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Motivation To Do Summer Homework

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

Summer Assignments:WHY?

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.

ISSUE #1:

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.

ISSUE #2

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.

ISSUE #3

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.

ISSUE #4

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

Idea #1

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?

Idea #2

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.

Idea #3

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.

Idea #4

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:

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It’s become a predictable yearly debate that rolls around every June:

Should my kids really be getting summer homework?

And if they do have it assigned, what’s the best way to tackle it so that they can actually learn something over the summer (rather than just being stuck with busywork)?

Here’s the thing:

At some schools, kids are routinely overloaded with multiple books to read, and big math packets to complete.

At other schools? Nothing is assigned.

My personal opinion is that the right balance lies somewhere in the middle… Yes, we want kids to keep their minds sharp, but not at the expense of having fun over the summer.

So in this post I’ll cover:

  • My opinion on the age old summer homework debate (in the video below)
  • How to handle the different types of work assigned to students over the summer
  • Some specific recommendations for what you can do as a parent to keep your kids engaged in the process, including a recent interview I did with WTOP’s Every Day is Kid’s Day podcast on the topic

And you’ll walk away with a better understanding of how to make the most out of homework (or lack thereof) this summer.

How much is too much? What the research says…

When kids do nothing at all in math and reading, the research shows that they can lose two to three months of learning progress over the summer.

Just think: That’s almost as if they decided to end the school year in March!

And if left alone, those losses accumulate over time with respect to their peers.

A 2007 study out of John’s Hopkins University showed that while students (on average) make similar gains in reading comprehension throughout the year, students without access to learning opportunities make no progress over the summer, while students with access outpace them year after year.

Ultimately, by the time they reach 5th grade, disadvantaged students are the equivalent of 3 full grade levels behind their advantaged peers in reading ability!

But, this trend need not apply to your son or daughter…

Because studies also show that kids who read just four books over the summer are able to almost completely eliminate that summer learning slide.

So here’s my take:

If your son or daughter is being required to…

  • Read three books, probably classics that they really don’t want to read
  • Write multiple essays
  • And complete stacks of math assignments

… that’s probably a bit overboard.

Yes, we want kids to keep their minds sharp, but not at the expense of having fun over the summer.

So my recommendation is to create a balance. Get your summer assignments done, but try to structure it in a way that makes learning fun.

Here’s how to do it…

Required vs. Recommended Summer Homework

First off, we can break down summer homework assignments in terms of required vs. recommended.

Most schools send out a recommended reading list, and sometimes subject review packets to their students to complete over the summer.

And some actually require that their students complete a certain amount of those assignments over the summer, which are included in their grade for the upcoming school year.

Now, it does make sense to prioritize required assignments over recommended assignments… especially if your school went overboard with what they handed out.

But as long as it’s not too much material, regardless of whether reading is assigned or not, I recommend working with your child to map out a plan of attack for the summer to get it done (on their terms – see below).

How to tackle summer reading (The Amazon Method)

By far, the most popular category of summer homework assigned are reading lists.

And although most schools have a recommended reading list, they tend to be very broad (umm, should my 8-year-old really be reading MacBeth right now?)…

Specific reading requirements

Sometimes though, there are specific books that your student needs to read over the summer (see the “required” section above), especially high school students, and you’ll need to work with them to figure out a plan of attack.

Block off some time at the beginning of summer (don’t let it wait until July!) to sit down and ask them:

“You have these 3 books you have to read this summer. How would you like to tackle these?”

And then let them answer. Help them formulate a (realistic) plan with their input, and they’ll but much more likely to follow it… and not end up in the last-minute reading rush on August 30th trying to get their summer reading done!

Flexible reading requirements

But on the other hand, if you do have some flexibility in terms of what your student is assigned to read over the summer, what I like to do is create a reading list tailored specifically towards the age or interests of your student.

And one of the best ways to do this is: Amazon!

Step 1: Go to Amazon.com and type in “Books for… [insert description of your child]”

For example, if I had a 7th grader at home I would search: “Books for middle school”

Or if I was looking for something more girl-oriented for my daughter I would search: “Books for middle school girls”

It’s amazing what books will pop up on the top of the list for kids…

Step 2: Review the list and make sure that the results are relevant (sometimes they require a little tweaking), and pay attention to the options on the sidebar where you can filter by subject, age rage, etc.

Then run them by your child and ask: “Which one of these do you want to read this summer?”

Look over the summaries and let them pick the books they want to read.

Word of caution: It’s not your responsibility as a parent to pass judgment and say:

“You know what honey, this year you’re not reading a graphic novel. You can only read books with words, no pictures.

We don’t want to do that as parents. We really want to let our kids decide, because when they’re invested, they’re much more likely to meet that four book goal over the summer.

Step 3: Either order online, or head out to the library…

Make sure to do this before July 4th so the summer doesn’t get away from you, and use your list of books that you picked out.

Then, when you get your books back home…

Step 4: Sit down with them and make a plan.

Don’t assume your child will gleefully run up to his room and begin flipping the pages. They’re much more likely to read consistently if you have “READING TIME” marked off on the calendar at a consistent time each day.

You can even make it a family routine! Having everyone in the house reading at the same time will help encourage your child to get their reading done, especially if they’re reluctant or easily distracted.

Now, many kids are reluctant readers and may need a parent to help them get started… And you need to be willing to make the time to lend a hand.

This can be in the form of “you read a page, he reads a page” or for a really reluctant reader, “you read two pages and he reads one,” until he’s into the story.

Make this a habit, and before long you’ll have a bookworm on your hands!

How to handle math packets and workbooks

The same principles hold true for other assigned work as well.

Don’t assume your child will be chipping away at those math packets one day at a time (and the thicker they are, the more daunting they’ll seem).

Truth be told: we get lots of calls from parents mid-August, panicked that their kid hasn’t read and annotated a three-hundred-page book and completed a bunch of review worksheets – even though the parent has reminded him at least ten times!

This situation isn’t unique.

The value to any summer learning is doing a little bit at a time over a long stretch. The brain retains information best in bit sized chunks, not by cramming.

And this is even more important for math because it’s a subject that continually builds on itself. So if you miss something early on, you’re probably going to have to back-track when you run into that same concept again in the future.

So just like with reading assignments, if your son or daughter are assigned a math packet (or any other type of subject packet) over the summer, make sure to site down and set the plan early.

Aside from your typical reading lists and workbooks though, you can also encourage learning in other (more fun!) ways this summer…

Creative ways to make Summer Learning fun

Below is a recent interview I did with WTOP’s Every Day is Kid’s Day podcast (interview starts at 0:53) on how to bring a fresh perspective to summer learning, and make things more fun and interesting for your son or daughter this year.

Give it a listen for some more tips on:

  • Using the Amazon Method to make summer reading more fun
  • Alternatives to summer workbooks that are actually fun and effective
  • Whether you should spend the time to try and “preview” material they’re going to see in the coming year
  • And a whole bunch of other useful ideas for staying engaged over the summer

Here are some of those great ways to get your child into learning, outside of school recommended assignments:

For writing: use a dialogue journal.

One of the best ways to get your child comfortable with writing on a regular basis is to make a game out of it.

So try designating a “special” notebook or journal that lives in your kid’s room that you can use to communicate with them through writing.

Then, simply leave them a note each day, that they read and respond to.

Maybe you say something like, “I noticed how you helped your brother pick up those puzzle pieces. What a nice idea. How did you know he needed your help?”

Leave the journal on his bed and allow him to write back that evening. The next day, you respond.

And be sure not to fix grammar or spelling, just let these be a carefree way to practice writing and even illustrations.

At the end of the summer, not only will they have improved their writing skills, but you’ll also have an amazing keepsake to look back on for years to come.

For reading: listen to audiobooks!

Don’t forget that audio books can be very helpful for developing comprehension and fluency.

Studies show that when kids want to read a book just above their level and listen to the book while following along with the lines, they improve their skills more than if they read independently.

So using a site like Audible.com or going to your local library website to download audio versions of the books your son or daughter has picked out (or has assigned) for the summer isn’t cheating, it’s just another way to “open the door” to getting them involved in reading.

Plus, it’s great for long summer road trips!

For math: play (math) games on the iPad.

For most of us, it’s a constant battle to keep our kids AWAY from the devices over the summer… but it need not be either or.

One of the best ways to “bridge the gap” is to give your child the opportunity to use educational apps or websites on their phone or iPad that will keep them learning, without always feeling like drudgery that’s keeping them from enjoying themselves.

Multiplication.com is great site for staying sharp on math facts. And pretty much every elementary schooler needs to practice their addition, subtraction, multiplication, division over the summer to stay sharp.

Funbrain.com is also perfect for allowing a little screen time in-between reading or homework sessions, while still learning at the same time.

For learning that’s fun: find local adventures!

Yes, you could have your kids spend their summer doing workbooks and refresher material, and that would probably help them stay sharp… but most kids find that to be a drag on their motivation to learn.

Instead, find a local museum or science center and take field trip!

Use the outing to ask your kids to guide the learning session and pick out what they want to explore… and then tell you about it.

And then watch in amazement at how excited they are, not even realizing that they’re “learning,” but just enjoying the moment and experiencing something new.

Summer camps are great for this too, so do some Googling and find out what’s going on in your area.

Now let’s hear from you..

How have you handled the balance between required summer schoolwork and fun?

What have you done that’s helpful in your family to keep summer learning alive without going overboard?

I’d love to hear from you!

So leave a comment below and let us know, or shoot me an email at ann@ectutoring.com.

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