Summer Homework? Well, Not Really
This time of year, teachers and administrators are often asked about the kind of academic pursuits and learning students should continue during the summer. This is an important question to consider as our summer vacations begin to unfold: a period of ten weeks without school routines or the expectation for academic pursuits. The rationale for giving students a summer vacation does not have roots in solid pedagogical theories or what we know about how children learn. Students are not biologically programmed to require a break from learning in June, July, and August. Instead, summer vacations have agrarian roots that date back to the nineteenth century when families had different priorities that were primarily focused on the production of food or earning additional income.  

Yet to this day, assigning schoolwork over the summer can be "a third rail" of our profession. Who wants to be known as the teacher or principal who insists on assigning work during the sacrosanct time between Memorial Day and Labor Day?   Nonetheless, I believe keeping this part of our students' brains active has many benefits and furthermore, doing so can be both meaningful and enjoyable for students. How can we achieve these results? First, summer learning should be relevant to the curriculum students study during the school year. There should be easy bridges formed between topics explored in school and new knowledge and skills mastered independently. Summer projects should also address the learning styles of individuals, allowing students to progress at their own comfortable pace. And to make it even more engaging, students should be given a choice of subjects to pursue whenever possible. Perhaps it is choosing a book from a list of possible topics. Perhaps it is an independent study project with a culminating inquiry related to a particular interest. Or maybe it is as simple as reading for pleasure for a certain period each day and keeping a reading log. We all know students benefit from the many gifts of summer that include independent play, extracurriculars, and just plain downtime while hanging out with friends and family. These activities can be just as important as learning new information or a range of skills developed through academic pursuits. But if the recent discoveries in neuroscience and how we absorb new information have taught us anything, we know that continuing to learn in some form is important, even when school is not in session. Teachers and parents need to think carefully about the right amount and right time for this to happen over the summer, with a particular focus on rewarding curiosity and developing an intrinsic motivation to learn that expands beyond our yearly calendar.  *****
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