What’s This Thing Called Summer of Learning?

teens in a group photo by vancouver film schoolIn mid-November I had the opportunity to attend the Summer Changes Everythingâ„¢ national conference on summer learning and have been thinking ever since about the library’s role in this area and what the impact is for teens. First, I think it’s important to point out a few things:

  • The summer of learning concept is not new. It might be new to libraries but it has been around for awhile. In 2000 the Center for Summer Learning was created by Johns Hopkins – a spin-off of a successful project they had going on in Baltimore – and in 2009 the Center became the National Summer of Learning Association.
  • The idea behind the summer of learning is to help students of all ages keep up in a variety of subject areas during the summer months. This of course includes reading, which libraries have focused on for a long time, AND math (another area in which young people lose skills over the summer), and really all other subject areas that young people need to keep up on in order to not fall behind by the start of a new school year in the fall.
  • Many school districts, community based organizations, funders, and local agencies are looking at ways to stop the summer slide in math, reading, STEM area,nutrition and more. The library needs to partner with those institutions in order to serve teens successfully.
  • A wealth of statistics exist that give concrete evidence of the summer slide. Libraries should make use of these in order to get the word about about the important role they play in helping to support learning in the summer.

If the summer of learning is all about helping young people keep up their skills throughout the summer months, what does this mean to those serving teens in library? I suggest it means:

  • Taking a cold hard look at teen summer reading programs with an eye towards going beyond reading and recording number of books read or time spent reading. Instead of focusing on number or time, focus on what teens learn during the summer and give teens the chance to participate in activities that are centered on different types of learning. Think about your summer program outcomes being learning-based. For example instead of evaluating program success on the number of books and/or number of teens, try something like this as an outcome, by the end of the summer at least X number of teens will have learned three new things. Remember most learning requires reading so it’s not like you are suggesting teens don’t read over the summer, it just a different focus for that reading promotion. You can transition traditional recording methods and logs to focus on learning ideas and discoveries.
  • Re-branding summer reading to be more expansive and get to the idea that this isn’t just about reading and recording book information. You may stop calling the program the summer reading program and simply label it as a summer program for teens. Then you can integrate a variety of ways to help teens keep up their skills during the summer months. It might be through a coding club, volunteering opportunities, or some other multi-week activity.
  • Working with parents, teachers, colleagues, community based organizations, local agencies, and so on to collaborate on creating programs that support teen summer learning needs. This also includes talking with teens about what they would be interested in doing over the summer months. You don’t have to say “what do you want to learn this summer.” Find out what interests teens by asking them about their interests. Then come up with programs – with the teens and others in the community – to support those interests. You’ll still have a theme but it will be around what teens want to learn.

To be honest, one of my deep desires is that we stop thinking of libraries as supporting the summer of learning but instead focus on supporting learning throughout the year. We can take what we start doing over the summer and use the skills and techniques developed to create a seamless informal and formal learning environment for teens. We want to help them keep up their math, science, reading and other skills year-round. That’s a pretty good goal and focus for library service, don’t you think?

About Linda W Braun

Linda W Braun is a YALSA Past President, the YALSA CE Consultant, and a learning consultant/project management coordinator at LEO: Librarians & Educators Online.
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