entries, and a dozen STEM bonus activities completed over the summer. Most importantly, achievement medals represent effort. It does not matter if you read the toughest book or simply read the book you like the most – what matters is that you read. Did you take 5 minutes or 30 minutes to complete your math facts? It doesn’t matter. What matters is that you finished them. ThinkStretch achievement medals are a way to thank students for persevering over the summer to keep school year skills in tact.

ThinkStretch medals change every year so kids can build a great collection of achievement!  

We all know that kids love to collect things.  Isn’t that the drive behind many of our crazy trends – beanie babies, Pokemon cards, and eraser tops?  At ThinkStretch, we want to see students build a collection of achievement.  Every summer ThinkStretch issues a new medal series featuring the Brain.  We are so proud to have been sent images of  ThinkStretch medals in school photos, local newspaper articles, decorating Christmas trees, and hanging around the necks of lots of smiling children!

Achievement medals celebrate effort, not academic levels.

Awarding medals can be controversial. Academic achievement generally refers to how well a student is accomplishing tasks and tests.  ThinkStretch takes a different perspective over the summer.  We choose to award academic effort.  We believe in grit and perseverance.  We believe making an effort to maintain skills over the summer is worthy of celebration.  If you choose to read the most interesting book to you, whether or not it is the perfect reading level assigned to you, we believe it is worthy of celebration. If you persevere and complete the math problems, even if it takes you longer than it took your sibling, we believe you are worthy of celebration. ThinkStretch wants every student to return to school prepared, confident and ready to learn.  And we want to celebrate all the effort it took to come to school that way!

Why are ThinkStretch Summer Workbooks Pressed Thin?

Why are ThinkStretch Summer Workbooks Pressed Thin? 300 194 admin

Thick workbooks with pages and pages of work are a child’s nemesis – especially over the summer. ThinkStretch summer workbooks are pressed to appear thin and accomplishable. The skill work is divided into bite size meals, because the best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. Kids will complete hundreds of math facts each summer, but in quick, distributed math fact ‘bursts’. Research has proven that this is the best way to maintain skills. Every child will read a minimum of 800 minutes – 20 minutes at a time – and complete 8 writing entries and over a dozen STEM activities. A lot of work, in a thin, accomplishable book!

One of the easiest ways to cut a summer of learning short is to frustrate a child.  When a child falls behind in a typical summer workbook, facing a thick stack of pages filled with more work than is necessary to keep up his skills, he can feel full of anxiety, panic and desperation. Whether it is the first few weeks of summer or the last few weeks of summer, it becomes less and less likely that the workbook will be finished without a battle royale in the home.

ThinkStretch presses its books thin so that both parent and child recognize that summer learning is accomplishable all summer long.  Like it or not, thick books bring with them the idea of too much work.  Because the same amount of work can be accomplished in a thin package that encourages children to complete it, ThinkStretch made it a priority to design the grade specific summer workbooks with a minimum of pages and then to press them to make them appear even more doable.

Perception is reality – if a student thinks he can do it, he can; if he thinks he can’t, he never will.

Why are ThinkStretch Workbooks Black and White?

Why are ThinkStretch Workbooks Black and White? 232 300 admin

ThinkStretch summer workbooks are black and white inside, on purpose! 
Colorful workbook pages with bold red, blue and yellow shapes and wide eyed, illustrated children are attractive to adults.  But kids can find all of the color, stimulus, and animation distracting to their learning task. ThinkStretch workbook interiors are black and white to leave kids room to bring their creativity to the pages.  A completed ThinkStretch workbook contains illustrations and colored pages that only a child could create – not a graphic designer.

A summer workbook can be designed to be attractive and desirable to the purchaser – teacher, administrator or parent, or it can be designed to be usable for the student. ThinkStretch cares deeply that every student keeps all of their schools year skills over the summer. Flashy colored pages can distract students from the core task.  Worse, distractions can limit a child’s ability to identify her own contributions to page.  When a student completes a ThinkStretch workbook page, she can immediately see the results of her creativity and effort.

Flashy colors can often mask a depth of content.  Some workbooks mask a lack of depth of content with flashy color and animations.  A large, bold, bright illustration can cover up a lack of quality math concept review, or an illustrated text can mask the low quality of the written selection.  In a ThinkStretch summer learning workbook, the content is the star and the student adds the razzle dazzle.

At ThinkStretch, we believe that the best illustrator of a child’s work is the child!

The Personal Aspect of Parent Involvement in Schools

The Personal Aspect of Parent Involvement in Schools 424 283 admin

Simply put, students succeed when families are engaged. There are tons of ideas to increase parent involvement out there, but how effective are they?

While students benefit from family engagement so to do teachers and schools. Researchers tell us that when parents are engaged in their student’s education, students complete more homework, score higher on tests and in grades, and graduate at higher rates. The monkey in the wrench is how to engage families.

Parent engagement should be considered a collaboration between school and parents. As a parent, I have often been intimidated by teachers or by principals, even with all of my experience in schools. I remember encouraging one of my sons to strive to reading level G in first grade. His teacher took me to task for making academics a competitive sport. I felt embarrassed and chastised. I certainly did not feel that I was collaborating with the teacher or school for my son to succeed.

While I will share several suggestions for actions that schools can take to engage parents, the critical factor to parent engagement is often the personal factor.

Does the parent feel welcome, supported and celebrated in the school? So as you build a parent engagement strategy, emphasize often, to all involved, that it is the personal moments with parents that will bring them in or push them out of school involvement. We all need parents to be involved to succeed!

Practical Ideas to Increase Parent Involvement in Schools

  • Provide parents with an explanation and several examples of one reading and one math strategy each month that they can use consistently with their children.
  • Start the school year with a positive note to parents about their student’s performance in school.
  • Send personal invitations to parents to attend assemblies that celebrate learning and recognize student achievement.
  • Showcase parent engagement participation in school newsletters following each event.

Students Keep Learning All Year Long

Students Keep Learning All Year Long 197 300 admin

Representing a cross section of the larger community, not all students at Abbot Elementary have equal access to summer learning opportunities. Luckily for these students, Principal Pam Sica recognizes the detrimental effect that summer learning loss has on every student and the cumulative effect it has on her most at-risk students.

Abbot Elementary is a school of just under 300 students, with nearly 40% representing an ethnic minority and over 1/3 of students eligible for the free lunch program. A neighborhood school that draws from 1950s era brick ranches as well as low income housing units, Abbot is a close knit community of teachers and parents, according to current parents.

Now finishing their 3rd summer using the ThinkStretch Summer Learning program, students at Abbot earned over 120 gold medals, a 50% increase from the first summer. Everyone at Abbott Elementary had reason to be proud this fall as students, parents and teachers celebrated the completion of over 120 ThinkStretch Summer Learning books.

Just over the course of last summer alone, Abbot students read over 96,000 minutes, completed over 30,000 math facts and wrote in excess of 7,680 journal entries. The stories of their fun with home science activities thrilled the teachers.

“I am so happy we went with this program!” praises Principal Sica.

Abbot elementary now has an established school culture of year round learning. When the school door closes on the academic year, students pick up the challenge and continue their learning through out the summer with the ThinkStretch Summer Learning Program. Teachers welcome students to the new year with achievement medals for the students efforts and new material learn.

Are your students as enthusiastic to return every Fall? If you’re finding yourself spending time re-teaching lessons from the last year as a result of summer learning loss, download a sample ThinkStretch book today. Start planning your school’s summer program now and begin the battle against summer learning loss for your students.

Start the Day with Brain Food!

Start the Day with Brain Food! 225 300 admin

Kids who eat breakfast do better in school, are more likely to participate in physical activities, and tend to eat healthier overall. However, mornings can be hectic, especially the first week of school.

A balance of protein and carbs gives kids energy to start the day and energy to last all morning. Try a few of these ideas to make breakfast simple and get your kids off to school on the right foot!

  • Whole wheat english muffin with peanut butter and bananas
  • Oatmeal with fruit and nuts
  • Whole grain bagel with cheese
  • Breakfast taco (whole wheat tortilla with cheese folded in half and microwaved)
  • Peanut butter and jelly sandwich
  • Yogurt, fruit and granola parfait
  • Scrambled egg scramble (Eggs with ham, cheddar and chives)
  • Eggs in a hole (Poke a hole in a piece of toast, put in a non-stick fry pan and crack an egg into the hole.  Cook and flip until egg is cooked through.)