Over the past three months, we have been working hard to define, plan and create materials for a range of summer courses we are delivering over July. It’s been a lot of hard work, but something that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. In this post, we’ll take a look at our goals, how we met our goals, and some things I’ve learnt.
Our goal – More learners, better courses
Last year we had very low numbers over the summer, which led to Goal 1: Get more learners in the door. Obviously, the school is also a business, and we need to make July as profitable as possible, which is not always easy to achieve. We wanted to try to get more YLs in the door, with the idea that in a number of years, our summer ‘camps’ should be our mainstay alongside our intensives.
The courses last year were well-structured and received quite positive feedback from learners (although this feedback was only verbal, so not very valid or triangulated). After reflecting on the courses, I felt that the courses we had last year, whilst good, did not include some of the more important aspects of syllabus design (e.g., clear course goals and objectives, or course evaluation) – and these changes could help us make them more effective as well as attractive to learners. So, Goal 2, then, would be: Ensure that all courses are effectively planned and include all necessary elements of syllabus design.
Goal 1 – More learners
So, how did we get more learners? Well, the simple answer is marketing, but it’s a little more complex than that. The marketing that we pushed this year included numerous components, and we found that the timing of this marketing helped a lot. Let’s take a look:
- Facebook and Instagram ads: These were sent out in two ‘sessions’; one at the beginning of Term 3, and the second about a month before summer courses began. Very important to note that these were targeted ads, aimed at specific groups of people.
- Flyers: The classic flyer has been a staple in our marketing strategy to get external clients this year. These were given out to people within the local area, and we also had them placed on cars surrounding the school. These were put out over a period of one month, starting about six weeks before summer courses.
- Posters: I created some summer course posters using Canva (a tool that both teachers and managers should get familiar with!) and placed these in our poster stand and in one of the windows of the academy. These were out about eight weeks before the start of summer courses. We tried to place these so that they were facing local cafes and bars where people would often sit.
- Internal communications: Obviously, one of the biggest client bases we have to work from is our own! We sent internal communications, emails, flyers, etc. to our own learners both at the end of Term 2 and mid-way through Term 3. We included special offers for early sign ons.
So, how did we go? Well, we were able to increase our learner numbers by over 100% from the last year. A bit of context is needed, of course – we are a medium-sized academy, so our ‘numbers’ are not in the hundreds for summer courses, but this year we have significantly more than last year, so I view this as a success story. We were able to get the minimum number of learners required to run each of our courses, with these courses included both existing as well as new learners/customers. This means that in terms of profitability, our courses are doing well.
Goal 2 – Effectively planned courses with all the nuts and bolts
This summer, we are running the following courses:
- Urban summer camp (4 – 7 year olds)
- Urban summer camp (8 – 13 year olds)
- Cambridge B2 First intensive
- Cambridge C1 Advanced intensive
Whilst I won’t go into detail about each of the courses and their ‘content’, I want to highlight the things we wanted to have in each course (in addition to the run-of-the-mill content):
- A clear non-prescriptive syllabus: Richards (1998) writes that there are teachers who are very syllabus-bound and others that make their decisions based on learners’ needs and wants. We want the best of both worlds, so we set out goal of having a clear syllabus that provides an overview of what could be done, what ‘needs‘ to be done to meet course objectives and evaluation, and extra resources. I also created a ‘teacher briefing’, which is a document that aims to summarise the course, resources, expectations of the teacher, etc.
- Both input-based and output-based tasks: In line with our mission statement and school’s move towards more fluency-focused teaching, we wanted each syllabus to include either input-based task, output-based tasks, or a mixture of both, with there being a requirement for a minimum number of tasks to be completed (thus ensuring we meet our criteria whilst leaving plenty of room for the teacher to teach how they want). For the younger YLs, input-based tasks are a main feature in the syllabus (in-line with research showing the importance of developing and utilising listening skills (e.g., Long, 2015)); older YLs and intensives have a mixture of both, with the older YLs having more input-based tasks than output.
- Course evaluation: One problem that we noted last year was that there was no way to evaluate courses other than the end-of-course chat with learners which produced, let’s be honest, relatively useless data! This year, we have planned to include a range of evaluation methods, aiming to triangulate data where possible. For example, with the intensives, course evaluation will take place using the methods written below. Of course, these are not ‘perfect’, but we hope that by collecting data from a range of perspectives, we can identify where the course succeeded and where more work needs to be done to develop the course for future years:
- Learner feedback form to be sent out at the end of the course
- Teacher feedback form to be sent out at the end of the course
- Teacher feedback chat to take place once a week during the course (everyone Friday)
- By analyzing progress in exam marks over the entirety of the course
- Reflection: Reflection is an extremely important aspect of learning, and we wanted reflection to take place in all our courses. In the YL courses, this reflection takes place in a guided manner; for example, at the start of one of the YL courses, learners are asked about what they are most looking forward to in the course, and then at the end they are asked to think back on what they said and talk about their thoughts again. Also, at the end of certain projects, learners are asked to reflect on what they learnt about the topic as well as how they worked together as a team. In the intensives, reflection takes place after every mock exam, with learners being tasked to analyse their progress, and identify where they went well AND where they could improve. They are also asked to identify WHY they did well/poorly in a certain area.
- Learner awareness: For the intensives at least, we wanted learners to have a very clear understanding of what the course entails, course objectives, how it is evaluated, their responsibilities, etc. This ties with with the idea of managing expectations that Phillips (2013) writes about. We achieved this through the creation of a ‘learner briefing document’. You can see a copy of one of the learner briefings below.
In my mind, I feel that we have been successful in planning the courses in a much more ‘theory-approved’ manner, including all the necessary elements of syllabus design.
What I’ve learnt
- Marketing is obviously something to get acquainted with: It needs to be something we DoSs and Directors get ‘good at’ as it leads to more ‘bums on seats’ as well as raises awareness that the school is actually there (even more important in a saturated market). Marketing is also something that I want to explore more of, especially exploiting social media.
- Planning courses is a joint venture: Whilst one can plan a course by oneself, having another person to bounce ideas off, check that something is clear, etc. is extremely helpful. Also, getting more perspectives on what actually should be in a course is really important – remember that your experience teaching a level may have been very different to someone else’s, and their perspectives may give you plenty of ideas.
- Planning takes time, so start early: Anyone who thinks that they can get a course planned in a few days is kidding themselves. Oh, yes, you could say that the course is ‘the course book’, but be careful – that is not course planning. To give you a rough idea, the C1 intensive was created from scratch, and it took me probably 25 – 35 hours of work, over the course of three weeks. I drew on resources from published materials, my own materials (some of which I had to create for the course), authentic texts, etc. And, I created a course specific course book of sorts. There are also the other components to think of, some of which you’ve seen: clear course objectives, appropriate links, learner and teacher briefings, testing of materials (e.g., I wanted to use a summative assessment of lexis learnt on the course, so I tested it out with teachers – and luckily I did as there were many things that needed changing!), and of course getting all the materials ready for teachers (even more difficult when there are projects). Plan well in advance.
What happens next?
So, the courses are starting on the 4th of July, and they will finish on the 29th of July. These courses now need to be taught AND evaluated. So, while the conceptualizing and planning has taken place, and I feel that this has been a success story in itself, the courses need to run and we need to get feedback on how they run. As someone who had a hand in planning the courses but can’t actually teach all of them, I am really interested to see if what I had in mind, is the same as what the teachers and learners do, and how much of a match/mismatch between priorities there is. I’m also interested in how well the courses help learners meet their individual objectives.
But what about you? Have you been planning summer courses? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the challenges you’ve faced, your goals, and some of the pointers you have 🙂