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Summer Classes: Opportunities for Teaching and Learning

For Faculty and TAs

Use summer classes as an opportunity to try something new in your teaching repertoire.

Summer classes are often intensive in nature.  This requires that you employ a purposeful sequencing of the course to increase students’ learning.  In a non-summer class, the sequencing of the course usually looks unfortunately like this:

Class Time:       <Lecture> <Lecture> <Lecture> <Lecture> . . . <Exam>

Homework:       <Reading> <Reading> <Reading>                                  

Several problems arise when an instructor employs this approach during the summer.  First, the intensive nature of summer classes do not allow for lecturing in a relaxed pace because each class meeting is equal to about a week’s worth of lectures in a traditional course.  Lecturing for three hours or an extended period is pedagogically problematic because studies of students’ attentiveness during lectures show a flagging of interest within fifteen minutes.  A second problem with the lecture-reading sequence is that students in summer classes have less time between classes to read the equivalency of a week’s materials.  Finally, a third problem with this sequence is that it depends on summative assessment and lacks formative assessment.  When professors assess student learning in this manner, they miss the opportunity to influence student learning through giving constructive feedback that benefits the overall retention of the materials.

Your summer courses will benefit through employing a different sequencing that is more dynamic and builds active learning strategies into the lectures that allow you informally to assess students’ learning and adjust your teaching:

Class Time: <Mini-lecture + Active Learning + Mini Lecture + Group Activity> . . .

Homework: <Carefully Selected Readings Highlighting Key Information>

To make your summer course more dynamic, intersperse lectures with active learning techniques such as icebreakers, minute papers, think-pair-share sessions, group work, and discussions.  In addition, you should trim the readings to essential key texts.  Interspersing your lectures with active learning that focuses on key readings will allow you to monitor student comprehension of materials and give students feedback that is constructive, frequent and timely.  For a successful summer class, intersperse your lectures with active learning and focus on essential readings that you employ in class activities.

For Students

Students take summer courses for a variety of reasons.  Some take summer courses to lighten the load of the regular school year; others take summer classes because they want a particular course they cannot fit into the regular term.  Whatever your reason for taking summer classes, there are some strategies that will help the summer go more smoothly.

Summer classes are usually intensive by nature.  You will cover a semester’s worth of materials in a shorter period.  Here are some types for surviving the intensive nature of summer classes:

    * Preplan your summer.  Be sure you find time for vacation, rest and personal wellbeing before or after your summer class.

    * Prepare to give your summer courses all your energy. When classes are in progress, you will need to focus exclusively on course work because of the rapid pace of summer classes.

    * Put forward a strategy to accomplish what the course requires.  Know the deadlines, assignments and readings that are scheduled.  To avoid becoming overwhelmed by the pace, make a calendar that keeps you ahead.

    * Participate in every class.  When you participate, you learn more because you are actively engaging your brain which increases your memory.

    * Plan to enjoy the experience.  Since summer classes meet so frequently for longer periods with smaller enrollments, you will find the opportunity for more interaction with instructors and fellow students.  You will find that the summer experience is more personal.