At least once a year, I am asked by families to provide work for a student who will be missing several days while on vacation. When I first started teaching, I found myself spending hours preparing heaps of work to cover every single subject the child would miss, preparing packets of math work, French language work, social studies and science readings…

…none of which I could assess, as it wasn’t done at school, and most of which went untouched or unfinished.

It didn’t take me long to realize that doing that was a monumental waste of time. A few years ago, I changed the way I looked at providing work for absent students – primarily thanks to discussions with colleagues about what they do in their classrooms. It’s important to note that you are not required to give students make-up work in any way, even if a parent asks you to do so. Many teachers do, but it isn’t an obligation. Also note that when a child is missing school for a more sombre reason, like family illness or bereavement, I don’t ask them to do anything.

When students are away from school for a week or more in my classroom and their parents ask for work, I ask them to keep a journal of what they do and see. They don’t have to write every day, but they are asked to write in French (as I’m a French Immersion teacher). When they return to school, they have a few days to turn their journal entries into an oral presentation. The presentation provides the student with the opportunity to share their experiences with little stress (because they know the topic of their presentation very well, being something they experienced first-hand) and high interest.

The oral presentation provides me with the opportunity to get a bit of assessment in to make up for the child being away from school for a few days. I do look at the journal entries, but never assess them since they weren’t done at school; the journal entries are primarily a way for the child to remember more of what they did on the trip, serving as notes they can use when preparing their presentation.

It doesn’t sound like much. It isn’t, really, and that’s the key for me; I don’t want to ask my students to do anything which requires them to stop enjoying their family vacation and sit down to do schoolwork. Any work I ask them to do, in my opinion, should be something which doesn’t break them out of the reverie of vacation. It addresses only one strand of one subject area (unless their trip happens to complement another subject area like Social Studies or Science), but I find that Oral Communication, particularly in French, is one of the most difficult strands to make up for.

Everything else, I find, can be made up quickly and easily once the student is back from vacation. With respect to Mathematics, while I can understand the idea behind sending along practice sheets for skills being learned in class while the student is absent, I don’t like to do that. I will often give the student a diagnostic assessment for the lessons they will miss, using that assessment and other observations to inform me on which topics the student will need to review with me upon their return.

Not every parent likes this approach. Some were hoping for more busywork to keep their child busy during downtime. Others feel that their child is missing too much and will be behind upon returning to school. Others still think I’m just being lazy by not preparing more for their child. Quite honestly, I’m not being lazy; I’m just someone who believes that a child on vacation shouldn’t be taking time away from their family to do schoolwork that can be done when they get back to school.

What are your thoughts on providing work for students on vacation? Do you send busywork? Do you do journals? Do you send nothing? Tell me what you do!


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