About a year ago, I started my summer holidays with a post called ‘A Summer of Learning.’ In it, I made three pledges, three things I would attempt over the summer holiday.
‘By August I will have taken my first piano lesson.
By August I will be able to bake great bread.
By August I will make something amazing out of wood.’
One I tried and didn’t enjoy. One was a disaster. One was a resounding success. One hurt my fingers. One filled the house with joy. One left me with chips. I’ll let you work out which is which. So what about this summer? What should I be learning? Anything?
I’ve always believed that the long summer holidays – while being a thing of great beauty in many ways – can have terrible consequences for some kids. John Greenlees in the TesScotland this week makes that very point: that ‘during the summer, those (attainment levels) of the majority of children regress.’ For some it means a complete switch off from anything educational. No reading, no writing, no cultural input. For others, it is a summer of adventure. Foreign capital cities, gallery experience. Something doesn’t quite sit right about that. If it is not the reason for the widening gap between rich and poor in our country then it certainly doesn’t help.
Perhaps the break from learning suggests that kids are very aware that schools are places where we achieve grades above real learning. Perhaps they know that schools are only concerned with how those grades rate the schools themselves, rather than them as individuals. If we undertake a long race to the exam finish line in May/June is it any wonder that we all see summer as a welcome break?
What about we teachers? How much do we see summer as a time to completely shut off from our jobs and forget about teaching and learning for six weeks? I think, for most, the answer may be very clear. However, if we are to take the moral high ground and expect kids to keep on learning then we must do likewise. No, I don’t mean we should be working; I don’t mean we should be preparing or marking; I mean we need to model good learning and talk about what it means with our students. We need to model good learning, not merely good schooling, and show that learning is not something that is exclusive to the school building or even the school year. We are clearly failing at that.
I’m not sure if, as John Greenless suggests, project based work is what is required. That could work. It might suggest a change in approach for secondary schools – not a bad thing – as many of us don’t see the same classes two years in a row. But what I do know is that if we return to school in August/ September without having learned anything then we have missed an opportunity. An opportunity for us to improve as teachers; an opportunity for us to prove that schools are not just about the exams; and, if we share our learning, an opportunity to show that we are human too.
When I return in August, I hope to be confident enough to try out Solo Taxonomy in my classroom. I am reading some excellent blog posts and the work of Pam Hook. I will also try to embed Aifl into my lessons in a more effective way. Thus, I am reading Dylan Wiliam’s ‘Embedded Formative Assessment’. I need to better at that. I also have time to do loads of other things which have nothing to do with school. Six weeks is a long time. I am using it well.