Summer Learning Loss

Self-education is, I firmly believe, the only kind of education there is.”  – Isaac Asimov.

Every year millions of students all over the world eagerly look forward to the long summer holidays.  In the tropics they are more likely to be called the long holidays.  When I was a boy, at the start of these holidays we would sing variants of the song: ” No more Latin, no more French, No more sitting on the hard school bench,” as we anticipated a couple of months of freedom to go to the beach, play all sorts of games, and have all kinds of fun.  It was one of our favourite times of the year.  However, both then and now, it is not a good idea to spend the entire summer vacation just having fun and watching television every day.

Empirical evidence shows that many students forget substantial portions of what they learned during the school year, over the summer holidays, if they are not involved in summer learning activities.  They definitely lose some of their reading and mathematical skills.  Various studies also indicate that this summer learning loss is worse among students from low socioeconomic backgrounds.  Probably because there is less intellectual stimulation and fewer learning resources in their homes.

Students need to maintain a viable level of academic engagement over the long summer holidays.  This prepares them for the higher demands of the following school year.  This helps them to keep pace with new curriculum requirements instead of falling behind at the start of the new school year.  Various studies suggest that students lose two to three months worth of learning during the summer if there is no academic stimulation.  The greatest learning loss occurs in mathematics.

To prevent or minimize summer learning loss, experts say that students must practice reading, solve a few mathematical problems and participate in enrichment activities for a short time every day during the summer holidays.  They recommend about thirty minutes of reading and a few (less than five) mathematical problems per day.  They also recommend regular visits to the library and museums.  Academic summer camps or programmes and educational tours can be very helpful.  Of course, parents and guardians must monitor or supervise these activities to ensure that students are really engaged.  In some cases a tutor may be useful.

Students can be allowed to choose some of the reading material.  Parents can question them about what they are reading.  Let them write short essays or stories from time to time.  For the mathematics parents can buy workbooks at the appropriate grade or form level.  Let the students work with the books which will be used during the next school year as soon as they become available.  There are many free online lessons and programmes in various subject areas and online educational games.  Students should be encouraged to spend a short time, on a regular basis, reviewing previous notes and corrected work.  They should focus on improving their weak areas.

The practices mentioned above are recommended by many educators and will keep students’ scholastic skills sharp over the long holidays and reduce or eliminate summer learning loss.  They will also help students to take responsibility for their own learning.  Fortunately, they will still have a lot of time left every day to have fun.

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School Safety for Parents

School safety is a vitally important issue.  For effective teaching and learning to take place administrators, staff and students must feel safe within the school environment.  This environment extends to school buses and school activities off the campus.

CNSNews.com cites a report published by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) , which states that 1,183,700 violent crimes were committed at American public schools during the 2009 – 2010 school year, but that only 303,900 of them were reported to the police.  The report is entitled “Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2011.”  It includes rape, sexual battery other than rape, physical attacks or fights with or without a weapon, threats of physical attacks, and robbery with or without a weapon among these violent crimes.

Overall, the report says  that 1,876,900 crimes of various types were committed at U.S. public schools during 2009 – 2010, but that only 689,100 of them were reported to the police.

Although the severity of the situation varies from school to school, schools are clearly not always oases of peace and safety.  Many parents and students are worried by this state of affairs.  What can parents do to ensure that their children do not become victims or perpetrators of violence at school?  How can they promote school safety?

  • Parents should teach their children anger management techniques, conflict resolution, compassion and the Golden Rule: “Treat others as you would like to be treated.”
  • Emphasize and model respect for others, kindness and tolerance.
  • Show your children that you fully support all school policies that foster safety and security.
  • Parents must talk regularly with their offspring about what is going on at school.  Question them about their fears and concerns.  Get them to disclose whatever they are uncomfortable or worried about.  Parents must then act on their findings.
  • Report unsettling or threatening events or situations to school authorities.
  • Parents and students should report cases of sexual misconduct and drug or alcohol possession or use by deviant students.  They should likewise report offending students for gambling, stealing, bullying or possession of offensive weapons.
  • Report students who are behaving strangely or threatening to harm themselves, staff or other students.
  • Get your children to report the presence of strangers on the school campus.
  • Ensure that your children avoid name-calling and unwelcome teasing as they often lead to fights.
  • Never ignore threats.  Always report them to school administrators.
  • Vet your children’s friends carefully.
  • If you have firearms at home make sure that they are locked away from your children.
  • Check your children’s rooms and school bags on a regular basis.

Parents should maintain cordial contact with teachers and school administrators.  Joining the PTA is also a good idea.  Having a positive relationship with teachers makes it easier for parents to discuss matters of school safety with them.  Children must be shown that they have a role to play in the maintenance of school safety.  Their role is to be vigilant and report any sign of trouble or deviant behaviour at school to teachers and parents.  The teacher-parent partnership will enhance school safety.

Homework: Harmful or Helpful?

Mathematics homework

Mathematics homework (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The homework debate has been raging for many decades, with no end in sight.  On one hand there are the proponents of homework who swear by its benefits and efficacy, and on the other hand we have the detractors who would like schools to end the practice of giving homework to students.  Among the proponents there is also the burning question of just how much homework should be given to students. Parents, educators, students and indeed the general public have all been deeply divided over the homework issue for a long time.  It seems as though the numbers of detractors are slowly growing.  Some schools in the United States and elsewhere have a no homework policy.  The French president Francois Hollande proposed a no homework policy last year in his plans for educational reform.  His rationale being that students do not have a level playing field when it comes to the matter of homework, because some have parents who can help them  while others do not.

The experts also disagree over the advantages and disadvantages of homework.  Cooper, Robinson, and Patall (2006), for instance, concluded that there is a positive correlation between the amount of homework students do and their achievement levels.  Other researchers, such as Alfie Kohn and Timothy Naughton, state that there is little or no benefit to giving homework and that it does not really lead to improved academic performance.  Alfie Kohn, (2006), wrote “The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing.” Even the title is eloquent.

Let us consider the pros and cons of homework and then make an informed decision and recommendation about its value.

PROS

  • Homework helps to  consolidate and clarify what was learned during the school day.
  • It gives practice with content, concepts and skills.
  • Homework improves performance in standardized tests.
  • It is an extension of classwork that allows students to achieve mastery of the content or skills to be learned.
  • Students do not have enough time during the day to fully understand all the information they are given.
  • Homework facilitates rote learning.
  • It  lets parents see what their children are doing at school.
  • Homework teaches self-discipline, time management and research skills.
  • It reduces time for TV and video games and promotes good study habits.
  • It increases interest in schoolwork when it is corrected quickly.

CONS

  • Homework must be corrected quickly or students get frustrated and lose interest.
  • It can be too burdensome and stressful at times.
  • Homework disturbs family life and prevents students from doing household chores.
  • Parents or relatives may do the homework for the student.
  • Students need time to relax, play and pursue sports and hobbies.
  • Homework can make students too tired after a long day at school.
  • It keeps them up too late at night.
  • Homework is often meaningless busywork which does not promote real learning.
  • Students from middle- and upper-class homes have better resources to help them with homework.

After examining the pros and cons where do you stand on the homework issue?  What would you add to the debate?

On the strength of 39 years of experience as an educator I firmly believe in the efficacy of homework.  I know that more homework equates to better academic performance.  I have seen it countless times.  I wish to sound a note of caution though.  Care must be taken to ensure that homework is relevant and linked to vital learning objectives at all times.  It must be designed to deepen students’ understanding, and facilitate mastery of the material to be learned.

Finally, teachers should not overburden students with homework.  There should always be reasonable homework timetables or schedules and homework should be age appropriate.  In elementary schools homework should be light.  It can be increased in secondary school on a sliding scale as the student progresses through the school.  It can range from one hour or a little less per night in the lower school, to three hours or a little more per night in the upper school.

When no written homework is given, students should be encouraged to review the important elements of the day’s work or do additional reading as self-given homework.  They need to understand that they are largely responsible for their own academic progress.  When a student is absent from school he should contact a classmate to get the homework and do it .