This post is week 5 of 8 in the 8 Weeks of Summer Blog Challenge for educators.

by Sheri on Flickr for #sketch50 2018

The Prompt

Summer Student Experiences
How do student summer experiences influence your start of school planning?

Always look forward.

My students have varied experiences, from traveling to many states or within the state for pow wows to staying in the area where fishing, swimming, horse-back riding or racing, hanging out with friends, dirt-biking, and the usual gaming and videos are part of many activities.

Whatever they are doing and wherever they are: they are learning what is needed for their lives at that moment.

I do not worry about that summer slide — that loss of school learning that may occur and about which so many in education worry.

But one little first grade boy showed me that knowledge is all about context and need. Years ago, while taking his CAT [California Achievement Test], he raised his hand. I leaned in to listen to his question, which I knew I could not help him with. He quietly said, pointing to the picture on the test page, “Ms Edwards, the answer is ‘deer,’ but they have a picture of an elk.”

So there you have it. A six year old Native American hunter knew more than the test writers and test question evaluator; they both missed the error. Sure, he would have tested poorly in the fall with the loss of school learning, but for what is important to him– what is needed because an error is real life consequences — he knew what is authentic in his life.

That was a reminder to me, that students are always learning. Years ago I read a Newsweek article with this quote by a student:

This poster hangs in my classroom so my students know that I understand that they bring to our classroom knowledge I may not have — because wherever they are, they are learning from the “teachers” around  them, whether it is their parents, the forest, their elders, the huckleberry bush, the bear.

When fall starts, I accept all their learning, and I know that we will quickly pick up where school learning left off in the spring. We need to read a lot and write a lot — with their choices for both, and from those I can discern exactly where my teaching will help them grow.

I prepare for students’ summer experiences by remembering that if our work together is authentic, that students will engage and learn. If our work together supports and welcomes each student, students will engage and learn. We will learn and grow together. I listen to what students say, I read what they write so I can create a climate of learning together with work that is important to them while meeting our school expectations and standards.

I’m reminded of John Holt‘s work:

No matter what tests show, very little of what is taught in school is learned, very little of what is learned is remembered, and very little of what is remembered is used. The things we learn, remember, and use are the things we seek out or meet in the daily, serious, nonschool parts of our lives. How Children Fail, 1964. John Holt.

As much as possible, work in school must be authentic– something the real world, for daily life. And I learn what will be authentic for students by building a relationship with them– by creating a learning community.

As I wondered about this, I found an article by Peter Gray in which he analyzes the research on the summer slide:

In other words, during the three months of summer vacation they gained nearly half a year in math reasoning ability.

Reasoning improved! He continues:

So, take away summer, and we will produce lots of graduates who know how to do calculations but have no idea why anyone would do them other than to pass a test. But then, of course, they will forget how to do the calculations by a few weeks after graduation, as that is what is lost when not in school.

Maybe instead of expanding the school year to reduce a summer slide in calculation we should expand summer vacation to reduce the school-year-slide in reasoning.

Facts and Fiction About the So-Called “Summer Slide” by Peter Gray in Psychology Today, 2017

In another article by the same author, he shares the research on school climate — that students who feel they belong in school are more likely to participate. In addition, the inquiry-based teaching pedagogy also improved the engagement of students we think of as part of that learning gap:

Apparently, one reason for the achievement gap is that rich students tend to believe they “belong” at school and poor students tend to believe they don’t.  A concerted effort by teachers and other staff to show that everyone belongs—that everyone is respected, cared for, and welcome—therefore tends to increase the participation, and hence the achievement, of economically poor students more than it does that of wealthier students, thereby reducing the gap…When done well, i t[inquiry-based teaching] engages all students, including those who would otherwise be the most disengaged.

Mend the Gap Between Rich and Poor in School Achievement by Peter Gray in Psychology Today, 2017

That is my experience with students from populations who tend to fail in school. Climate. Caring. Inquiry [reasoning]. Authenticity. Choice.

The first article led me to Kerry McDonald’s article

It’s hard to take ownership of something when someone else owns it. This sadly applies to students and teachers alike, as both are similarly stripped of their own agency.

Summer Slide? There’s No Such Thing by Kerry McDonald in wbur, 2017

I learned that lesson thirty-one years ago while teaching first and sixth grades: without choice, students just went through the motions or put their heads down, but supporting them with options — authentic ones — students engaged.

And the same was true for me: I needed the agency to choose, based on my classroom results, where my students next steps were, and to do that in ways that engaged their minds. I researched and presented to administration and school boards the why of my inquiry teaching pedagogy and received their support. And we always moved forward– together. So if Mars was in the news, and the students talked and wondered about it — that’s where our language arts classroom would learn. The science teacher and I planned units together, units that allowed students to choose their path and demonstrate their knowledge.

Because knowledge means something only in context of real need and real work. That’s why my preparation for students’ summer experience will be to listen as we build relationships, and listen and read from their responses and writing based on their choices as we begin the school year.

I usually start with our own take on the Two Writing Teachers’  Tuesday Slice of Life challenge. I can teach so much about real writing just through the work the students do writing about a moment, a snapshot of their lives, and I learn all about them to build that school climate. I provide surveys for them to share a bit about themselves. We hold discussions and debates about topics that arise, we participate in collaborative activities to build our learning community, and we keep reading and writing together. And whatever “summer slide” occurred, we just scooped it right up and put it back in our backpack for our journey together: forward!

#campnanowrimo 1240