Keeping young minds active
Learning loss is a fact of life. The ground that pupils lose over the long summer break was the principal driver behind some local authorities moving from a traditional three-term year, although most then went for six terms, which looks much as it did before. For this reason the extended summer holiday is in the secretary of state’s sights as well as being abbreviated by some free schools and academies.
In my experience the price that we pay for having six weeks off is an average attainment drop of two average points – one sub-level
Measuring the holiday setback
The argument for a shorter summer holiday should really weigh this business of learning loss against the many benefits that children can gain by not being in school for the summer. It is a pity that this cannot be guaranteed; different families face different pressures. In my experience the price that we pay for having six weeks off is an average attainment drop of two average points – one sub-level. This came home to me as headteacher of a junior school when we retested Year 3 on entry. Invariably, while most of the Level 3 pupils remained at Level 3, the 2As became 2B, the 2Bs became 2C and the 2Cs dropped off the standard. As a primary headteacher this was less marked because our Key Stage 1 assessment was probably less optimistic than that of a purely infant school. No wonder secondary colleagues complain that Year 7 pupils do not measure up to their assessment in Year 6.
We need to recognise that learning loss is universal at each transition but probably more marked when it is at a key stage boundary. But we can do something about it, both after the summer break and before it.
Mitigating the effects
In September the progress targets that should be set for our pupils should be that, by the end of the first half term, their attainment is at least that achieved at the end of July
When schools recommence in September the progress targets that should be set for our pupils should be that, by the end of the first half term, their attainment is at least that achieved at the end of July. Ignore this and we start complaining to staff for failing to promote progress and we may draw the wrong inferences about the pupils. On the other hand, half a term of consolidation, reinforcement and revision will ensure that pupils have a firm foundation at their assessed level from which to move forward. That can then fire the starting gun for much more challenging targets.
Many schools run Easter schools and summer schools but these are expensive to put on and the uptake can be limited. The trick must be to engage as many pupils as possible. This is difficult, however, a carefully planned strategy that will enable pupils to keep their minds alive over the summer holiday can do much to minimise their learning loss.
Rules for planning holiday homework
Keep it simple
The more complicated you make things the fewer pupils will sign up to it. Remember, many of your pupils will be relying on little support from parents, and often those who do get involved want things to be easily understood.
Minimise the marking
In a busy school, nobody is going to thank you for being lumbered with marking the holiday work done by their new class. Whatever you set needs to be as self-regulating as possible.
Make it motivating
Your pupils have to want to do the work, otherwise they simply won’t do it. Look for intrinsic incentives rather than expensive prizes. By all means reward those who make the most effort but this should not become the main motivation.
Ideas that follow the rules
Publish a workbook
Parents like workbooks because they don’t have to go looking for paper
Devise a workbook that contains the work set for each week, removes pupil selection and sets out your expectations. Parents like workbooks because they don’t have to go looking for paper. Pupils may want to do the work set all at once, spread it out or do it in chunks. It doesn’t matter.
Provide the answers
The work you set isn’t a test; its purpose is keeping up the thinking. If you make the answers a detachable section of the workbook then you can ask parents to remove it and use it to mark their child’s work.
Secure calculation, computation, spelling and expression
You don’t have to introduce new stuff. The secret is to make it regular and accessible. Aim for three homework activities a week. You can throw in a research project for the more studious pupils.
Devise a maths test
Set 120 sums of simple multiplication, division, addition and subtraction. Make it a timed test so that pupils get faster and more accurate in computing the results. Parents or a sibling can time the test. The clock stops when the pupil calls ‘finished’ or, at ten minutes, the timer stops the test. Request that the test be marked immediately and both the score and the time recorded. Set the pupils a challenge. Next time, can they be quicker and more accurate?
Provide some simple maths games such as variations on Sudoku. Even better, some maths games that require quick calculation – newspapers often have examples. You’d be surprised at how many get done on a wet afternoon.
Provide some simple word games
How many words can you make from…? Other examples include trackwords, crosswords and word squares. They all help to reinforce spelling.
Set a simple writing piece for each week
Minimise the marking but give prizes or certificates for completed projects
Vary it – a poem, a story from a given starter, a book review, etc. For ideas, check out the Pie Corbett story starters app for the iPad.
None of this needs marking. You might want to give some sort of reward for the most complete, but the best reward is that pupils have kept their skills sharp. However, some will want to do even more, so set them an internet research project; for example, your town is bound to have namesakes in other parts of the English-speaking world. What can pupils find out about it? Offer a holiday diary option as not all pupils will be able to do this, or won’t have internet access. Again, minimise the marking but give prizes or certificates for completed projects. However, if a child has taken the trouble to do one at all, give them some kind of recognition anyway. This should be fun – and it keeps their minds alive.