Summer homework is put in place by schools to keep students thinking during the summer. This comes from the belief that students tend to "turn their brains off" when they aren't forced to think complexly by summer assignments. The idea that students are incapable of in-depth thought without being forced into it is not only insulting, but it's absolutely false and is not supported by any scientific fact.
Contrary to popular belief, research suggests that "even when we are relaxing or daydreaming, the brain does not really slow down or stop working" (Ferris Jabr, Scientific American). In fact, downtime actually encourages attention, motivation, productivity, and creativity.
"(Downtime is) essential to both achieve our highest levels of performance and simply form stable memories in everyday life," Jabr wrote.
Taking a break from work is not just helpful, but it's actually essential for the human body.
"Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets," wrote essayist Tim Kreider in a New York Times editorial.
Some studies have shown that the lack of summer reading can account for a lag in reading achievement, but these only compare students who read over the summer and students who don’t. I’m not recommending that students stop reading over the summer; I’m recommending that teachers stop assigning specific books to read. If students were able to choose what books they could read during their 3 months off, I’m sure that much more of them would enjoy reading. I know I would.
I’ve got a list a mile long of books I plan to read during the summer. It’s true that some students may not plan to spend their summer vacations with their heads buried in YA novels like I do, but I’m sure a lot of them would read if they had the motivation to do so. Maybe that motivation would come from a grade or an extra-credit grade, or maybe even a fun, thought-provoking project assigned rather than a test at the beginning of the year. This way, schools could encourage students to read without taking the fun out of reading completely.
It’s important to think about why you’re assigning summer homework in the first place. If you assign summer homework because you believe that your students will forget how to learn over the three months away from school, maybe you didn’t teach them well enough in the first place.
Just think about that.
This will be my last blog post of the 2013-14 school year. Since the beginning of my freshman year, I've received nearly 9,000 page views and plenty of positive feedback. Thank you all for reading, and I'll write more next year.
Special thanks to Garth Holman, my 7th grade social studies teacher who is still one of my role models today. I couldn't have done this without you.