Sunday, April 22, 2012

You Don't Own Their Summer

Thea enjoying her vacation
Summer vacation is starting to sneak into our school minds as stealthily as the first signs of a cold.  A mention of a vacation planned here, some raised trepidation about next year, begging for me to transfer to 6th grade.  And so while we plow on through all of our projects, still staying focused, I think of the things the students could be doing during that break; math facts, reading, fixing mistakes in their brain so that they start fresh the following year, perhaps even a little bit ahead, ready to conquer the world of 6th grade.  And then I am reminded; I don't own their summer.

Already we have been given gentle recommendations to assign math games over summer. Some students know they will be expected to finish a math book, others to read a classic book or two.  And my outrage starts to bubble.  We don't own their summer, we don't own their summer, we don't own their summer.

Summer vacation in America may be too long for some kids.  It may lead to the infamous summer slide, loss of knowledge, skill setbacks that will lead to worse test results, but we don't own their summer.  Their summer is for them to explore, to renew, to breathe, to invest in whatever catches their interest.  Perhaps their summer will have nothing to do with school and yet everything to do with learning.  Perhaps their summer will be spent reading book after book, perhaps just being at a pool.  Whatever they choose to do with their time is none of our business.

And sure, of course those that assign homework for a class that starts after summer, they have the best interest of their students in mind.  Yet the truth is, you have no right to that time.  You have no power over whether they do it or not.  You cannot expect them to come having read 2 books, or written a paper, or done a packet of math problems.  You can ask them to, but you cannot demand it.  You may say that the summer work is like preparing for a job, but guess what, even jobs give you time off.  You may say that summer work is in the best interest of the students, to keep them out of trouble, well, let them make that decision.  You may say that if they don't work over the summer you will never get through everything you have to cover; that is a time management problem not something you can push onto the students.

You can hope that their summer is spent learning.  That their summer is spent finding new interests.  That their summer wasn't just a big break from anything strenuous, but you cannot decide what they should do. You cannot decide what constitutes summer learning or not, because, yes, that's right, you don't own their summer.

7 comments:

Mr. Ray said...

In my school, summer homework is assigned from the top down, so there's not a choice. I will say this, though, it is very obvious when we come back in September who did the work and who didn't. The kids who do it come in ready to work, having retained much of the information from the previous year. The kids who didn't do it need to be caught up and this process sometimes takes MONTHS. I think, especially when kids aren't being exposed to academics (ie. museums, libraries, etc) over the summer AND when they are also not speaking/hearing/writing English otherwise, summer homework is a good way to keep their minds fresh for the new year.

William Chamberlain said...

Change summer work to home work and your observations will be just as true.

Mrs Ripp aka @pernilleripp said...

Matt, I wonder if you wouldn't see the same divide without the homework? And can we expect those students that do need to catch up t have an environment and help were that is a reality? Either way, the bottomline is; we have no right to dictate what students do over the break.

Mr. Ray said...

There were kids who came back to school last year with no work and suffered for it during the year. One kid dropped back three reading levels and didn't get back to where he was until JUNE! This summer, he did the work, came back having dropped back only one level, and has since improved by 4. Just one instance, there are more.

Also, Will, daily HW is different than summer work. At least during the year, the students are getting the work in the classroom.

Melanie Richey said...

This is an outstanding post! As a parent, it really bothers me that my children who are in high school have summer reading only because they are registered for honors classes. The message being sent is that reading is only important for honors kids. Then, on top of reading books they cannot choose themselves, they have a ridiculous amount of work to complete for each book. When they return to school the work is turned in on the first day and rarely are the books ever mentioned again. What is the point? What if we put together a list of suggested learning activities instead. How about things like, volunteer at the soup kitchen, help an elderly neighbor with yard work, ask an older relative about how they spent their summers when they were your age or even participate in a book club. It's like you said, summer "work" can have nothing to do with school, yet everything to do with learning.
Thanks for sharing!

Tom Panarese said...

Melanie, I think your issue is with the individual class and assignment and not summer work itself. My advanced sophomores have books assigned to them but instead of giving an assignment to go along with it, I open the year with a couple of days of discussion and then assign the first paper before the close of the first week. That gives people enough time to absorb it and discuss it and then spend time with it on a paper. Plus, the two books they read have themes similar to other works, so I know we definitely reference them in our discussions throughout the year.

Point being, there is a usefulness to summer reading and other summer work. Plus, if it's 1-2 books for a period of 8-10 weeks, that should be nothing. I remember downing about 10 books in the course of a summer during high school and some of the summer reading I had was very worthwhile.

Reidun Schreiner said...

I worry that most of the students doing the work are the ones that wouldn't have the slide and would be ready to learn regardless.

 

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