Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Attack of Summer Vacation

Summer vacation has been an American tradition for over 100 years now. Students look forward to it, and to an even greater extent, teachers look forward to it. I'm only talking to those of you who are teachers right now, because what I'm going to say is often criticized by those outside the field.

Teaching is a very difficult job, and a very intense one. After going from August to May (or September to June, depending on where you live), that 10-13 week break is well deserved and well taken. Yes, other people don't think it's fair that we get this vacation, but we don't listen to those people, because they just don't understand.

Then the questions start coming. Isn't it true that students don't retain a lot of what they learned the prior year during the summer? Isn't it true that students come back to school and actually have lost reading skill since the end of the prior school year? And isn't it true that parents often complain that they have trouble keeping their kids active with productive things to do during the summer, and that the rates of kids getting in trouble rise?

The answer is yes, to all, but let's analyze:

Student learning retention rates: This one seems pretty obvious. If you're not using it, you're losing it. Many students aren't actively learning during the summer vacation, and they will forget quite a bit of what they were taught. But some of this is the teachers fault. If we're teaching them through traditional methods, lecture and textbook, studies have shown that students can and will forget anywhere between 60-80% of what they were taught. As their learning becomes more engaged, they retain more. In fact, if it's things they learned out of an authentic literary experience (a book, you know, novel or chapter book) that they were actively engaged in, the retention rates can be much higher. I've seen this personally, and studies have shown a variance from anywhere between 70-95% of the material being retained, and not lost as the previous numbers showed.

Reading skill being lost: I've said it to my students a million times, the only way to become a better reader is to read. It's the old 'practice makes perfect' thing, and it's very true, especially as it comes to reading skill. If a student goes the entire summer without reading a book, of course they're going to lose some skill, both fluency and comprehension. If you're in a position like I am where you know your students for next year before the end of the previous year, you can have a summer reading club to keep them going. If you don't know who your students will be, you have to count on parents to keep them reading, and we all know that this isn't going to happen in large numbers. I survey my students at the beginning of the school year, and over the last three years have found that out of 62 students, 11 responded by saying that they read consistently over the summer vacation, that's 18%. This one is obvious to me.

Parents have trouble with their kids over summer: This one isn't really something we should worry about. You mean parents actually will have to spend time with their kids? GASP! This actually becomes more of a problem as it relates to students that have apathetic or uninvolved parents, which, sadly, is too many of them. There are things you can do as a teacher, including giving your parents lists of summer camps and activities, both free and pay, that students can participate in over summer. Also, I tell students and parents that I do have a large library of books that I relocate from my classroom to my home over summer, and they're welcome to drop by and choose some. Teachers can do our part to help, but the real fact is, most of us have our own families to worry about during the summer. This one is really up to the individual parent, if they're going to let their kids run wild or give them some guidelines to follow.


Anonymous said...

Everything you said, EVERY SINGLE THING, is true. I've been a taecher for 15 years, and have always needed summer vacation badly. Let parents deal with their kids for once, I'm no babysitter!