Summer School?

summer-school-dave-chainsaw

That picture is what I thing of when I think of summer school. The kids who didn’t get it done in the previous nine months got to spend some quality time over the summer to gain credits. If you are of a certain age, and have questionable taste, you probably saw the movie. A bunch of slackers taking English from an equally slackerish teacher.

The new trend that I have seen in the last couple of years is summer school for the bright. Not really school but assignments to get them ready to take ‘advanced’ or AP courses in the fall. My niece and a friend of my daughter’s both participated in this activity this summer and their schools are 200 miles apart. It must be a trend.

While at the shore this summer my niece broke out a book and some worksheets to complete her assignments so that she would be allowed to participate in the advanced English course during her sophomore year. I don’t have a problem with that necessarily. I do have a problem with the assignments. Read these three books; answer the questions on these worksheets and write a report on this book using this theme.

This is a good example of one of the things that is wrong with education in this country. I’m sure that the school that this teacher works at thinks she is the greatest teacher they have. They would have to because we know that only the best teachers get to teach the top kids. Don’t get me started on that. And the students in these classes have to be the best and brightest in order to get through the door. So, our ‘best’ teachers are telling our ‘best’ students how to grow academically over the summer. These are the book that will make you smarter; these are the questions that will prove you are smarter; this is the theme that smart people write about. The books were the typical high quality literature that you see in high school classrooms. We all probably read them. The theme was based on material that the typical high school would understand. The worksheets on the other hand were mostly low level recall questions. The kind of questions that a teacher asks just to make sure you read the book. No desire for students to analyze the text or make judgments.

The problem is this: If our gifted and talented and otherwise smart kids can’t decide for themselves how to self direct their learning, who can? What if the assignment were to read three books of your choosing. Three books that  spoke to them. Three books that they were passionate about. Three books that they felt would help them develop into better students or better human being. Wouldn’t that be a better use of their time? Instead of saying write this essay about this book on this theme, couldn’t the students read the materials that they selected and write about how the books impacted them positively or negatively. What did you learn about yourself by reading these books? And, in my opinion, chuck the worksheets into the trash. Trust is important in building a culture of learning. Asking students to answer simple recall and comprehension questions serves one purpose: to make sure that the kid read the book. I don’t trust you so tell me what happened to Tom on page 136. We are in dire need of people who can solve critical problems in our society. We need adults who are thinkers. Brendon Burchard’s second rule in his 5 Rules of Life is: Believe in your ability to figure things out. That ability may come naturally for some but for others it needs to be nurtured. You nurture that, I believe, by providing kids opportunities to figure things out. We don’t do it by spoon feeding content .

I read or am reading five books over the summer. Everyone has taught me something that I will use this year in my job. Not one of those books is on the list of 500 books everyone should read before they die. Not one. But I grew this summer because of each one. When more teachers start focusing on cultivating growth, allowing choice, and building trust with students, education will be  moving in a better direction.

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