Tag Archives: Summer Slide

What if We Rethought Summer Learning

Screen Shot 2017-06-10 at 6.56.00 AMMost schools, mine included, put together a lot of effort to prevent summer slide. We offer summer school, we send home books, we create reading  lists, we put practice packets together, we send postcards to every single student. We can only hope that our students stay engaged with literacy and math. But we know many won’t and we know there are a variety of reasons that impact this. We often see it as a failure when scores go down after ten weeks of “nothing”. Many families do not have the ability to continue on an academic atmosphere that would support the activities we offer, and others simply need a break from traditional learning models…they need a vacation from “doing school”.

I think if we focus our efforts too much on the verbal-linguistic or the logical-mathematic “intelligences” and evaluate learning only through those lenses, we are missing out on helping our students develop greater potential in summer learning. I know there is an ongoing debate regarding multiple intelligences, but there should be no debate in valuing children as whole human beings and not just readers, writers, and mathematicians. What if we plant the seed in these children that summer is a time to grow as a human and not just a student. What would that look like?

We could remind them that summer is a time to explore their passions and interests and encourage them to take advantage of that time.

Love music? Listen to it- a lot! Be purposeful and aware of what the artist is doing or saying that draws you to their music. Make connections between artists and songs. Look at the lyrics without the music-does it change what you think about the work? Could you imagine those lyrics with a different tune? Try listening to some new styles of music-give it a chance and if you don’t enjoy it, try to analyze why? Explore your relationship to music.

Love to be active? Summer is a time to break away from that desk and chair and move your body. Explore new activities: yoga, running, skipping rope, bike riding, dancing, karate, swimming.  Take walks in different places and observe your surroundings. Tune into your body during and after physical activity. What do you notice? How do you feel? Can you increase your stamina or skill in an activity this summer? Our children need to develop life long habits for healthy physical activity-summer is a great time to experiment, learn, and build those habits.

Love to be social? It’s often hard in school to be as social as you’d like-we often need quiet times and focused conversation. Summer is a great time to develop those interpersonal skills. Take time to notice how you interact with others. Are you a good listener? Do you ask others questions or do you just offer your own thoughts/comments? Do you engage differently with older and younger people? How do your conversations vary depending on situation and people?  Tuning in to how you interact with people is a valuable skill that everyone could use more practice with.

Love nature?  Summer offers us so many opportunities to get outside and observe the natural world. Jane Goodall started her career simply observing. Encouraging students to carefully and patiently notice the nature in their own back yards can build an appreciation for our environment, develop focused attention spans, spark curiosity and scientific wonder, and offer them solace from the busyness of the world. When kids can appreciate the life of caterpillars and ants, they can begin to see the world doesn’t necessarily revolve around us (humans) and can encourage greater empathy for the struggles all living creatures face.

Love art? Summer is the gift of time for artists.  Encourage children to explore various mediums and approaches to expressing their ideas through art. Take risks with creating your art without being graded or judged.  Break the “rules” and don’t follow directions-play with materials and see what emerges. Art is therapy. Art is self-expression. Art is a way of seeing. Art is a way of being. If a child explored art all summer and never picked up a book, I would define that as successful learning (and my entire life is focused on the love of literacy!)

So yes, our students may SLIDE over the summer in some aspects of learning, but they may also SOAR if we encourage them to explore their interests, find their passions, and take charge of their own learning. We don’t have to abandon our efforts to prevent summer slide, but we would do ourselves and our students a service by expanding our definition of learning and look for ways to set our students on the path to life-long learning beyond the classroom walls and curriculums.


What’s On My Book Radar?

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The Exact Location of Home by Kate Messner

Wow, Kate has done it again…created a beautiful story that reflects the real-life challenges so many of our students are facing, and she does it without preachy moralistic overtones-just simple empathy and compassion. Kirby “Zig” Zigonski lives with his mother who is working and going to nursing school-he hasn’t seen his father in years. Each planned visit is cancelled and Zig begins to think his dad is leaving him clues as to why through geocaching. With the help of his friend Gianna (The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z) and a GPS they follow the “clues” but find more than they anticipated. With the rise of homelessness for many of our students, I think this is another powerful “windows and mirrors” book to add to our classroom collections.  I was lucky to get an advanced copy- this book will hit the shelves October 3rd. You’ll definitely want to pre-order this one!


End of Year Overload

Another school year is winding down…or is it?

10:45 on a Monday night

As I write this, it is approaching crazy o’clock at night and my 7th grade son is still up working on homework.  He’s been at it over 3 hours after spending the previous 3 hours working on a project for a Showcase this week at school.  I started to notice posts on Twitter and Facebook from other students and parents who were expressing stress and anxiety over the workloads and deadlines they were experiencing.  It got me wondering how much thought went into the assigning of these tasks during the last few weeks of school.   It made me wonder…

Are We Teachers Aware of Other Assignments Being Given?

When students begin to have multiple teachers, we need to find some way to increase communication regarding homework and assignments.  It can be difficult enough when one teacher assigns a large amount of work, but it is excruciating when several do at the same time.  The idea that “it’s just a few pages” only holds true for that one teacher,  and not so much for the student who has those pages multiplied times each class they take.

Are We Teachers Aware of Other Obligations Students Have?

Sure it would be nice if we teachers knew about our students’ dance recitals, ball games, tournaments, church events or summer jobs that require them to start already, and how they might impact a student’s ability to complete projects or assignments.  But students also have school based obligations and events that flood this time of the year that teachers should be aware of.  Our family had 3 band concerts in 3 weeks, we have school based athletic events, we have art shows and gifted and talented showcases, we have multiple award nights for music, academics and sports-all school related!!  We say we want well rounded children with multiple interests and talents, but many students are so stressed out by ‘celebrations’ and ‘culminating events’ that they do not feel like celebrating…they feel like crying.  It’s crazy how May and June evenings are packed with school-based events after a full day of school for these kids.

Are We Teachers Aware of How Much Time the Assignments Take to Complete?

11:45 and we’re still not done…

When I asked a teacher recently how long she thought an assignment would take her students to complete one night she responded, “I don’t know. An hour?”  Now we all know that students DO NOT work at the same pace in school, so how would they possibly be expected to work at the same pace outside of school, where the distractions can be greater and the work environment may not be as friendly?    I wonder how many of us teachers actually complete the assignments ourselves occasionally, to gain some appreciation for the demands of the task.  If it takes us 15 minutes, we should double that for our better students, triple it for our average students and quadruple + it for our lower students to get a ballpark idea of the time commitment we are laying on these kids.

Do We Teachers Explain the Learning Target for the Assignment? Do We Know It?

Is the homework a series of tasks that seem like busy work to students or could students actually explain what the expected outcome for the assignment would be?  When I asked my son what he was learning in his ELA homework he said, “Just reading and answering questions.”   Now I wouldn’t take that answer as an indicator of the teacher’s competence or a complete accounting of the needed skills, but when I looked at the reading passages and the copious amount of questions that followed I had to wonder why he wasn’t reading a book!  We laughed at the ridiculousness of some of the questions and the tiny size of the boxes in which to ‘construct’ a response. My son reads all the time and has incredible comprehension as a result, what he was being asked was pure busy work, and when there are so many amazing books waiting to be read out there, I was frustrated that he needed to spend an hour with a worksheet and not diving into the pages of an amazing book!!

Do We Teachers Understand the Purpose for Homework?

These questions aren’t meant to be flip or disrespectful.  Do we as teachers ask ourselves, why would I give this assignment as homework?  Does this child need extra practice with this skill?  Does this child need to gain automaticity or fluency with some behavior?  Is this task best done without my help, supervision and feedback? Could this task confuse, frustrate or misguide the student? If so, what are the repercussions of that?  Does it matter if parents help (because some will and some won’t -or can’t)?  Can the child already do this? If they can’t, will sending it home be the best way to help them learn it?  Does this task have application to his/her real world skillset needs?  If not, would it be best done in school? What is the cost-benefit analysis for all of this work?

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Over the many years I’ve been teaching the issue of homework seems to boil down to:

If the student already knows how to do something, why does he need homework to do more of it?   

If the student doesn’t know how to do it, shouldn’t we be there to model, demonstrate, teach, guide and provide immediate feedback?

There are a few tasks that require subtle degrees of practice, such as reading, writing, computation that might benefit from additional practice, and some authentic practice could be accomplished as homework,  but we also need to consider:

Do Schools Have a Right to Dictate What Families Do In Their Own Homes?

working on a research paper while ‘watching’ the ball game

We cringe sometimes when we are told how to do our jobs by those who do not reside in our schools and classrooms.  Yet we often have no problem telling children and parents what to do with their precious time together.  Are we robbing them of conversations around the dinner table, walks or bike rides together, family movie nights, read alouds of favorite books, hobbies or crafts they enjoy? Kids need unstructured time to explore, create, play, negotiate rules, solve boredom issues, get lost in a book,  nap, hang out with siblings, or do whatever THAT particular family values.

Does Homework Work?

Does anyone have any hard evidence that assigning homework statistically increases that student’s learning?  Are they thinking deeper?  Are they computing faster?  Are they problem solving more effectively? Are they more prolific writers?  I think it is time we looked at the efficacy of our policies around homework and in particular assignments and projects at the END of the learning year.  If we are cramming it in because we didn’t get something in the curriculum ‘covered’ or because we want them to ‘demonstrate’ a year’s worth of learning in a project are we fooling ourselves into thinking real learning is taking place?

What Are Some Alternatives?

As the year winds down, take time IN CLASS to reflect on the learning that has occurred.  It is a great time to examine a students’ learning history with samples of work that demonstrated his/her abilities.  It is a time for the students to reflect on themselves as learners.  What do they do well?  What do they enjoy learning?  What did they overcome? Instead of piling on more tasks, it is important to take time to savor the learning that happened, to appreciate all the effort and commitment the students have put in.  Recognizing achievements rather than cramming in more expectations will create a more satisfying ending to the school year.  If you REALLY want homework, encourage those conversations to happen at home.  Have them talk with their parents about their school year and reflect on how they have grown.  Sure, you could create a template…or not.

Create a plan for battling ‘Summer Slide’ WITH the students.  Have them take part in creating ideas, activities, book lists, games, etc that they might enjoy over the summer.  Share with them information on the benefits of reading over the summer.  SHOW, don’t TELL!   Help them set some goals and some methods for accountability.  If they don’t have ‘skin in the game’ there is very little chance they will follow through.

RELAX, REFLECT, REJOICE!    You don’t have to stop teaching and learning, just don’t feel the need to do it all in the last few weeks! It has been a learning-packed school year. Take time to appreciate it.  Take time to enjoy your students before they leave you.  Take time to leave a positive impression of your time together.  Your students will thank you.  Their parents will thank you.  You will thank yourself!!

 What’s On My Book Radar?

Unless you have been living under a rock, or have no teens in your life, you may be unaware of a HUGE event happening this weekend…

If you have not yet read John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, RUN, don’t walk to your nearest bookstore and get your hands on this brilliant book.  Then grab your tissues and a teen and head to the theaters.  It is not to be missed!


Summer Slip and Slide!

imagesSome of you, as you read this, may already be out on summer vacation, but those of us in Maine have a few weeks to go.  Most of us are busy gathering information and resources to address the inevitable summer slide that our students experience.  This week’s blog is dedicated to that focus.  I would really welcome any other ideas or resources, as I know they abound.


We all know that idiom and how it ends.  Similar to how all of our hard work at gathering and dispersing resources tends to end when students do not read or write over the summer months.  Although it is frustrating, you still offer water to your horse!  You just don’t need to lug 50 gallons of Perrier, swirl it ice and lemon slices and serve it up with a silver straw!    We don’t need to spend hours and hours of work or hundreds of dollars for resources to satisfy the thirst of our summer readers.  We can instead try to connect them to the resources already available and ready.


Sadly we are all to aware of the haves and have nots in our school communities.  It is no coincidence that the have nots (as far as technology goes) are often our most struggling students.  The correlation between poverty and achievement becomes glaringly obvious when access to technology and online resources are a barrier for student learning.  We cannot make that an excuse for not integrating technology and 21st century skills into our teaching and learning, but we DO need to be aware of access issues and think outside of the box to address them.

summerreading-300x297Knowing our population is key.  Who has access to the internet?  Who has a smart phone or cell phone?  This information can guide the type and amount of work that will go into any summer literacy program you want to implement.  However, any initiative should include non-digital resources for families and students and an assumption that there will be those without access.

This is where the old-fashioned notes home come in.  Pamphlets and handouts with ideas, resources, book lists, etc abound.  Keep them simple.  Keep them user friendly.  They could include local library programs and hours, local bookstore events and information, free museum, films, concerts, or programs to build family experiences or information on local groups that put on family friendly events.    Many libraries set up reading incentive programs that do not require a computer or internet access.  Many bookstores have authors come to visit for free or have pajama nights and read alouds.  Sharing this information with parents is leading the horse to water.

Many schools get books in kids’ hands.  Purchasing inexpensive books, holding book drives for gently used books and setting up book swaps so students can get ‘new to you’ titles in their hands are great ways to promote reading and give your horse a sip!


For those families who do have access to the internet, the world is a finger touch away.kids-computers   We can collect dozens and dozens of resources to share, but that can often overwhelm a parent.  By judiciously choosing some resources that you, or your school thinks are worthy, you can give those families a drink without drowning them.  It can take time to evaluate all of the resources out there, so I’ll share a few with you to get you started.  You may already have all you need, in which case you can tweet them out to me @LitCoachLady on Twitter or LitCoachCorner on Facebook!

BOOKLISTS–  I rarely read a book anymore unless it is recommended.  I just don’t have summer-reading-300x198time to read everything.  I rely on word of mouth or booklist recommendations from organizations I respect.  Now, I don’t always agree with their selections, but these books have been vetted by some pretty wise people and there is a good chance they will be well worth your time.

Here are the books students in Maine will be reading and voting on for the next school year:

Maine Student Book Award Nominees 2014-2015

Here are what students in all of the other states will be reading!

Cynthia Leitich Smith’s 50 State Book Awards Compilation

Here are some recommendations and resources from the Pragmatic Mom!

Pragmatic Mom’s Summer Reading

Recommendations by grade level from Education.com



American Library Association (ALA)



Scholastic “Keep Kids Reading All Summer-Long”

Barnes and Noble Summer Reading Challenge

Pottery Barn Summer Reading Challenge


StarWalk Kids– Free Digital Library for the month of July

Storyline Online Have great books read aloud!

PBS Kids books, games, activities galore!

Starfall  online books

ONLINE RESOURCES: Magazines for kids

Time for Kids

National Geographic for Kids

Newsela   (news articles for middle elementary and up)


Reading Rockets Family Ideas

Reading Logs

RIF=Reading is Fundamental

Read Write Think

PBS-“how to tackle school summer reading lists”


Spaghetti Book Club – book reviews BY kids, FOR kids

Kids’ Book Review


Common Sense Media


Journal Buddies– Summer Writing Prompts

Boys To Books– Writing Ideas for Boys

Scholastic Summer Writing


Twitter –  create a school hashtag ex. #LincolnSummerReaders to post ideas and keep in touch  Teachers can follow the hashtag #SummerReading

 Facebook– create a private group where you can send parents updates, reminders, event times, resources, etc.  Since students under 13 should not be on Facebook, I would promote this as a parent resource.

Edmodo- some teachers create Edmodo groups for their students to connect with their teacher and classmate about books and learning.  It is a free “Facebook-like” platform that ensures privacy for students to blog and connect.

 Kidblog– parents or teachers can set up kids on a safe blogging site to get them writing and blogging over the summer months and beyond

Texting- Remind 101– safe, one way texting application to stay in touch with parents about summer literacy books, events, ideas.


Whatever you or your school decides to do, keep it fun…keep it light…keep it simple.  Remember this IS a vacation for the kids, a time to be with family and make memories outside of school.  Ideally they would all read, write, compute, experiment and create all summer long.  We know that isn’t the reality for a lot of our kids, but all we can do is supply the water and then let the horses out to pasture!


Whats On My Book Radar?

In case you didn’t notice all of the booklists above…THAT’S what’s on my radar! Checking though the lists, looking at recommendations from friends, lining up my personal summer reading lists.  Can’t wait to dig in!