Tackling Turkey Term

“Time’s up!” my teacher declared, walking around the room to collect papers and reprimanding those trying to write last minute details for partial credit.

“Time’s up!” my teacher declared, walking around the room to collect papers and reprimanding those trying to write last minute details for partial credit. I walked out of this test rather relieved until I realized that I had 10 minutes to make final revisions before turning in an essay for a different class.

Granted, this experience could just as well be from any other day at Lawrenceville. Academics is always demanding, especially in such a strenuous environment. However, Turkey Term differentiates itself from other portions of the school year in its length and intensity. This two-and-a-half week period is just long enough for teachers to introduce new material and schedule a major assignment right before winter break. In my personal experiences, such an influx in academic workload constitutes late nights in the library and early Starbucks runs just to give myself enough time to complete everything, more so than any other time of the year. The period becomes a whirlwind of papers and tests, and Turkey Term begins to resemble a condensed version of major assignments week. As a result, even though Turkey Term takes place during a joyous time of year, its short time frame creates a disproportionate amount of stress to its place in the trajectory of the term, demonstrating that it may not be the most effective way to start out a new term.

One glance at our interims, which encompass both the work students did during Turkey Term as well as work over the past couple of weeks after break, is enough to demonstrate the tension between Turkey Term’s condensed academic rigor and the subsequent, lengthy break. During Turkey Term, most teachers end up assigning at least one major assignment in the days leading up to break. However, since there is minimal with the schedule, teachers do not have their usual option of pushing back an assignment. In fact, this past Turkey term, the rule stating that only two tests and a quiz can be administered on the same day was waived, so there was no limit to the amount of assignments a student could have on a particular day.

Such a concentrated period of both learning and assessments are, however, followed by a three-week long Winter break filled with vacations, family events, or simply relaxation. Returning from break, students immediately dive back into tests and papers, many cumulative and building off work done during Turkey Term. An issue then arises concerning how student performance both before and after this break might not reflect their actual abilities, as natural studying habits do not conform comfortably into this timeline. According to a study conducted from 2008 to 2012 that uses data from half a million of students in grades 2-9, students lose on average between 25 and 30 percent of their school year learning during summer break. Granted, winter break is about one-third of a normal summer break, but if we assume that lost memory is proportional to the length of the break, this logic implies that we have lost 10 percent of our learning over the course of winter break. 10 percent is still a sizeable loss, especially given that students are expected to pick up right where they left off when breaks end, rather than being given time to review past information, as they might be after a long summer break. This phenomenon severely hinders a student’s ability to perform well on the cumulative tests that are given when they return from break. Furthermore, the nature of the condensed studying that occurs during Turkey Term is not effective, especially given the number of different things occuring. If information is presented in too short a period of time and students aren’t given enough time to synthesize the information they learned, people oftentimes forget the material they were presented with because it was never properly learned initially. At the start of the term, in which students in new courses need to establish a new foundation right away, this effect is poised to wreak havoc on student performance over the rest of the term.

Ultimately, Turkey Term is an inefficient and inadequate start to a new term. Learning is—by its nature— cumulative, and the two long gaps in between periods of learning compromise a student’s ability to fully grasp and learn new concepts. Instead, the School ought to implement a system similar to that in various colleges, such as The College of New Jersey (TCNJ), where there is a short break for families to celebrate Thanksgiving followed by a much longer break after finals. This way, instead of two breaks, there is one longer one, and students can complete a term start to end without any major interruptions or gaps in learning. This pacing and tempo could result in better learning environments and habits; by eliminating the stressful two weeks between breaks, students can fully enjoy the holiday season and come back rejuvenated and ready to engage with new material.

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