Summer Teaching

“Compressed” or “intensive” classes, like those in summer B or C, challenge us to distill our courses to their essence. We cannot simply cram everything we usually assign into the shorter time frame (even the most devoted English major is unlikely to finish eight Victorian novels in six weeks, for example.) This means that we have to prioritize. Since we’re likely excited about all of our material, it’s not easy to determine what’s truly most important: you might ask yourself what you’d keep if you had only one day to convey the most essential concepts of your course. What would you really want students to take away? Those should probably be your learning goals, and an effective summer course will be built to help students achieve them.

The extended meeting hours of compressed summer courses also demand that we vary our strategies. Learning takes time—it needs elaboration and practice—so we cannot gallop through masses of material. Trying to use an extended session for content delivery will be counter-productive, and exhausting, both for you and for your overwhelmed students. Instead, students need multiple and varied opportunities to engage with the material and with each other. They’ll need to write, talk, solve problems, make predictions, analyze data…

Bill Kops (2009) studied faculty teaching summer courses and compiled a list of best practices, summarized below.

1) Restructure the course: The high-performing instructors in Kops’s study emphasized learning outcomes instead of content. They realized that their students should still achieve the same learning goals, but that they would have to reach these goals in different ways.

2) Organize and plan for the term: Even more than other semester formats, summer courses require detailed planning of the entire class from the start, which requires anticipating requirements, student questions, etc.

3) Reconfigure assignments: Longer assignments will need to be scaffolded and broken into shorter ones, in order to give the frequent feedback that students will need in order to keep up with the class. The reduced turn-around time for giving feedback makes it all the more important to break work into chunks.

4) Maintain expectations and standards: In contrast to the myth of the “easier” summer session, faculty must establish and maintain high expectations for all students.

6) Capitalize on continuity, smaller classes, and variety of students: Summer classes give you the valuable opportunity to get to know students, determine the extent to which they are learning, and vary your approach based on their individual interests, goals, and/or needs.

7) Maximize support to students: In addition to making yourself available to students (through longer and frequent office hours), it’s useful to provide students with reading and study guides, class notes, recommended links, etc. given the fast-paced nature of these classes. Additionally, you can help students to form study groups, and encourage them to use campus resources like ACE.

8) Keep students active and use a variety of teaching techniques: As Terry Doyle (2011) insists, “the one who does the work does the learning,” and in an extended session it’s all the more critical that your students do the work—not you. Medina (2008) reminds us that the human brain can maintain attention for about 10 minutes at a time. This means that using class time for content delivery (like lecturing) will overtax your students’ cognitive resources, and overtax you. It will be more productive to structure your daily lesson in small segments, using a variety of teaching techniques that offer students the opportunity to move around, discuss course material and problem-solve with their classmates.

Best wishes for a restful and productive summer!


We will be open over the summer, and eager to support you. We’re hosting two faculty reading groups. If you have a bit of extra time to retool your course, develop new assignments, examine your exams, or anything else, we’re happy to be of assistance. If you’d like support in interpreting and responding to student evaluations, we can help. We’ll also, as usual, be available to conduct midcourse evaluations. In the fall we’ll also have student observers, so let us know if you’d like a students’-eye window into your class.