Most of my neighbors have hated me from time to time. Specifically in the summer. My most recent neighbor to mock me is a great guy who plays in a punk band and who loves saying things like:
“Must be nice not doing anything today.” As we we pass each other in the front yard.
Now, for those of you who are teachers you know how busy our unpaid summers are. Whether it’s running edcampHOME, #CAedchat, going to a Google conference, or helping your wife by building furniture and setting up her kindergarten class, we are busy.
But people don’t think we are busy, because we aren’t going to the place where you go to learn.
Teachers aren’t the only ones who get shade thrown their way during the summer. Students do too. By who? By teachers, administrators, and school districts. This is a dangerous mindset. For whatever reason far too many schools assign summer assignments to their students. In this post I’m going to:
- point out why summer reading assignments don’t make sense
- provide a few alternatives that will achieve the same objective without punishing students or teachers
- allow you the chance to prove me wrong
TONS of school mandate summer assignments, and not just in English. Schools, parents, and teachers justify them for the following reasons.
- They keep kids busy in the summer
- They keep kids’ learning from disappearing, or slipping in the summer
- They provide kids an enrichment opportunity
- They give kids a head-start on difficult curriculum
- They discourage the “wrong kind of kid” from taking an honors/AP class or serve as a measurement of their dedication to the class
I gave a summer reading test on the third day of school this year. Later in the day one of my honors students walked up to me as I left my room. She was in tears. She was speechless. It took well over a minute for me to get her to talk. When she finally did- she told me in a quiet whisper, “I’m so sorry I failed that test, I don’t want you to think I’m a disappointment.”
Let that sink in a bit.
We gave her a long book to read. She has no interactions with her teachers. We gave her no feedback or checks for understanding and then we dropped a big grade on her head at the beginning of school when everyone is nervous. Is that really what we want to happen in our school during the first week?
Are we really expecting students to tackle difficult material without their teachers? Do we really want them learning without us learning with them?
WHY EVEN HAVE SCHOOLS OR TEACHERS? (Yes I just yelled)
We have students, ALL the time, drop out of honors at the end of summer or in the first week of school because they didn’t do their summer work. Who wants to start a class with a big F or D in the gradebook?
“Well David, if they aren’t willing to work hard they shouldn’t be in honors or AP classes?”
But they DID work hard. They couldn’t get in the class to begin with without good grades and good test scores!
“But David, the summer reading shows their dedication and serves as a prerequisite to the course?”
Do they do this in college? The prerequisite, the dedication was shown LAST YEAR when they took a certain course-load and earned the right grades!
“But David, I read X number of books every summer, they shouldn’t complain about reading a book or two.”
Not all of your classmates did that, and summers are a little more scheduled than they used to be. Trust me.
Now this isn’t even my biggest pet peeve with summer assignments.
The worst hypocrisy of summer assignments is this. If summer assignments are good for honors and AP students than why aren’t ALL students doing them?
“But David, honors and ESPECIALLY AP students need to work in the summer because they need to learn such challenging material. (apparently without their teachers to help them with this work.)
Well, isn’t reading challenging for students in the “reading program?” Why aren’t they doing summer work? Isn’t speaking, reading, writing, challenging for ELD/LEP students? Why aren’t THEY doing summer work? Heck doesn’t a CP course challenge the students in that course otherwise they would be in an honors course? Why aren’t THEY doing summer work?
I’m not a big fan of the school where I went to high school but at least THEY are consistent in killing summer for ALL their students. They give summer assignments to everyone in Social Studies and English. Love the seven page-long explanation of the Honors Biology assignment.
Everyone needs a break in the summer. Our minds hurt. Nothing hurts your mind like learning or teaching new material. Your mind needs some down time. Why are we taking away the students down time. You might say, “Well David they’ll only do the work the last two weeks of summer.”
That’s even worse. So now it’s going to hang over their heads all summer and then they will rush to do what they have to do at the very end?
PS- ever seen a teacher look at a stack of 185 summer assigned essays or dialectical journals that they have to start grading on the first week of school. It’s not pretty.
Students ARE already busy learning in the summer. They play sports. They play video games. They travel. They read. They draw and paint. They attend camps. They play music. They socialize. They discover new local places. They date. They dream. They exercise. They sleep. They visit with family. They work at jobs. Whew.
Some Alternative to the typical Summer Assignments
What if teachers on the campus created a Google Slide. One for each teacher. On the Google Slide was a list of ideas for students to learn about their world during the summer. Here’s an example:
Even if every teacher just had four ideas on a slide, students and their parents would have a ton of ideas and these ideas would help students and parents get to know the teachers better. Heck you could ask every staff member at your school to contribute including the district office. Can you imagine the conversations that would take place in the hallways the following school year?
Just have students keep a learning scrapbook. This learning scrapbook could have pictures, drawings, tweets, FB posts, logs of experiences, ANYTHING. Then the following school year have teachers in each subject ask students to take something from their learning log and apply it to something they are learning in class. Here is an example of what you could do.
A question log. Just have students keep track of questions all summer. They could post them on social media with a hashtag, put them under pictures in Instagram, or use them in class when they return. Students could prioritize their questions and do something with those essential questions. Students could ask the questions online via a Google form and then see if a staff member could answer the question(s). If students are asking questions during the summer. They are exercising their minds.
Trust parents that they know what’s best for their children and family and give THEM the choice of what to do with their precious summer vacation. There aren’t that many in one’s lifetime. Savor them. Give them back to the kids, as a wonderful gift from your staff.
I’m not the only one to question summer assignments. Even the New York Times weighed in on “The Crush of Summer Homework.”
One of my former FVHS students just wrote this brilliant blog post describing what her sister went through in preparing for her 9th grade summer reading. Yes she graduated last year… yes she is still writing on her blog. It’s a gold mine.
So am I way off base? Let me know by writing a comment below, write your own blog post response, or Tweet to me. Like This: