The Summerbreak has just begun, and my daughter has a punishing schedule of badminton club practices as well as tournaments ahead, which also means lots of support and preparation on the part of parents like myself, with bento lunches and two to three water flasks each day to be filled. Then there are homework drillsheets, readings, etc. for the kids to stay on top of (my job the last-minute procrastinators in the family don’t get to leave it all to the stroke of midnight). My son has colleges to visit, and to knuckle down to tackle his entrance exam prep in the “exam hell” year beginning about now. In Secondary and High School, summerbreaks are usually a time when children also get special remedial help from juku cram schools, or intensive revisionwork and special exam prep. towards school or college entrance exams. Families coordinate with teachers over when is the best time to take time off to travel back to their hometowns or overseas, or to go for summer camps or to take family time off. The upside, is that academics-wise, parental support is expected as a matter of course, and the student work sheets duly prepared by the teachers are all very well-laid out, efficiently scheduled and organized. Year-upon-year, pretty much the same method of dispensing work is carried on, there are few surprises and in the typical Japanese spirit, a traditional “way” and standard practice of dispensing revision or remedial self-study work is established. We (and the students) know when to start on their drill sheets, their book reports or essays or projects, when to return to school to water the plants or feed the animals (where pets are kept), and of course, when to attend their scheduled club activities or sports practices and tournaments. The downside? From upper school onwards, we have seldom been able to book our flights early, due to the late releases of the summer schedule and calendar only just before the summerbreak.
There is no talk at Japanese school PTAs or parent-meet-the-teacher sessions about “summer learning loss”, because scheduled homework drills, jiyukenkyu summer projects, book or travel reports and essays have been the standard or universal practice, thanks to the uniform national curriculum. There are tick-off checksheets or charts for parents, so that the more lackadaisical students don’t get away by using their homework sheets as kitty litter, or that our little procrastinators don’t get caught out leaving it all to the stroke of midnight. Some teachers also have a week or two of remedial programs where they see fit to conduct them. Teachers are not overbearing but it is just expected that we would all comply and get it done without complaining. Nike’s “Just Do It” motto must have been invented in the Japanese schooling system!
In articles like “Summer Learning”, Japan is cited as a case where students are given loads of homework to do during the break, I guess it is all relative … if you come from a system where you’ve never had to a jot of work, well, then what the Japanese are given will look like a lot of work to you. However, in our experience, the kids never have to do more than 5 minutes a day of drillsheets at primary level, other work typically involve writing one book report or an investigative essay into a country, or travel report, or usually a project of one’s choice. And this jiyukenkyu summer project is usually something that most kids look forward to, a chance for a creativity at an art-and-craft project or imaginative writing, to investigate some science topic deeper, or to write about and explore one area of interest and passion. All very manageable, and it teaches kids how to manage their free time and meet the submission deadline. Intermediate and high school kids have heavier schedules and concerns, being saddled with entrance exam revisionwork and prep.
Contrast the above summer practices, with the summertalk elsewhere… on either sides of the Atlantic Ocean, it seems that stemming “Summer Learning Loss” and more recently, devising instructional programs and padding the school calendar in the concept of YRE – Year Round Education appear to be the key concerns of educators’ tongues and seen a lot in the press.
Below, we set out some readings and resources pertaining to Summer Learning Loss and the YRE concept:
The term Year Round Education or YRE, and its origins is explained in “The Role of Calendar Innovation in Improving Learning in Schools”:
“A recently released survey from the National Summer Learning Association (NSLA) confirms that teachers spend a significant amount of time re-teaching material due to summer learning loss. The survey, which was based on answers from 500 teachers, found that 66 percent teachers have to spend three to four weeks re-teaching students course material at the beginning of the year, while 24 percent of teachers spend at least five to six weeks re-teaching material from the previous school year.
The numbers surrounding summer learning loss may be especially dire for low-income students. A Johns Hopkins study of Baltimore Public Schools notes that low-income youths “lose more than two months in reading achievement” over summer vacation, while their middle-class counterparts make small gains in reading achievement. Regardless of income level, most students lose “two months of grade-level equivalency” in math skills every summer.
In addition, the NSLA’s website states the following: “Research spanning 100 years shows that students typically score lower on standardized tests at the end of summer vacation than they do on the same tests at the beginning of the summer.”
A significant majority of the teachers surveyed by the NSLA agreed that such summer learning loss could be ameliorated if students participated in a summer learning program.
Gary Huggins, the CEO of the NSLA, told The Huffington Post that he recommends students participate in programs that have “enrichment activities with real academic rigor, connected in a line with what districts are trying to accomplish.”
“We think summer is a great break from school but not a great break from learning,” Huggins added.” Read the rest of the article here
Concerns Raised by the Long Summer Vacation In 1993, the National Education Commission on Time and Learning (NECTL, 1993) urged school districts to develop school calendars that acknowledged differences in student learning and major changes taking place in American society. The report reflected a growing concern about school calendar issues, especially for students at risk for academic failure.
Educators and parents often voice three concerns about the possible negative impact of summer vacation on student learning. One concern is that children learn best when instruction is continuous. The long summer vacation breaks the rhythm of instruction, leads to forgetting, and requires a significant amount of review of material when students return to school in the fall. Also, the long summer break can have a greater negative effect on the learning of children with special educational needs. For example, children who speak a language at home other than English may have their English language skills set back by an extended period without practice, although there currently is little evidence related to this issue. Read more …
Primer on Summer Learning Loss (RIF resource)