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How to Squeeze the Most Out of Summer Homework

Monday, May 20, 2013 -- Scott Sterling

We know that it takes the adolescent brain a few weeks or more to get itself back up to speed after the long summer break. A lot of teachers, particularly in the high school grades, try to combat their students’ brainpower regression by trying to keep them busy over the vacation.

Does summer homework, particularly reading, actually help or hurt students? The answer is maybe, and that’s only if you believe homework is helpful in the first place. But just like education during the school year, if the tasks are inauthentic (i.e. busy work), they will serve little to no purpose.

But the brain drain of the summer months is real, so how do we make sure our students are firing on all cylinders when they walk through our doors? Here are some things to keep in mind when assigning summer work.

Make sure the tasks are actually used

Nothing will generate ill will amongst the students faster than telling them their summer work was all for naught, but you wouldn’t believe how many teachers forget the kids even had anything assigned over vacation. The students read your books or did your homework in good faith. The summer work needs to be included, if not dominate, your first unit of the new school year. Otherwise you might have some trust issues to address.

Make the tasks authentic

Students, especially older ones, can quickly sniff out busy work and are obviously less likely to give their best effort when they do. If it’s something you wouldn’t assign during class - but might give to a sub if you’re out – don’t assign it during summer. The goal is just as much to prepare the kids for their upcoming studies, as it is to keep them from forgetting what they learned in the previous year. Find a mix of the new with the old, and make it as engaging as possible.

Allow for some self-guided learning

It’s no secret that the more input the student has in the task, the more engaging the lesson becomes. Because you’re not necessarily worried about mastery of new material, and aren’t subject to the same standards, there’s no harm in letting the students choose from a list of possible projects or books to read. Summer is about independence, after all. They even have a day scheduled for it in July.

The ultimate flipped learning opportunity

Perhaps you’re a flipped learning veteran or you’re still just dabbling, summer is the perfect opportunity to assign some lesson videos, either from your own library or from around the web. Have the kids sit in on some TED talks or lectures from Coursera or the Khan Academy. They might not come in with complete mastery of the assigned topics but they will be much better prepared to start than if they were just doing worksheets from last year’s work.