Brandon Jones

Brandon Jones, a high school principal and consultant, works with educators of all grade levels to implement the Professional Learning Communities at Work™ and RTI at Work™ processes.

Summer Projects for Advanced Classes: I Am the Gatekeeper!

There is little argument that for our students to compete in a global economy and workforce, we must continue to grow, improve, and adjust our practices as educators to meet the demands of our changing world. Our students are being required to not only be exceedingly knowledgeable about or gifted in a particular area, but they are also expected to transform their thinking to generate solutions to problems in areas that haven’t yet been conceived. With this in mind, we are charged with guiding students to the most advanced coursework possible with the knowledge that more rigorous coursework in secondary school correlates to a higher rate of success in postsecondary school.

The notorious exchange between Louis and Dana in the classic movie Ghostbusters culminates as he proclaims he is the keymaster and she is the gatekeeper. In this amusing world of ghosts and ghouls, they could not proceed to conquer the world without one another.

In our own alternate reality, the final gatekeeper leading to continued study in the most rigorous secondary courses has traditionally been the successful completion of summer assignments. Access is granted or denied, in some cases, based solely on the willingness and/or ability of a student to be resourceful and responsible enough to complete the request of a teacher they have yet to meet in a subject they have yet to be taught. Requirements such as these have shown to have great benefits if they are used in ways that lead to a higher level of learning for students.

According to Robert J. Marzano (2001), “the purposes of assigning homework are to give students opportunities to practice skills, prepare students for a new topic, or elaborate on introduced material” (p. 122). In addition, Marzano notes that while parents should know what their students are responsible for completing and facilitate when needed, they could actually inhibit learning if they assist too much. With that in mind, we must reflect on the intent and expectations of the assignments and ask the following critical questions:

  1. Does the summer project meet one or more purpose and best practice for work done at home?
  2. If it is aligned with best practices, what do we hope to learn from the items students produce?
  3. If it is aligned with best practices, does it require a sizable amount of parental oversight and/or resources that are inaccessible to some students?
  4. If it is not aligned with best practices, what purpose do we have in assigning it?

Willard Daggett concluded that, based on his research and experiences in the early 1980s, the educational system is full of committed, competent, and highly motivated educators. However, many “were often so tied to the traditional education system that it was difficult for them to see solutions that were not derived from the same system that they were both products of and entrenched in. In many ways, every solution continued to be defined based upon the institution’s past rather than the students’ future needs” (Daggett, 2008, p. 3).

Let us be the generation of educators that breaks the mold of this traditional gatekeeper practice. Choose to be the keymaster that leads the thought-provoking conversation on your campus! Ask yourself and your team: is this a practice that should limit a student’s access to an upper-level, more rigorous class, or should we ensure we are using it to further student learning? To paraphrase an educational keymaster, Robert Eaker: what archaic educational practices might we abandon if we really meant what we said about high levels of learning for all students?


Daggett, W. (2008). Rigor and relevance from concept to reality. Rexford, New York: International Center for Leadership in Education.

Marzano, R. (2001). A handbook for classroom instruction that works. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

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