Summer Slide – A reality or media construct?

I just read Alfie Kohn’s take on the Summer Slide.  He puts forward an interesting argument and correlates the ‘fear’ of loss of progress over the summer with the same fear of what will happen if teachers don’t assign homework (hint: Mayhem! Chaos! Kids Gone Wild!).

He summarizes his argument:

By the time September rolls around, kids may indeed be unable to recall what they were told in April: the distance between the earth and the moon, or the definition of a predicate, or the approved steps for doing long division. But they’re much less likely to forget how to set up an experiment to test their own hypothesis (if they had the chance to do science last spring), or how to write sentences that elicit a strong reaction from a reader (if they were invited to play with prose with that goal in mind), or what it means to divide one number into another (if they were allowed to burrow into the heart of mathematical principles rather than being turned into carbon-based calculators).

Summer learning loss? It’s just a subset of life learning loss—when the learning was dubious to begin with.

His summary is really a blueprint for what parents can do (and teachers can support) in order to use the summer break as an opportunity for growth rather than loss: Do experiments, swing in a hammock and write a story from the perspective of something around you, bake something or make something that has you using your math skills, for real. Most importantly, focus on the process of having a summer vacation and all that entails: rest, experiences, creation, re-creation, and play.

As Kohn points out, the ‘summer slide’ is evident when standardized test scores are compared. But what about the skills that can not be measured on such a test?

My take on combatting the slide? Here are some Summer Learning slides I shared with the parents at my school:

With the exception of the ‘knowing’ slide, which gives details of websites in which students can practice traditional academic skills, the tools suggested focus on the idea of creating and documenting based on experiences. The more children see, do, touch, feel, experience, and try, the more they will have to speak, write, and create about.

In addition to technology, get outside, and read (read outside or just read and then go outside or vice versa). If you are needing help with summer reading, look no further than my favorite book blog: One Page To The Next.  Last summer she posted on Summer Reading for Book Enthusiasts. This summer, her Summer Reading post is another great spread of excitement for readers.

If you are still looking for ideas, my other favorite blog Engage Their Minds has a wealth of resources under the category “Summer Slide

Finally, I love this list of ideas for experiences for kids from Ranger Rick.  Take a look and download from here – and then make a digital book, i-movie, podcast, artwork, poem, rap song, comic book, or ??? about your experience!


21st Century, Creativity, Innovation, Inspiration

Enough With Keeping Score!

I just read an excerpt from a Wall Street Journal article, titled 10 Things Your Commencement Speaker Won’t Tell You.  It is funny and poignant and carries with it a deeper message than the pithy, surface humor with which it is delivered. Point 5 on the list leapt from the screen at me:

Kids’ sports are becoming ridiculously structured and competitive. What happened to playing baseball because it’s fun? We are systematically creating races out of things that ought to be a journey. We know that success isn’t about simply running faster than everyone else in some predetermined direction. Yet the message we are sending from birth is that if you don’t make the traveling soccer team or get into the “right” school, then you will somehow finish life with fewer points than everyone else. That’s not right. You’ll never read the following obituary: “Bob Smith died yesterday at the age of 74. He finished life in 186th place.”

Finished life in 186th place. 

If you are like me, you will have chuckled at the ridiculousness of this line.

If you are like me, you will have then thought of the truth in this line – and of how school perpetuates this truth when it insists on pushing all it’s students through the Standardized Test production line. I have never hid the fact that I dislike standardized tests. And this is a dislike based on research and discussion and even formed the part of my University degree for which I gained my first (and only) A+ for the paper I wrote about the topic in my final year of school.  I have taken classes by the one half of the duo in New Zealand who authored the PAT (Progress and Achievement Test) who indicated that not only did their test contain inherent bias that was almost impossible to avoid, it only served as a basis for testing lower level thinking and computation skills.  The New York Times is in a blogging frenzy over standardized tests with  posts on the outcry over a contested question about a pineapple without sleeves, on  parents choosing to keep their children home during tests, and from a staff developer on how testing is hurting teaching. I have read countless articles about standardized testing (read this, and this and this to get you started) and none of them do anything to make me want to throw up my arms and embrace the concept and the reality of the standardized test.

Thankfully, I am not alone.

Shelly Blake-Plock via Mind/Shift on 21 things that will be obsolete by 2020:

The AP Exam is on its last legs. The SAT isn’t far behind. Over the next ten years, we will see Digital Portfolios replace test scores as the #1 factor in college admissions.

Seth Godin via Back to (the wrong) School:

As long as we embrace (or even accept) standardized testing, fear of science, little attempt at teaching leadership and most of all, the bureaucratic imperative to turn education into a factory itself, we’re in big trouble.

Alfie Kohn via Standardized Testing and Its Victims:

Standardized testing has swelled and mutated, like a creature in one of those old horror movies, to the point that it now threatens to swallow our schools whole.

Read Seth’s comment again: As long as we embrace (OR EVEN ACCEPT) standardized testing… Too often I am told, “Parents want to know”, “Other schools do it too”, “The kids have to practice for it”, “It will mean free tuition if they do well”.  My fifth graders have seven more years of K-12 education ahead of them.  Seven years! Can we predict what will happen in seven years time to justify pushing our kids through standardized testing today? I have worked with some of my kids for almost two years now, having been their fourth grade teacher as well.  My kids are awesome.  Different.  Special.  Talented.  Unique.  And so smart in so many different ways that it would blow your socks off. After 45 minutes of round one of ‘Test Prep’ for the SSAT, can you imagine how heartbreaking it is to hear a child say, “Wow.  I thought I was smart but I guess I really am dumb!”.  Heartbreaking.  And so, so untrue.   Yet the push continues.

Shelly Blake-Plock followed the “21 things” post with this brilliant article that left me with goosebumps and the final tag line:  DO SOMETHING IMPOSSIBLE.  Are you willing to do just that?


Make a ruckus! Our kids deserve it.