How to make summer break benefit students and educators

How to make summer break benefit students and educators

Students should be encouraged to read books. (Reuters)

The school year is over or soon will be. For students, teachers, parents and school officials, this is a time to unwind and get some deserved rest, physically and mentally — for a shorter or longer time, depending on people and their duties. There are, however, a number of important activities to be undertaken by all, once enough rest has been taken.
For teachers, there are always some end-of-year duties to be taken care of: Reports to the administration, communications with colleagues and friends, planning for next year, and perhaps workshops or training to attend. Many also spend time reflecting or recording remarks they received or made notes of during the school year, on how to address some specific part of the subject, how to better organize activities and tests, or how to direct students in the most effective and enriching ways.
Teachers of all levels should spend some extended time recording and reflecting on those notes, taking the maximum time possible to let solutions and ideas come to the surface, contacting colleagues, consulting websites, searching for good references and assembling reading material. Teachers may want to check out websites for “general educator development,” “student technology use” and other support websites that help with materials and references for professional development that can be used at a slow, easy pace.
Students should be encouraged, or rather enticed, to read (books and magazines). Children tend to think of the summer as a time to switch off completely — a couple of free months that they have earned and hence they insist on being left alone, to either play or be idle. They see reading as forced labor, an adult-imposed activity, not any kind of enjoyable activity that they would willingly or happily engage in. It is an ingrained perception that will certainly be difficult to change, especially now that viewing has replaced reading, but it is important for us adults to work on this with our children and students and to make some progress, because the benefits are huge.

Children see reading as forced labor, an adult-imposed activity, not any kind of enjoyable activity.

Nidhal Guessoum

How do we do that? First, we need to tell the children that we ask them or invite them to read only books that they like; no title will be imposed on them. Second, we need to show them the huge variety of topics and styles that exist in books, both fiction and non-fiction. One thing I always tell my students when a movie is brought up (usually some space or science fiction movie in relation to the astronomy course I teach) is, “You should read the book, it’s actually much better than the movie.” One way to show that diversity of topics and styles is to take our children to big bookstores and let them roam around there. We can also pack a variety of books during a summer trip, especially by car (most planes have screens nowadays, while most cars do not), and the children often end up picking up a book that they want to read. Things often snowball from there.
There are actually national and international projects that are built around this voluntary reading idea. The Summer Reading Challenge, which exists in several formats (nationally, such as in the UK, or online, such as Scholastic’s) and has been going on for many years, is a program where children read whatever they like and just record their reading minutes, trying to reach levels that allow them to unlock digital rewards and/or help donate books to needy children. Thousands of teachers also participate in such programs by getting groups of students to enroll, sometimes entire classes or schools.
One of the main reasons for the development of these reading challenges is to try to reduce the “summer slide,” where children lose the equivalent of two to two-and-a-half months of scholastic skills (in math and reading) and typically require four to six weeks at the start of the new school year (the equivalent of $1,500 per student in the US) to be brought back to where they were before. Summer reading has been shown to significantly reduce this slide.
Finally, education officials should also use the summer for development, rethinking curricula, reviewing what others around the world are doing, considering new ideas and activities, etc. The world is changing, and with it education must evolve and adapt to better serve humanity. How should climate change be addressed in the classroom (from elementary to college classes)? How should educators deal with the digital revolution, with its positive and negative effects? How do schools change the behavior of children and teenagers in terms of their eating and exercising habits, screen-viewing times, spending and financial habits, and planning skills?
Summer is a time to relax and recharge one’s batteries, physically and mentally. But relaxing does not need to equate to being idle, and recharging can be done with good, enjoyable and enriching activities, starting with reading. Let us all, teachers, students, parents and school officials, both enjoy our summer and make it beneficial.

  • Nidhal Guessoum is a professor of physics and astronomy at the American University of Sharjah, UAE. He is the author of the recently published “The Young Muslim’s Guide to Modern Science” (Beacon Books, UK). Twitter: @NidhalGuessoum
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