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How to help your language learners avoid the “Summer Slide”

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Tips to help students maintain their motivation and proficiency.

Γεια σας & dia duit, language teachers! Welcome back to Adventures in Language. In this article, we’re talking about the dreaded Summer Slide. What is it, why does it matter, and how can you help your students avoid it? 

What is the “Summer Slide”? 

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Summer Slide is a term used to describe the learning loss that can occur over the summer break while students are not in the classroom. You may also know it by the name Summer Learning Loss. Or you simply know it by that feeling on your first day back when your students say “Ufff - yeah - what did we even cover last year?!”

What do we know about it?

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Let’s break it down. Roughly 75% of students don’t get any formal learning experiences in the summer (After, 2010). Don’t get me wrong - it’s great to take a much-needed mental break and re-energize, get outdoors...all of that is great. However, the lack of structured learning experiences over the summer months can have negative outcomes for students. For example, we know that they tend to perform more poorly on standardized tests at the beginning of a new school year than they do at the end of the previous school year (Quinn & Polikoff, 2017). Which, in and of itself, shouldn’t be so alarming, as standardized test scores aren’t the only (or even the best) way to gauge learner progress. But what is somewhat concerning is that summer slide can show some ”continental shift action” in that it can accumulate over time in a way that affects students’ overall proficiency in critical subject areas like reading and math in later grades, particularly among low-achieving students (Cooper, Nye, Charlton, Lindsay, & Greathouse, 1996; Quinn & Polikoff, 2017). A recent 2020 paper about this from Dr. Sarah Winchell Lenhoff (Assistant Professor of educational leadership and policy studies in Wayne State University) and colleagues sums it up nicely, saying quote “A meta-analysis of 39 studies found that, between the grades of 1 to 6 there is a potential cumulative achievement gap that could compound to 1.5 years’ worth of reading development lost in the summer months (Cooper et al., 1996). On average, students’ scores decline by one month’s worth of school-year learning during the summer (Quinn & Polikoff, 2017).”

What can language teachers do to set students up for success?

Read on for 4 things you can do to provide fun, valuable ways for students to continue and maintain their language learning journeys over the summer that -- importantly -- don’t require your time, energy, or labor over the summer.

#1: Do a “Life Goals, Summer Goals” activity.

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Sometime during the last week of class, set aside time to have students reflect on their life goals and set up their summer language goals in alignment with them. During that time, you can give them your own tips to keep them accountable to their goals. I personally recommend my students use Google Calendar reminders or the Reminders app. Though there are tons of low tech options - like motivational reminder post-its! And ask them to type out their summer language goals and submit them to you by the end of class. A great way to make this more individualized for students is to ask them to also specify their real-life “why” of getting conversational or proficient or fluent in that language. Then hold on to their submissions - because you’re going to use them later.

#2: Curate a “Summer Bucket List” for them to explore. 

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This will be chock-full of fun (teacher-approved) language and cultural learning opportunities for your students to know about. These can include podcasts to listen to, musical artists to get into, and local or virtual events that involve the target language and/or culture. If you’re like me, you already keep an ongoing list of your favorite content and events, so why not make it a “thing” and share it out with your students? Heck - even include it in your syllabus at the beginning of next year, and keep it updated. If you have any recommendations of your own for other teachers to consider including on their “Summer Bucket Lists” - share them out in the comments! Ah, the power of teachers and crowd-sourcing. It’s a beautiful thing.

#3: Send “Midsummer Motivation” check-in messages!

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This is one super easy. Send out 2-3 email check-ins throughout the summer to ask them how they’re doing with their goals, including some motivational content. Lean into your own teaching personality for these. Bonus here is you can schedule the emails out ahead of time, so you don’t have to worry about it when you’re actually on vacation. And, as I promised earlier, you can make use of the “Life Goals, Summer Goals” activities you’ll have done with your students at the end of the previous school year. In one of your check-in emails, attach the students’ submissions to remind them of their own goals. Pro-tip: if you don’t have access to student emails over the summer, consider communicating through your school’s LMS (Learning Management System).

#4: Get your students access to the Mango Languages app! 

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The Mango Languages app is a great resource to provide over the summer to keep up learner engagement and retain proficiency (and during the academic year as a learning resource. If your school doesn’t already have an institutional license for you and your students, bring it up to them. Find out more about all the cool stuff Mango offers and set up a meeting with one of my friendly colleagues on the Sales team by clicking the link in the description.


Thanks for reading!
If you liked this article, let us know! Want more engaging language content like this? Subscribe to our YouTube channel and follow us on Instagram @MangoLanguages! Well, language teachers - that's all for now. Αντίο σας! Slán leat! And we look forward to seeing you back here for our next article. To embark on your next language adventure, visit us at mangolanguages.com!

Wondering what languages were used in today’s article? In addition to the article being written in English, ‘Γεια σας’ (YAH.sahs) and ‘Αντίο σας’ (Ah.DEE.oh.sahs) are the words for ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ in Greek. ‘Dia duit’ (DEE-u-guit) and ‘slán leat’ (SLAAN.lat) are ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ in Irish. Interested in Greek or Irish or one of our other 70+ languages? Click to check out our courses! 

References and suggested readings to explore more about this topic:

  • Lenhoff, S. W., Somers, C., Tenelshof, B., & Bender, T. (2020). The potential for multi-site literacy interventions to reduce summer slide among low-performing students. Children and Youth Services Review, 110, 104806.

  • America After 3PM (2010). Special report on summer: Missed opportunities, unmet demand. New York: Wallace Foundation.

  • Quinn, D., & Polikoff, M. (2017). Summer learning loss: What is it, and what can we do about it”. Brookings Institute report.

  • Cooper, H., Nye, B., Charlton, K., Lindsay, J., & Greathouse, S. (1996). The effects of summer vacation on achievement test scores: A narrative and meta-analytic review. Review of Educational Research, 66, 227–268.

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Emily Rae Sabo
Written by Emily Rae Sabo

Emily, a Pittsburgh native, is a linguist at Mango Languages whose areas of specialization are the social and cognitive factors that impact bilingual language processing and production. Having studied 7 languages and lived in various countries abroad, she sees multilingualism—and the cultural diversity that accompanies it—as the coolest of superpowers. Complementary to her work at Mango, Emily is a Lecturer of Spanish at the University of Tennessee, a Producer of the We Are What We Speak docu-series, and get this...a story-telling standup comedian!

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