KIPP · npr · Smarter Learning Group

When school’s out for summer

I noticed that npr (National Public Radio in the USA) devoted half an hour’s air time yesterday to the subject of the summer ‘recess’.
Although they have a longer summer break than we have here, research in the USA indicates that ‘all kids, regardless of the income level of their family, experience over two months of setback in math computation skills during the elementary school grades; and low-income kids lose over two months of reading performance each and every summer of their elementary school years, while middle-income kids typically stagnate or experience a slight gain in reading performance’.
This makes sense because without regular practice one can expect performance to suffer.
What do we do about it? On npr, Ron Fairchild, a founder of the Smarter Learning Group and former CEO of the National Summer Learning Association, argues what many middle income families know only too well: that the summer can be an opportunity to provide children with intellectually engaging activities – language learning, reading, summer classes of all descriptions – while still taking time out to pursue enjoyable pastimes. You can watch Ron talking about summer reading on YouTube
Some schools offer ‘head start’ programmes. In fact, many years ago when I was a rookie secondary teacher, I took part in one such programme designed to introduce a specially selected number of the new intake of Year 7s to the school and members of the staff. This was ground-breaking stuff in those days! Feeder primary schools were visited, with children being chosen on the basis of social and academic need. For two weeks, both staff and pupils enjoyed the wide variety of activities and trips laid on.
Looking back, I think the most powerful impact of the two-week schedule was that the children had time to establish with the staff warm and productive relationships which carried over into academic life when the pupils started school proper. So much so that, in my experience, the staff felt that their time had been so well spent they didn’t mind giving up a week or sometimes the whole two weeks of their summer holiday.
On the npr radio programme, Jessica Cunningham, ‘chief academic officer for KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) DC Schools and founder of the KIPP DC WILL Academy, a charter middle school here in Washington’, describes how they do a three-week summer school for fifth graders. The shorter day than normal school includes mixed activities, ‘a nice balance of the rigorous academics and the fun stuff, the playing on the monkey bars at recess and all that’. The ‘rigorous academics’, she explains, doesn’t just mean maths and reading. It would also introduce children to music and games and PE, for example.
Cunningham feels that children make real gains in the program and that many go on to ‘perform with – just right along with the top kids in the city, many of them are also coming from some of the more affluent households’.
So, as well as dusting off the bikes and rooting out the swimming costumes from the bottom drawer this summer, maybe it’s time to get hold of some good maths and reading books.

6 thoughts on “When school’s out for summer

  1. I think it's such a good idea to keep kids involved with their education over the summer. I'm endeavouring to organising a literacy programme for summer school this summer, for rising year 8s and 9s who read below age 9. As someone who teaches teachers and TAs to teach reading, do you have any suggestions? I'll only have these kids 1 hour a day for a week, so my time is very limited, and I'm definitely struggling!

  2. I too agree that it is beneficial for parents to use relevant resources to continue to stimulate their children during school holidays. As well as educational benefits, a measured and carefully considered approach to continue some level of learning help prevent some of the difficulties in re-engaging children's interest in the following school year.
    There are a variety of resources to which schools have access, which can be used for home learning, including online materials, which offer such benefits without adding to the workload of teachers.

  3. Ok, Shaun, point taken! As you suggest, parents can 'use relevant resources … during the school holidays'.
    However, one doesn't need to go looking online for such resources. Taking one's children swimming, to the theatre, to the movies, a museum or two, and so on, should provide them with plenty of stimulation.
    And, a few maths text books commensurate with the child's ability (twenty minutes a day) will be more than enough to prevent regression.
    Throw in some good books and one should have a recipe for keeping those growing brains pin sharp.

  4. John,
    My point was actually that parents don't always have to seek out the relevant resources themselves. Many schools have ongoing access to resources to which they can and do easily provide parents access during holiday periods.
    I also don't wish to enter into a debate over the relative advantages and disadvantages of text books versus online resources, as in my experience as both a teacher and a father of 5 children for many years, I recognise there is a place for both.
    For me, one of the key points is for parents to seek to use resources which their child will actually be stimulated by, particularly during the holiday periods, or they will simply end up in a battle to get them to do anything, which proves counter-productive. All children are different of course, hence different types of resources will work better for different children, whether they are paper based or online.
    I also agree that 20 minutes maximum per day would suffice. However, this doesn't have to be structured. For example, it could be achieved playing numeracy games, involving the digits on car number plates, on the journey to one of the activities you suggest.

  5. We don't disagree at all Shaun, and thank you for your posting again. What you say makes very good (pragmatic) sense.
    Actually, I was going to post on a piece in the Times last week by Matthew Syed entitled 'Rethink the brain and stem the summer slide' (Times, 21/07/2011). Syed is very interested in the value of expert tuition and extended and deliberate practice. His book Bounce sets out most of his ideas, though I have to say that all of it, other than his own rather fascinating experience as a table tennis player, is derived from the work of K. Anders Ericsson et al in The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance, which is a terrific book!

Comments are closed.