Teaching Opinion

It’s Time to End Mandated Summer Assignments

By Starr Sackstein — June 10, 2018 6 min read
Girl reading outside on hammock.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print


The last bell rang. The halls are silent and students have been dismissed for the school year into the warm summer sun.

It’s time for a well-needed break from structured learning and time to engage in play and curiosity.

For too long schools have tried to control what students are responsible for outside of school doors, whether it is homework or summer assignments. Teachers have been told or have felt that these expectations foster accountability and deeper learning.

And perhaps for some, it does, but for most, it doesn’t.

Just like with homework, summer assignments highlight equity issues that go far beyond students not being capable of doing the learning. Let’s not forget that we don’t want to promote a culture that starts students in a deficit.

After having a rich conversation on social media (Facebook and Twitter) about the need for mandatory summer assignments, there seems to be a consensus that mandatory summer assignments aren’t a thing we should promote. Teachers, administrators, students, and parents shared their concerns and dismay with the practice.

Here are some of their ideas:

Gerald Aungst said, “Love them. In fact, let’s make mandatory play assignments that count upon return to school. A checklist of things students have to do during the summer or else they start off the year in the hole right out of the gate. Things such as wade in a stream, play street stickball and attend a pool party.”

Anastasia Papis said, “when I used to get them it always felt like pressure to do as many as you could and you would feel bad when you didn’t. I am all for reading but I think it would be better for kids to feel encouraged more to want to read on their own instead of being forced during the summer when they also want that time to relax or even work before they have to do it all over again in the next school year.”

Jim Detwiler said, “Big fat NO. So many things wrong with it. Equity and access issues. And don’t even get me started on grading practices. (You may have hit a nerve, can you tell?).”

Tammy Turlington Neil said, “Even if everyone did the work, what about the kid that moves in during the summer and doesn’t know about the assignment. How is that fair? Definitely a big NO.”

Kate LaRoue said, “For AP World History, where you cover 10,000 years of History, it is critical. Most students are capable of reading a few pages, taking some notes on the Neolithic and Paleolithic eras, freeing up class time for the classical period when we start. I am no longer allowed to do this, as our school ended summer assignments. I required it to be turned in two weeks after the start of school, when they could use the notes to write a base line essay. Students did better if they read, but the essay was achievable if they had not. This delay also allowed students registering late to still do the assignment. Now, I have to assign it as homework the first week, along with what I usually do. It puts a larger load on the students since we didn’t get an early start on the curriculum.”

Shoshana Seid said, “Count?! No. Of course, I encourage reading but threatening that it “counts” for something—NO. I feel the same way about HW too.”

Delilah Kellinghaus said, “As a 20-year English teacher I say NO. I have taught mandatory summer reading and the results were never positive. I always found the classroom reading and productive struggle much more beneficial for students.”

Pernille Ripp said, “That we have no right to mandate what kids do over the summer unless they voluntarily signed up for a class that requires it.”

Justin Parmenter said, “If we think teachers need to unplug and practice self-care in the summer in order to be at their best in the fall, then why would the same not be true for students?”

Steven Weber said, “I’m not a fan. Some students move to the school late in the summer. Some schools make Ss pay for the book. Some of the assignments are busy work. Some students start the 1st day of class with a C/D grade.”

Courtney Johnson said, “What? No way. Summer is summer. We get to tell them what to do 9 months out of the year. Let kids (and for the younger ones, their parents) make decisions about what to do during their summer. If they want to read, they will. If they want to read something challenging, they will.”

Michael Horton said, “Most of our high school students take one or two online college courses over the summer (by choice). AP students get prep work. Incoming 6th graders get a reading assignment. The office is open all summer if they need resources. We loan Chromebooks if needed.”

Sarah Nichols said, “Reading is a joy and shouldn’t be required but rather celebrated and encouraged by exposing learners of all ages to books that fit their interests, questions and ability levels.”

Kristen Bruck said, “Seeing the pages-long assignment my 9yo has to do this summer, I totally get when my 10th-grade students come to me hating to read. I am tempted to tell my own kids just not to do their assignments and read what they want!:

What we can do instead is provide resources for students who are interested in pursuing them and encourage them to do things that inspire them in their free time without the consequence of getting a bad grade. There are so many resources available through public libraries and school libraries for families to enjoy. Let’s promote a love of reading, but providing help and not expecting them to be used.

Steven Weber said, “I would support student choice. Students choose from a list of books. Post blog posts throughout the summer.”

Laura Mossa said, “We are hosting an in-school book swap and family book bingo night to make sure all students have books to read over the summer. Our school library will be open for check out this summer and we are using @Flipgrid to share summer reading recommendations.”

Karen Cribby said, “We use #schoology discussion boards for them to share what they’re reading (and we join in). I’m adamant though, that S’ don’t “do” anything other than enjoy what they’re reading.”

Matthew Winters said, “Modeling what summer reading looks like. On our last day I brought in the books I plan to read this summer and told the students about the importance of continuing their reading patterns. It got through to a good percentage.”

Lindsay Hall said, “By talking about books with them all year, by showing them that reading can be fun once you find the right book, and by sending them off with a list of books you think they’ll like #ReadingMatters #SummerReading .”

Jacqui Cebrian said, “I meet with my students and talk about what is in their plan. I try to send home books with them when I can. I’m very fortunate to be in a well-funded district and avail myself of all the cheap books I can find. I don’t treat it as icing. It’s the cake. I have a lot to say on this subject I guess. Summer reading bulletin board by the office...Set up an Instagram account just to post books to and add that to the summer reading recs I put out every year to encourage interaction over the summer and keep ideas flowing. And finally, new this year, I’m joining the superintendent at a farmers market booth this weekend as part of my summer reading outreach. In short ( but not really), I do everything I can think of. Also made summer reading slideshow with some book trailers embedded.”

Gina Hess said, “We have a great list of books chosen by kids and librarians in Florida, @FloridaSSYRA. I always give this list to my students at the end of the school year. My biggest goal is for them to read books that they choose, and this list gives them a good place to start.”

Let’s spend more time in school promoting a culture of curiosity and learning that transcends school, not because we want to grade kids on it or give them extra credit or punish them for not doing it, but because learning for the sake of learning is its own reward. We can foster a love of reading in so many different ways.

The opinions expressed in Work in Progress are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.