The Abyss of Summer Reading

By. Thomas W Tramaglini

Parents: Did your children do their summer reading? 

Perhaps one of the best television commercials about back to school was the 2013 Staples commercial featuring the Andy Williams’ Christmas song, ‘It’s the most wonderful time of the year’.  The commercial featured parents shopping in hope of sending their children back to school, thus ending the craziness of their children being home for the summer.

Yet, during this most wonderful time of the year parents and students are feeling the pressure of trying to complete the assigned summer work before the first day of school.  That said, when school ends before the summer, most students don’t rush to begin their summer reading.  In fact, many children just want to take a break from school and only some students begin their summer work early and pace themselves throughout the summer.  Even my own children (who love to read) get turned off because of the pressure of getting their reading done before summer’s end.  In a recent article written by Colette Bennett (How Teachers Should Rethink the Summer Work Packet ), she highlighted a recent poll which suggested that 82% of all students would choose “NO” if asked if they wanted to participate in summer reading.  She also noted that some teachers even dread the pile of papers which awaits them on the first day of school.

Parents: Get equipped!

Regardless, whether students do or don’t do their summer reading, parents should have a basic understanding of the different perspectives of summer reading and work.  The research on the topic is mixed and one might be surprised that summer reading/work might be better for some kids than others.  Furthermore, summer reading or work might be more effective if students do something with what they read or completed (operational work).

I came across two great reads on the topic and both articles should provide some perspectives on the topic which will provide parents with an overview on the effectiveness of summer work.

Researchers and practitioners: Ask this question

Although some of the literature suggests that summer reading can help some students, especially with reading ability, one question that I am not sure has received much attention is whether assigning summer work or summer reading matches what we know about how people learn.  That is, does summer work match learning theory:  For instance, we know that when someone does something once (such as reading a book or completing a packet), and does not do something with what they have done once (such as operationalize the work), then the retention of that material will likely be diminished.  However, we also know that learning transfer occurs when someone has operated what they have read or learned, specifically multiple times, thus promoting learning transfer.  A great resource for metacognition and learning theory is: The case for teaching for and with metacognition.

In the end, schools and researchers need to focus on the why of summer work and perhaps explore the question that I have raised.

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