HAYIDION The Prizmah Journal


Building Scholarly Habits Through Summer Experiences

by Alison Landa Issue: Summer Homework Yavneh Academy, Paramus, NJ

Summer homework has increased in recent years. Frequently, these assignments include highly prescribed activities, even though evidence of their utility is scant. Educators should pause to analyze their goals and approach in assigning summer homework. In order to truly support students’ growth, teachers must value students’ interests, their summer experiences and all factors that contribute to students’ academic prosperity.

The birds are chirping, the classrooms are sweltering, and as the last bell of the year rings, students race out the classroom door into the bright, summer day. They inhale deeply as they explode with the contagious excitement of summer and all that it has to offer. Their loads should be light, but increasingly their backpacks contain the encumbrance of summer homework, generally containing some combination of English and Chumash reading, math and Ivrit worksheets. When students are given summer homework, the assignments frequently remain buried until the last week of summer. As the impending school year approaches, the summer “dump” finally creates enough anxiety to regain students’ attention.

Research has shown that weak skills at the beginning of the year are most likely rote skills that can rebound with practice (Jim Smith, All Things Assessment). One must question why it makes sense to burden students with summer homework rather than simply wait until the return of school, when teachers can better track and support practice. Moreover, it’s possible that summer assignments may cause students to miss out on social experiences and increase their anxiety. Despite our best intentions, educators lack data to connect their practice of assigning specific books and worksheets to long-term academic success.

For schools that are committed to assigning summer homework, they should consider aligning assignments with recognized markers of student academic success. The best predictors of success are the development of good habits, internal motivation and perseverance. For example, students’ use of reading as a leisure activity is the best predictor of comprehension, vocabulary, reading speed and high performance on standardized tests (according to studies by Scholastic Summer Challenge and National Endowment for the Arts). With learning or developing second language skills, such as Ivrit, motivation is actually the best predictor of successful learning (Anne-Marie Masgoret and Robert C. Gardner, “Attitudes, Motivation, and Second Language Learning”). Finally, in math, research by Kenneth Levasseur and Al Cuoco relates that students possessing a mathematical state of mind are most successful because they immediately approach new problems by employing specific strategies (drawing a picture, creating a table, working backwards, etc.) with perseverance. Students must develop grit and the ability to utilize multiple strategies (Cindy Bryant, “Mathematical Habits of Mind”). Taken together, teachers need to be more focused on ways to generate true engagement and habits of mind.

Rather than focus on grade-level content in summer assignments, teachers should serve as guides to help students find interesting topics and activities that necessitate the use of pertinent skill sets and subject areas. Denise Pope of Challenge Success suggests consideration of the “ABCs of engagement”: Meaningful and effective assignments must engage students affectively, behaviorally and cognitively. Students should be given choice in their reading activities so that they can find materials that are personally engaging.

Teachers can facilitate the development of new habits and approaches to real-world problems over the summer by carefully orchestrating plans that support students’ social, emotional and affective connection to academic pursuits simultaneously. For example, teachers might arrange and support scheduled opportunities to read with senior citizens and peers. The preset schedule would set the stage for reading habit formation and build fluency, comprehension, compassion, and speaking and listening skills. Research shows that availability to materials makes a difference in students’ skill performance when they return to school in the fall. Thus, teachers might want to establish a book exchange to increase students’ access and likelihood of finding high-interest books, and ensure a continuous flow of reading materials.

Diverse community service opportunities can also harness students’ interests to build a wide range of organizational, reading, collaboration, math and writing skills. Teachers could spend the final days of school helping students find service projects, create plans for building knowledge about a subject area, and developing a plan for sharing this new experience with peers in the fall. Teachers could help students set up blogs about a particular topic of interest or experience. Teachers should emphasize the importance of not only sharing, but also becoming an expert who uses background information to guide his or her blogging. Similarly, teachers could guide students to identify mathematical problems in their day-to-day experiences and work together via chats. The students would be expected to report on their experiences, with special attention to the way that they resolve problems.

To bolster Ivrit, teachers should help their students feel motivated to use and build their skills. Most students enjoy communicating with their peers and sharing their photos and ideas. Students could benefit from a Hebrew-speaking pen pal. In addition, teachers could invite students to connect their Chumash learning to their daily summer experiences and showcase these connections via a Padlet or other shared online resource. With appropriate preplanning, the teacher could support habit formation through authentic and meaningful activities that are less likely to become “dump” assignments.

There’s a time for all, and a season for every thing. While summer provides the resources available to support math and reading skills, 21st century teachers must recognize the inherent value in summer experiences. Social learning and opportunities to test new strategies stem from the reduced structure, assignments and time constraints. When summer begins, our students move out of the classroom and gain worldly skills including cooperation, group dynamics, collaboration, teamwork, confidence and independence. These skills are crucial to our students’ development. While schools lack standardized measures for these life skills, every teacher has seen the way that increases in these areas lead to overall academic achievement. Perhaps educators should recognize the importance of summer months for the growth of the whole child and allow students to build these areas without the constraints of highly structured assignments.

We want our students to feel rejuvenated and excited about learning when they return in the fall. The summer “dump” creates last-minute anxiety and fails to mimic the regularity of academic activities during the school year. Teachers should appreciate the type of learning that naturally occurs during the summer. If summer homework is necessary, teachers should exploit the increased social opportunities in summer in order to bolster habits of learning and grit that will serve them well, within the classroom and beyond.

 

Possible Summer Activities to Support Reading/Math and 21st Century Skills

Habitat for Humanity. Speak with local representatives to ensure that students are shown blueprints and encouraged to discuss plans and distances. Spatial Reasoning, Measurement, Collaboration, Problem-solving

Reach Out and Read. Students can work together to collect books for waiting rooms as well as serve as reading volunteers. Volunteers spend time reading in waiting rooms to children and model reading aloud to parents. Students may use these books to build their own reading skills by explicitly stating the comprehension skills applied while reading. Reading Comprehension, Cultural Awareness, Leadership

Organize a book club or book pass. Teachers and students generate a summer book list. Students electing to participate start with one or two books. Once a student reads a book, he or she adds an entry to share his/her opinions about the book. Then, the student passes the book along to any other student in the school. Students may reread books multiple times in order to compare their own ideas to their peers. Reading Comprehension, Collaboration, Cultural Awareness

Create a new thread. Students love to share their experiences. Keep up the communication by encouraging students to digitally share updates about their experiences on a shared webpage. Students will build reading and writing skills through their discussions. They can also gain global awareness and opportunities that each might not personally experience. Global Awareness, Leadership, Reading Comprehension

Design Thinking challenge. Ask students to post problems they discover during their summer activities. As a group, teachers and students can work together to try to design and test solutions. Leadership, Reading, Problem-solving, Research Skills, Collaboration

Required service. Organizations, such as Volunteer Match, will help students find local volunteer opportunities in a wealth of areas. Ask students to complete at least one volunteer activity over the summer. Research, Math, Cooperation, Organization, Oracy

Start something new. Require students to find an interest, create a learning plan, and learn something new in order to bring this experience and learning to class on the first day. Examples: care for a pet, learn guitar, babysit/tutor, plan a trip. Research, Reading, Organization, Grit

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Summer Homework

The articles in this issue begin with a recognition of the difference and legitimacy of summer experiences, their necessity for the personal, social and spiritual development of children. At the same time, day schools conceive of themselves as model worlds that students are meant to take with them throughout the year and throughout their lives. Authors explore creative ideas for layering the educational and spiritual goals of school with the activities and environments of summer camp and downtime. Other pieces describe ways for various day school stakeholders to use the quiet summer months to prepare for their work during the school year.

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