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The Dog Days of Summer School Assignments

What do you think about summer school projects?

Every day I ask my children the following questions. “Did you finish your summer math packet? How many pages are left to read in your book? Did you start your writing project yet?”

I am always met with growling, groans and complaints as I bark out my orders to get those projects done. I understand their lack of motivation. They are provided with a list of books and several writing projects to choose from as well as a packet of math dittos. It's not much fun, it's just something they have to get done.

I must say I do believe there is a life lesson to be learned in that: life is not always fun. However, I also believe that kids can very easily be turned off to writing, reading and math and that's not a good thing.

One of my daughters finished her math packet the first day of summer. I am thrilled that it is finished but I wonder if it’s really keeping her in the loop over the break. Luckily, she’s a bit of a math geek and creates math challenges for herself. She calculates what we should leave for tips at restaurants and what we might save on sale prices while shopping. I know that she is one of the exceptions, definitely not the rule. She is an avid reader and finished her summer book promptly and has since read several more books on her own. The writing project, however, still remains unwritten.

Her twin sister, on the other hand, is set off by the mere mention of the work she has to do over the summer. She is the queen of procrastinating and I imagine she's like most other children. She finished her math dittos early in the summer but only because I forced her to. I didn’t want to deal with tears and stress the night before the first day of school as we have in past years.

As for reading, her summer was spent reading one and only one book, the one picked for her project. She is still reading it and I hope she finishes it before school starts. Unfortunately, this summer’s assignment has prevented her from reading anything else. This worries me. Isn't the point to keep them reading and working over vacation?

An anonymous teen writer from Teen Ink suggests that students be allowed to pick their own books and writes, "I believe that summer assignments should encourage reading instead of instilling grudges. Summer should be a chance for students to explore literature and enjoy reading; instead it is just a breeding ground for procrastination and apathy. Being taught to love to read is infinitely more valuable than getting credit for a reluctantly completed assignment."

I wholeheartedly agree with this teenager. I wish my daughter found herself lost in several books this summer as opposed to forcing herself to be interested in one.

A middle school enrichment teacher and writer for the NY Times, Claire Needel Hollander writes, “While reading classic literature with students is my passion, I prefer that students explore literature in the summer as a pleasure and return to school curious about the world around them, not weary from having written about books they could not fully understand, or smug from having earned credit for an essay on a book they could have easily comprehended in fourth grade.” Hollander adds, “They should be permitted this luxury, to have their teachers treat them as independent learners capable of a first dip into a classic, with no destined-to-be-unread written responses required.”

Reading books they choose and no writing—I think my kids would like that. I would imagine teachers would prefer no writing assignments as well. Isn't there enough for them to do when school starts?

Math, unlike reading, can be tricky to practice over the summer without worksheets but what if their assignments were project-oriented and based on what each individual student does during the summer?

Some people spend their entire summer traveling and exploring which leaves little time to sit and work on papers and essays but why not calculate the percentage of summer days they spend at the beach or in the mountains or record how many miles traveled or laps swam? Calculating tips and sales like my daugther does would allow students to use their skills for practical reasons.

Focusing on their interests and activities might make summer assignments a bit more appealing.

I'd like to clarify before I sign off that I am in no way saying that kids should just float through the summer months nor am I criticizing anyone or asking teachers to do more work. If you read my column, you know I am a huge fan of our teachers and local school districts; I am just wondering if there might be a better way to keep young minds active over the summer break.

I am not an expert or a teacher, I'm just a mom and these are my thoughts as I spend the dog days of summer listening to all that growling over summer assignments.

Lawrence Student August 24, 2012 at 02:39 PM
As a high school student, I've been through my fair share of summer assignments for classes. Like most my age, I think that the amount of work we get is ridiculous. My reasoning, however, is slightly different. I am in no way an advocate of no summer homework. I agree that there should be books to be read and small assignments to be completed before the beginning of the school year, especially for AP and honors classes. Yet every year, teachers seem to redouble their efforts to increase the workload over the summer, adding a plethora of essays, books, and terms to define, some of which seem completely illogical. My brother, for example, is going into geometry and has a review packet which focuses on algebraic concepts that aren't even covered all year. If homework is going to be assigned under the premise of review, at least keep it relevant to the course. We should take a nod from the prep schools around us, who merely assign a short reading list and response. This summer I was assigned 4 books, 148 terms to define, 5 essays, 25 short answer questions, 15 current event responses, and a problem set for 4 AP classes. Don't punish the students who want to take the most challenging courses by taking away their entire summer. Moderation is key.

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