Why Our Summer Assignments Are a Great Opportunity, Really!

Ah summer, the season for high school students to rest, relax, and, in the case of Brooks School scholars, really sink their teeth into fall coursework.

That's right: Brooks students are spending some of their vacation time in that hammock or beach chair this June, July and August focused on all that they'll be learning in September back on campus.

This spring, English III students worked outside — suspended over Lake Cochichewick in hammocks — as a way of practicing writing on their phones and drawing inspiration from nature. See photos from their morning here.

"Summer reading is lacking for a lot of kids," said Associate Head for Academic Affairs and history teacher Lance Latham P'17. "So to read anything in summer is great. Something chosen by teachers? That's awesome. We really want students to read so we've tried to find interesting material to engage them." (Department heads in the past have even taken books out of a required list based on student feedback).

Click to view the 2017 Summer Reading required by the English Department

With each academic department setting its own expectations and requirements, the range of reading and assignments is great. In the English Department, for example, students choose two books to read — one from the "Classics" category and the other from a list of roughly 80 titles selected "to represent a wonderfully eclectic variety of contemporary and classic literature, as well as popular genres and best-sellers," according to the department's instructions.

Advanced Placement (AP) Calculus AB students are given a packet in which they are asked to sharpen their skills in trigonometry, solving equations, and analyzing graphs. AP French Language and Culture involves watching at least five French films, then journaling in French about the works. Other courses require short-answer exercises or an essay.

AP Art History students, for one, must read The Annotated Mona Lisa by Carol Strickland and hand in a paper on the first day of class describing three works of art that they like, noting what it is that they like about them – as well as a description of a piece they don't like, explaining why.

On the other hand, AP Government and Politics students are encouraged to read their summer text, The Thirteen American Arguments: Enduring Debates That Define and Inspire Our Country by Howard Fineman, and just keep in mind "how two of the chapters might connect to two contemporary political events that you see in the news." When students report to class in September, they'll do a writing assignment based on those observations.

"Teachers intentionally follow up with meaningful action or discussions related to the reading in class so students hopefully feel like "I didn't do it for nothing," said Latham.

On the contrary, summer reading and assignments benefit students quite a bit. "Doing some work during break enhances the course experience because the students arrive with the foundation of — or review of — the skills that they will need," said Academic Dean and history teacher Susanna Waters. In addition to giving students from different backgrounds coming to Brooks for the first time a common starting point, summer work gives classmates a common base.

"It's a way for teachers to start classes with you; to introduce themes so that in class the first day you've have had this experience together already," said Latham. His art history class reading gives students an introduction to the vocabulary that they'll use throughout the course along with an overview of where they'll begin.

"Coursework during break is also a good indicator to students what will be required of them during the school year," adds Waters. "If the work is too much, students may choose to drop down from the A.P."

Students' summer work allows educators get down to business in the fall more easily too. "Teachers can use it as an assessment tool so that right off at the start of the year they can get a sense of 'Who am I dealing with here?'" said Latham. Time is of the essence, after all, with Brooks' academic calendar.

"National curriculum models assume a 180-day school year but most schools like us have 140 days — and we have three weeks subtracted for Winter Term as well," reported mathematics teacher Dave Price. "Summer work allows us to hit the ground running."

Visit Brooks' Winter Term page to learn all about the intense, three-week, one-topic course of study held each January.

The "summer slump" that teachers talk about, following students' season away from the classroom, is real, said Price. "Three months off can lead to complacency and lost skills and lost knowledge," he explained. "Summer works keep students fresh and up-to-date. The math part of your brain is a muscle that needs to be exercised. You've got to use it or lose it!"

Think, then, of Brooks' requirements as more "fun run" than merciless bootcamp. "Students have lots of opportunity for break during their summer vacation," said Latham, who points out that individuals can set their own pace for doing the work during their three months off. That way, students can really take their time, enjoy the assignments and even share what they're studying with their family and friends, fostering life-long learning.

"Our summer reading and assignments are designed so that the same books can apply to different disciplines, which encourages cross-pollination of ideas," said Waters. "It gets teachers and kids talking; gets kids and kids talking; gets kids talking with their families." Learning, she reminded "doesn't have to happen just in class during the school year."

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