Twenty years ago, five researchers published an influential book entitled Making the Most of Summer School: A Meta-Analytic and Narrative Review. While the title is quite the mouthful, the contents of the book are relatively straightforward. Through a meta-study of 93 different summer schools, the researchers concluded that “all students benefit from summer school,” particularly “when instruction is individualized.”
We jump ahead 20 years to the present. Ontario eSecondary School is once again proud to offer our courses for summer education. We believe, as the research states, that learning can and should be individualized, which is why our courses are flexible, supportive and self-paced. We also believe that summer courses benefit “all students” – be they high school-aged or mature learners.
Had those researchers not already taken the title, we might have also called this article “Making the Most of Summer School” because that’s precisely what we’ve set out to help you do here. However, unlike the researchers, we aren’t aiming for rigorous scientific methods. Instead, we at OES wanted to compile a handy, easily accessible list of tips for summer schoolers of any age to follow.
Below, you will find 12 tips for getting the most from your summer studies, broken up into three relatable categories: Goal-setting Tips, Getting Started and Study Tips.
We start at the beginning, with goal-setting. Ultimately, goals are a personal conversation – a discussion between you and yourself about the aspirations you hold, and the actionable steps you’re willing to take to meet them.
While your particular goals are personal, methods for constructing those goals can be universal. In this section, we explore a few ways to define, establish and monitor your summer school goals.
Create SMART Goals
In our previous article on how to set goals for academic success, we discussed the SMART system. Aside from being a clever initialism, the SMART system is concise and easy to follow, which is why we routinely recommend it for incoming students.
The system asks you to consider the following principles. Make sure your goals are:
- Specific – Define your goals. It could be as simple as passing an online course, or as future-forward as getting into a specific university. Your goal might be to earn your diploma before your 40th birthday, or earn an “A” in Grade 12 Advanced Functions before the end of summer.
- Measurable – Track your progress so you can meet your goals according to a self-defined timeline.
- Achievable – Make sure your goals are attainable. If your goal is unrealistic (“I want to be the best mathematician ever to live!”), you may wind up disappointed and unmotivated.
- Relevant: What relevance do your goals have in your life? Are you setting a good example for your kids as a mature learner? As a high school-aged learner, are you eager to pursue your interests in a post-secondary program?
- Time-Based – Give yourself a timeline to achieve your goal. Refer to the “S” and “A” principles above, and make your timeline both specific and achievable.
The SMART system is like the Maps app on your phone. It can steer you in the right direction; you just need to know where you want to go.
Keep Your Goals Somewhere Visible
Let’s briefly explore the human brain (this will make sense in a moment). According to psychological research, humans are less likely to remember something they consider a “completed action.” That’s why missed opportunities, unfinished business and unanswered emails tend to stick out in our brains. The phenomenon even has its own sci-fi-sounding name: The Zeigarnik Effect.
What does this have to do with goal-setting, you might ask? We have a tendency to pat ourselves on the back when we set goals. “There, I’ve accomplished what I set out to do – I made goals for myself!” While it’s normal to feel proud of our goals, resist the urge to stow them away as a completed action. The goals are not the ends, but rather the means for accomplishment.
Keep your goals somewhere visible so you can refer to them and track your progress. They might be a series of sticky notes fringing your laptop, or a whiteboard mounted to the wall. If it helps, colour code your goals to signify tasks you haven’t yet accomplished. This colour-code system leverages the power of the Zeigarnik Effect – your eyes see the incomplete actions, and your brain endeavours to make them complete!
You’ve got your goals stickied to your computer or magnet-bound to the family fridge. You have your thinking cap on and the OES tab up on your browser. It’s time to get started!
As you enter our online high school for the summer, consider the following tips to ease yourself in and make sure you start the race sprinting.
Get to Know Your Instructor
Humans need ice-breakers. It’s the reason why so many offices try “trust fall exercises” (to varying degrees of success), or why the first day of summer camp is stacked with introductory games. It helps us familiarize ourselves; that way, when we need help or have questions, we view one another as approachable.
Getting to know your teacher will help you in the long run. Even forming a quick connection can help cultivate a relationship where you are comfortable reaching out for help.
Familiarize Yourself with the Course Structure
OES courses are structured in a list format. Units and lesson plans are ordered such that it’s clear what task you need to accomplish next. Take some time at the start of your course to read through the structure and lesson plans.
Create a Plan to Fulfill Your Goals
You have your goals to one side and your course structure to the other – it’s time to marry the two. Once you familiarize yourself with the course structure, apply it to your goal timeline and measurements. How long will you take to learn each section? How will you measure your progress as you move through the structure?
Remember: you don’t have to set this plan in stone. Online education is flexible, and if you need a little longer to learn a certain concept, you should take the time. Likewise, if you move through your course quicker than anticipated, you can condense your plan accordingly. For more organization tips, read our blog article on the subject!
Develop a Growth Mindset
Last year on the blog, we offered an evergreen piece of advice that applies to all students: have a growth mindset. “A growth mindset is when students understand that their abilities can be developed with hard work and a positive attitude toward developing those skills.”
If you have a “fixed mindset,” you assume that your character, creative skills and intelligence are inherent. “I was just born that way,” you might say. However, with a growth mindset, you understand that you have agency over your skills and talents. You have faith in your potential. As long as you’re up for the challenge, you can achieve what you set out to do.
With introductions out of the way, it’s time to hit the books. Studying is all about intaking, demystifying, internalizing and retaining large amounts of information. To smoothly facilitate that process, your brain likes a calm space, followable routines, mnemonic hacks and a happy body.
Here are few tips to follow as you study through summer school online.