How to Squeeze the Most Out of Summer Homework

Mar 19, 2024
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We know it takes the adolescent brain a few weeks or more to get back up to speed after the long summer break. Many teachers, particularly in the high school grades, try to reduce their students’ brain power regression by trying to keep them busy over the vacation. How can summer homework, particularly reading, benefit students without seeming like a chore? The answer is complex, and it partly depends on how helpful you feel about homework in the first place.

Tips to Make Summer Homework Worthwhile

Just like classroom and home learning during the school year, if summer homework tasks are inauthentic (e.g., busy work), they will serve little to no purpose. But, the brain drain of the summer months is real. So, how do we ensure that our students are firing on all cylinders when they walk through our doors in the fall? Here are some things to keep in mind when assigning summer homework.

1. Make Sure the Tasks Count for Something

Nothing will generate ill will amongst students faster than telling them their summer work was all for naught, but you wouldn’t believe how many teachers forget their students even had anything assigned over the summer break.

Students have read your books or have done your homework in good faith. The summer homework needs to be included or even dominate your first unit of the new school year. Otherwise, you might have some trust issues to address.

2. Make Summer Work Tasks Authentic

Students, especially older ones, can quickly sniff out busy work; they are less likely to give their best effort when they sense it.

If it’s something you wouldn’t assign during class—but might give to a substitute if you’re out—don’t assign it over the summer break. The goal is to prepare students for their upcoming studies just as much as it is to keep them from forgetting what they learned in the previous school year. Find a mix of the new with the old, and make it as engaging as possible.

3. Allow Some Summer Homework to Be Self-Guided

It’s no secret that the more input the student has in the task, the more engaging the lesson becomes. Because you’re not necessarily worried about mastery of new material and aren’t focusing on academic standards, there’s no harm in letting the students choose from a list of possible projects or books to read. Try assigning a “Passion Project”, where students choose a topic of personal interest and create a project or presentation around it.

4. Utilize the Ultimate Flipped Learning Opportunity

Perhaps you’re a flipped learning veteran or may still be just dabbling. Either way, summer break is the perfect opportunity to assign some lesson videos from your own library or an online resource.

Have students watch some TED Talks or lectures from Coursera or instructional videos from Khan Academy. They might not come in with complete mastery of the assigned topics, but they will be much better prepared to begin learning the material than if they were just doing worksheets from last school year’s work.

5. Celebrate Achievements and Milestones

If you have the resources, include a voluntary option for students to track their achievements and milestones online. Doing so can help students stay accountable in completing assignments while giving teachers the opportunity to motivate their students to continue their learning journey. You can experiment with virtual awards ceremonies, certificates of achievement, or personalized feedback messages. Consider acknowledging everyone again in person at the beginning of the school year to include those who were unable to participate online.

6. Encourage Peer Collaboration and Support

Another option to consider is incorporating group projects, peer review activities, and collaborative discussions into summer homework assignments to encourage students to actively engage with course content and develop essential teamwork and communication skills. Peer collaboration also fosters a sense of camaraderie and accountability among students, as they work together to achieve common goals and support each other's learning journey.

For example, try facilitating peer review sessions where students provide feedback and support to their peers on their homework assignments. Students can exchange drafts of their essays or presentations and provide constructive feedback on areas for improvement. Suggest using free online platforms like Google Docs or Padlet for peer collaboration.

Looking for other fun ideas to encourage learning over summer break? Check out Edmentum’s free 30-Day Summer Challenge. Our flyer includes creative ideas designed to keep students engaged in their learning. With 30 days’ worth of fun activities, facts, and resources, learners are bound to learn something new each day and make the most out of summer break.

This post was originally published in June 2013 and has been updated.

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