There is a great debate amongst parents and educators alike about assigning homework over holiday breaks. There are definite benefits for students completing homework over winter break, especially when it is designed appropriately.
Combat Academic Regression
The reality of learning is that students do regress in their learning over holidays. Research shows that students are likely to score lower on standardized tests after a long holiday break, such as summer vacation than they are before. If you add in other factors, the degree of regression in a student only increases.
For example, students who come from homes that are in the lower socioeconomic groups are more likely to regress over holidays than students who come from upper or middle-class homes. Students who have learning disabilities are also more likely to experience some degree of learning regression over holiday breaks. High levels of regression amongst certain student groups make it all the more important to find ways to get students to exercise their minds over holiday breaks.
Assign Pleasure Reading to Lessen Academic Regression
Therefore, assigning homework over holiday breaks can be a way to help your students sustain the skills you have been working on in class. There are a variety of ways this homework can look. The argument against holiday homework is that it detracts from the family time, but it doesn't have to be that way at all.
Reading is a great example of holiday homework for students. Reading for pleasure as 'homework' has a lot of great health benefits, including the reduction of stress and symptoms of depression. Additionally, reading has social benefits. It can help students feel more connected to their communities and even improve their ability to feel empathy for others.
Reading for pleasure also builds academic skills for students. This type of homework requires students to practice their reading comprehension skills and build vocabulary. It is just instead of students developing these skills over a text forced on them that they may, or may not, have an interest in, they develop skills while reading something they enjoy.
Learning Over the Holidays Can Be a Family Affair
Holiday homework doesn't have to involve students sitting alone in their bedroom toiling over a packet of worksheets. The reality is that anything your students dread isn't likely to be completed. Therefore, try making learning a family affair, thus empowering the family time that school holidays were intended to foster.
Allow your students to design a project that they can work with their parents to complete. For example, if you want students to practice their math have them cook dinner with their parents. They can document the math they used to prepare the meal, or survey their family for their opinion of a meal or dessert they created. A project like this one isn't just about students practicing math. Also, your students will also be practicing their communication skills by interacting with others around them.
Empowering Students to Create their Own Learning
A more engaging option might be to challenge your students to create a project they can do with their parents that relates to the skills you want them to practice. The point of work over a holiday break is to keep students engaged in the learning process while on vacation at school. Sometimes the key to empowering students is to have them create a project that utilizes the skills they have learned at school.
For example, if you want students to practice their writing skills have them come up with a writing project that they can do over their holiday with a family member. If you want them to work on history, have them create a game to study a topic with their families over their break from school. The more you can empower students to take ownership of the project, and make it a fun family affair, the greater the chance of it being successful.
Another option is to use technology to make learning interactive and even a little competitive. Using digital learning games with students has benefits such as increasing students' ability to problem solve, and developing strategic thinking. For example, if you are a math teacher there are websites such as Sumdog where you can host virtual math competitions for your classes online over a holiday break from school. If you don't want it to be competitive, you can still set up a menu of online learning games that your students can work through on a holiday break from school.