Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Break Means Break - But, oh, the Summer Slide?

As we pass the mid-summer holiday, and students realize that autumn is beginning to encroach on the freedom of vacation, many teens will begin to cautiously eye that "summer reading" or "math packet" collecting dust in the corner of their rooms. The reason behind the idea of summer homework is the concern about the "Summer Slide," which sounds like a great vacation water spot but is actually the idea that when kids aren't in school, they lose the skills and content from the previous year. It's been used as an argument to end summer vacation, but that is a terrible idea. Granted, there is plenty of evidence that students need to stay mentally active during the summer, and we certainly hope they read a book or two. In reality, students of college-educated middle class homes do not exhibit the slide the way struggling students of financially-lower demographics do. Reading and summer activities are clearly key. That said, I have long been a proponent of the idea the Break Means Break. Especially during fall, winter, and spring breaks, teachers need to lay off the homework and packets and just let kids decompress for a bit. With that in mind, here's a re-post from one of my other blogs:

On Winter Break - or Fall Break and Spring Break for that matter - I do not give my students homework.  That means nothing, zilcho, zip.  It is called "break" for a reason, and I do not feel the overwhelming need to burden the kids with busy work during the holidays.  This puts me in a minority among teachers, but I can't quite figure out why.

We break for winter two weeks before the end of first semester and final exams, and many students claim they spend the entire break studying for final exams.  Now, I don't believe that at all, but I do sympathize with kids who have an extra book to read or a final review packet to complete or pages of calculations or research papers to complete.  There should be enough time during the normal thirty six weeks of school for teachers to accomplish all they need to accomplish.  If not, they are probably erring on the side of forcing too much "content" into their lessons.

The issue of content is a contentious one, as teachers revere their content and can't imagine their students missing out on one fact or name or equation or definition or connection.  But this point of view too easily veers into rote memorization of trivial content or, worse, busy work.  As an English teacher and supporter of core knowledge approaches, I completely support the intention to build within students a vast store of background knowledge which they can and must use to access new information.  But nothing is so serious or monumental that it can't be accomplished during the standard schedule.  There is nothing wrong with students continuing to read and learn during time off school.  But that's a long way from believing that the extra "vacation packet" is going to solve the ills of gaps in student knowledge.

So, this break, take a break.

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