Quest’anno più che mai è importante supportare bambini e famiglie con materiali e compiti coinvolgenti, allegri, che tengano conto delle necessità di ripasso e di approfondimento e del fatto che non tutti, nonostante i grandissimi sforzi messi in campo da insegnanti e scuole, sono riusciti a seguire il lavoro scolastico quotidiano come quando la scuola si faceva in presenza.
Questo discorso, che vale per i compiti di tutte le discipline, vale altrettanto per i compiti di inglese. Abbiamo quindi raccolto un piccolo compendio dei migliori suggerimenti, aggiornati alla situazione attuale, di tre storiche autrici e formatrici Pearson: Joanna Carter, Sarah Gudgeon e Matilde Gagliano.
Why is summer homework so important?
A three month break from school – even if not ‘regular school’ – is a long enough period for children to not only get out of the habit of learning but also to forget much of what they have studied during the academic year. This is especially true of language acquisition as, maybe unlike other subjects, it depends not only on learning, but on frequent and continual practice.
It is a dispiriting thought that when school starts again in September many of our students will probably have only a vague recollection of what they had learned the previous year.
So, what can you do to stop this happening? The first thing is to do an end of course test. You should be able to find material in the Teacher’s Book of the course book you are currently using. You can select questions from the various end of unit tests to come up with one new test or use some of those questions as a model and come up with a new test based on the same grammar and lexis. Seeing how the students perform on the tests will help you to evaluate their progress and identify any weaker areas that need addressing before the end of school. In this way you can be sure that everyone in your class is finishing at more or less the same level.
Now, the point is: can we exploit the summer break in such a way as to make it an extra time for learning?
Summer homework can bridge the gap and provide the continuity needed. It should be used to consolidate and recirculate what children have already learnt in the previous academic year and also helps them gain a head start in the new academic year.
Work done in the holidays could also provide an opportunity to stimulate a natural interest in English which goes beyond the classroom.
What should be given as summer homework?
An obvious choice is a summer course book but to choose the right one certain criteria should be followed. Remember children will be working autonomously and will be on holiday, so a book should be both educational and a lot of fun.
- Colourful illustrations and characters children can identify with will promote interest.
- A storyline that runs alongside the exercises will stimulate curiosity and encourage children to complete the book.
- Exercises and activities should be well structured and appropriate for each learner’s level. They should contain material covered during the school year, so they can be used for systematic revision and consolidation.
- Instructions can be in English or Italian but must be very clear and easy to follow. Complicated books which contain unknown topics will only dishearten and discourage children.
It’s important that the four skills of reading, writing, listening and speaking are covered. The last two are more difficult to practise outside the classroom but this can be overcome with, for example, repetition exercises, songs and rhymes.
How should homework be set?
If you choose to do a summer course book you could begin it with your pupils before the holidays, so the children can familiarise themselves with the type of exercise they are expected to do.
A good summer book should include audio recordings because, with no teacher available during the summer, the audio component is the only model for correct pronunciation. It should be remembered that the language revised and practised in the Summer Book has already been learned by the children, but forgotten as children get very little or no opportunity to practise the English language outside the classroom.
The book chosen should be designed so the children can use it for independent study, but you could encourage parental involvement. Parents don’t have to know English themselves, but can check that the children have followed instructions in Italian correctly and help set objectives on how much should be done and when. They could also join in and learn some of the songs and rhymes.
We know parents have already been highly involved this school year, so you might want to skip this part or just use it a suggestion if the families in your classes are keen on being part of the summer work too!
Above all, present the work as interesting and fun so it becomes part of the childrens’ holiday not an obstacle to enjoying it.
Holiday books, not holiday from books
The obvious thing we can do is to ask parents to buy a Summer Book. There are a lot of good reasons for doing this, as regular contact with the English language will:
• help the memorization of language learned during the previous school year,
• be an incentive to do a little work every day and not everything in the last week,
• be good pronunciation practice, as the children will be exposed to the English language when they listen to the recordings.
Give me a break, please!
If a child completes the exercises in a Summer Book during the holiday break, there will be a notable improvement in their language level when the new school term starts in September/October.
When lessons begin, check that all the children have completed the exercises before starting the correction phase. If some children have not completed all the exercises, give them a few lessons grace.
There are several ways to approach the correction of the exercises:
• collect and correct all the summer books;
• collect and correct a sample of the summer books (parents of those children who did not have their exercises corrected may object);
• divide the children into groups and ask them to compare their answers, using the answer keys if there are differences;
• correct the exercises orally during the first lessons in class;
• ask the children to correct their own or partner’s exercises using the answer key and to quantify the number of mistakes.
Fifth year students are generally the least inclined to purchase Summer Books, because they know that they will not be returning to the same class/school the following school year. However, these children, who will be starting secondary education, really do need to have contact with the English language during the summer holidays. When they begin their new Secondary school classes, the type of teaching will be different than that in the Primary school. Progress will be very quick, especially during the first few months.
For other curricular subjects ‘bridge books’ or ‘libri ponte’ are very popular to prepare the children for their new scholastic experiences. For English language students in the 5th Primary year there are several choices when choosing a Summer Book:
- A Summer Book for the 5th year which includes language revision exercises based on the linguistic contents of the 5th year English language syllabus. The child must have access to an answer key.
- A ‘bridge book’ such as EXPLORE!, JUMP AHEAD or NEW SKIPPER, which brings together all the language points covered in the Primary school in more formal, secondary school type exercises together with an answer key.
- A Primary Grammar Guide which brings together the language and grammar items taught in the Primary school, concentrating on when and how a language item should /should not be used. GRAMMAR TIME or GRAMMAR NAVIGATOR are examples of this type of publication.