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Friday, December 19, 2014

Is It Truly Evil to Assign Students Projects Over Their Vacations?

Is it truly evil to assign students projects over vacation?  You've probably had two completely different takes on that very question depending upon the stage in your life at which the question arose.  Could you have said much else but "yes" as a student?  If you are a teacher, can you afford to say anything but "no"? 

I try not to forget how I felt as a student.  I didn't like work over the holidays.  Who would?  I wouldn't want a ton of grading over vacation, would you?  Once, in my bygone student days, I unavoidably had to write up an earthworm-dissection lab during Thanksgiving recess.   Bon appetit!  In elementary school, I was sometimes assigned the dreaded "long-range" projects over break, but since I didn't understand the term in its totality, it didn't seem that bad.  I naturally assumed "long range" had more to do with that masked man with a silver bullet, a Silver horse and a faithful, if not sometimes politically incorrect, sidekick.  I obviously wasn't college and career ready.

I bet today more students than ever get more work than ever assigned over their vacations.  I feel for them.  After all, given our increasingly test-based academic culture, students must be made to study.  They must stick to the schedule of common-core alignment, lest they fall off the college-and-career bandwagon in grade school.  Just suppose their horse rode off into the sunset without them...and they could never find another.  There might not be time to recoup in middle school or high school.

This year, I have been asked to assign a DBQ project to my freshman.  It must be collected in parts and strung out over weeks.  So, I find myself pressed to collect part of the assignment after break.  Given that City kids go to school both Monday and Tuesday next week, I will provide the necessary materials for their first draft today.   If they wish, they will be able to complete their work before the break.   I will collect their work shortly after they return and ride off to grade it, "Hi-yo, Silver, and Away!"

Despite the fact that students will have the opportunity to complete their work prior to break, they will still be stressed.  To begin with, I have learned that the very word "essay" is an anathema in their lexicon.  Perhaps I can avoid the term.  Perhaps I can refer to the assignment instead as a coherent set of paragraphs in defense of their thesis.  What if I try calling it a "Lone Ranger" assignment?  Although there is little I can do to make them love the work, perhaps I can leave them gasping, "Who was that masked project?" 


  1. Yes it is evil, and I have always hated watching my daughter grapple with projects that did nothing to enhance her appreciation of the subject matter. If I give homework over a vacation, it will be a one-day homework that will not take a whole lot of time, an assignment that I would've given regardless of whether or not it was vacation. And I won't even give an essay. I like to do essays partially in class and then have revision done at home. And I don't really like thinking about them a week or two later, when they are fresh in the minds of precisely no one.

  2. Have no fear, NYC Educator, some "reformers" are working on a simple solution to this very problem: eliminating vacations!