No more pencils, no more books? Think again! At my school, teachers are expected to assign summer homework beginning in second grade, and we’re not alone. In discussions with teacher-friends around the country, summer homework for elementary students seems to be pretty common.
There’s a lot of debate among researchers about whether summer homework is effective at preventing summer learning loss, and there doesn’t seem to be a definitive answer. I’m pretty ambivalent about homework in general, as I wrote about in my blog post "Why I Don’t Hate Homework Anymore," and I’m even less sold on summer homework.
Over the past few years my teaching partners and I have been thinking about how to make summer homework meaningful and interesting enough that our students buy in and possibly even want to do it. Read on for our summer homework game plan. And please share your solutions for summer homework! Do you assign summer homework in your school? What type and how much?
New Student Meet and Greet
In my opinion, the crux of making summer homework successful is the delivery. We coordinate with the second grade teachers to swap classes for a period so we can meet with our incoming students. We teachers introduce ourselves, build some excitement about all the fun and challenging learning ahead during third grade, and explain the very “grown-up” summer homework.
We’ve been far more successful in instilling the importance of our summer assignments when presenting about it face-to-face rather than just sending a packet of directions home cold. The second graders sit on the edges of their seats as we expound on the importance of summer reading and our surety that our incoming students will do everything they possibly can “to keep their brains healthy, pink, and strong” over the summer.
What Matters Most? Summer Reading!
We decided to really emphasize one summer assignment in the hopes that keeping our efforts focused will mean that the students actually follow through. Over one hundred years of research clearly shows that children who do not read plentifully during the summer lose a lot of ground in their reading development. Reading is a treat, not a menial assignment, so I don’t feel a whit of guilt about making reading the bulk of the summer homework.
Students fill out a log to keep track of the books and other texts they read over the summer. We don’t require a certain number of books or that kids read specific books, simply that they find books they love and spend lots of time reading them.
To encourage summer reading, my current students write book reviews of their favorite books that we copy and send home with the rising second graders, and reading ambassadors from my class speak to the second graders about the importance and joys of reading. When coming from slightly older peers, the message is very well received.
For more ideas about promoting summer reading, check out my blog post "Five Ways to Celebrate Summer Reading" and be sure to sign your students up for Scholastic’s Summer Reading Challenge.
Typing Practice, Computer Games, and YouTube Videos Galore
When considering other homework, we’ve decided that the best route is activities that most of the students will be motivated to do because it’s fun. And what’s more fun than computer games? Let’s face it: most kids are going to be spending time in front of a screen this summer. So why not set kids up to succeed at their summer homework by guiding them to tempting math, science, and typing practice resources that they will actually want to work on? Here’s some of what we do:
We provide a printed list of educational, age and subject appropriate websites, and we put a linked list on our class websites for the students to access during the summer.
We give the “everything is better in moderation” speech to our incoming students so they understand that we don’t want them playing four hours of math computer games a day.
We create a YouTube channel with curated “Summer Learning” videos for kids to watch as an alternative to TV during the summer.
We provide a list of online typing practice websites. Typing is an important skill for our incoming third graders, and we don’t have a lot of time to practice typing during the school day. This is an ideal skill for students to become proficient at over the summer, as it really gives them a leg up during third grade.
Let’s Connect: You’ve Got Mail!
I’ve found that students usually slack when assigned audience-less research reports and summer journals. A few highly motivated students put a lot of effort into those assignments (or some parents do) and the rest throw something together quickly if they complete the assignment at all. And I can’t even blame them! These reports are usually out of context without a real audience or purpose.
Giving incoming students the opportunity to connect with me and with each other is a far better option, in my opinion. Yes, this means that I end up with some summer homework too. But honestly, it only seems fair to meet them halfway if I’m expecting my students to do summer homework. Plus, I have the added perk of not having a pile of summer homework to grade and respond to during the first weeks of school.
I ask my incoming students to mail me a letter of introduction. I explain that I want to hear about their summer activities, their hobbies, their families, and anything else special they want me to know before the school year begins.
When I receive letters from my students, I send a postcard back with a brief response. I include a bit of information about my summer travels, and let them know that I can’t wait to see them in September. I also encourage them to send me additional letters if they want.
Some years, I have paired up students and asked them to write each other a letter over the summer. They bring in their pen pal letters that they received in September and we hang up the pairs of letters on a first bulletin board.
I’ve also used my class website to allow students to connect online with me and with each other over the summer. Using a blog format, I post a short video, article, or question once a week, and invite both incoming students and my rising former students to write their thoughts in the comments section. I moderate their comments, and really enjoy when they have back-and-forth dialogues through the comments and replies.
I want to hear from you! Is summer homework an anathema in your school, or do you assign an abundance? What type of work do you send home, and do you have any tricks to ensure that students complete the work? Share your thoughts, rants, and advice in the comments section below or reach out on Facebook or Twitter.
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