Helping students who need it most: how one teacher keeps kids learning over the summer
Kenya McGriff understands the importance of keeping students learning over the summer, this year especially. Every summer students show patterns of learning loss, but with school closures due to COVID-19, the NWEA estimates that students may return in fall 2020 with less than 50% of typical learning gains and—in some grades—nearly a full year behind.
McGriff is continuing to teach this summer through Upward Bound, a federal program to support high school students from low-income families and families in which neither parent holds a bachelor’s degree. She’s also encouraging students in her school to participate in Khan Academy’s free, virtual summer camp, Camp Khan.
McGriff is a Khan Academy Ambassador and teaches seventh-grade math and pre-algebra at Allapattah Flats K–8 school in Port St. Lucie, Florida. We asked McGriff to share her experiences helping students avoid learning loss over the summer.
Khan Academy: Can you tell us about your work with the Upward Bound program?
Kenya McGriff: The Upward Bound program provides support to students who may be financially challenged or are potential first-generation college students. Students are given the opportunity to participate in curricula and programs that will prepare them for college. This summer I am teaching Middle School ELA for the Upward Bound program at Indian River State College in Fort Pierce, Florida. I am working in the Summer CROP (College Reach Out Program). This is my first year.
Khan Academy: Are your Upward Bound courses remote? And if so, are you experiencing any challenges with remote learning?
McGriff: The courses are virtual, and I have four classes that rotate between technology, math, English/language arts, and French/Creole. The challenges that I’ve faced with teaching remotely include monitoring small group activities. It’s not like in a classroom, where you can just look over and see the students who are not working. They are able to go into a separate virtual room with their group. Sometimes when I leave my small group to check on another, someone has disappeared. I’ve learned to reward the groups that are the most productive.
Khan Academy: How have you used Khan Academy in the Upward Bound program?
McGriff: I have kids in one group work on Khan Academy’s ELA Beta. I was not given a curriculum to work from, so I based my curriculum around the first skills listed in ELA Beta. The other group works with me for about 20 minutes reading and discussing a novel. Then, we switch. The group that is the most productive earns free time. They get to leave class three minutes early, or I give them an automatic 100 on the lesson.
Khan Academy: Why did you think Khan Academy would be a good fit for your Upward Bound courses?
McGriff: I thought Khan Academy would be a good fit because I use it during the regular school day in my math class. When I’m not able to explain to students how to do something because I’m with another group, the kids can “get a hint” on Khan Academy that walks them through how to solve the problem or just gives them enough information to start them off.
I love the fact that I can monitor progress so easily and the kids can’t cheat. The questions are different. So, kids sitting next to each other can help each other figure out how to solve the problem, but one kid can’t just copy another.
Khan Academy: How have you been using Camp Khan with your students over the summer?
McGriff: I created class codes for third through eight grade so that students can participate in Camp Khan over the summer. My principal sent out a schoolwide email to all of the families. So, the students are signing up on their own and using the class codes that I made.
Khan Academy: How long have you been using Khan Academy in your classroom, and what results have you seen?
McGriff: I have been using Khan Academy for about four years now. I am also the math department chair at my school. I taught professional development at the beginning of the year. I emphasized how Khan Academy eliminates work by giving teachers ready-made centers and doing progress monitoring for you. Later on in the year, someone from the district office in the curriculum department asked what we were using to improve our scores (because our scores have improved nicely). My principal told them about Khan Academy. Another school in our district that has had similar increases in scores also attributed the progress to Khan Academy. By spring break, the principal made Khan Academy a schoolwide requirement for the whole math department (elementary and middle). Unfortunately, it was short lived because of Covid-19.
I have always received compliments on my students’ scores. Khan Academy makes progress monitoring so easy now. One of the main reasons that I use Khan Academy is because I’ve noticed that the practice questions that we have on the state test almost mirror the same questions that kids have on Khan Academy.