Friday, May 7, 2010

Making Summer Count

In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell talks about how much knowledge students lose over the summer time. Although he is looking at younger students, the amount is incredible. For some reason, we seem to hold the philosophy that summer time is a “no brain” time where students should do as little as possible that might stimulate their thinking. I’m not sure that is a very good idea.

Consequently, last week, I sent an email message to the 37 students who will be in my Financial Accounting courses next fall. (I will also be teaching one section of Intermediate Accounting II.)

I wanted to get the students’ attention.
I wanted to start convincing them that Financial Accounting was going to be challenging but very much worth that challenge.

Most importantly, I wanted them to have the opportunity to make use of their summer vacation to get ready for next fall. Why not? What is wrong with wanting to learn more? I don’t accept the premise that my students want to learn as little as possible. Some students certainly have little ambition but most, from my experience, don’t mind spending the time if they think the effort is worthwhile.

So, I sent them the following email. Please note that I have assigned my own Financial Accounting textbook here. However, since the textbook is a FREE online textbook, you can still use this “summer assignment” even if you have chosen to use some other book in the fall. There are some real advantages to “FREE online.”

(Interestingly, I got several emails in return from my future students talking about how much they were looking forward to the class.)

Email sent to the students who signed up for my Financial Accounting course in the fall:

“Hi, I’m on the faculty here at the University of Richmond and I am sending this note to the 37 students who have signed up for my two Accounting 201 sections for the fall semester. Okay, I realize that some of you will have to switch sections before the fall semester begins but I imagine that 80-90 percent of you will be in my class next fall.

“I want this to be a great experience for you. I don’t want this to be “just another class.” I want you to work hard; I want you to learn a ton; I want you to enjoy the process. On the last day of the class, I want you to walk away and say “Wow, I didn’t know learning could be that great.”

“To help make this happen, I want to convey a bit of information to you today before you leave campus for the summer. Please take time to read all of this note so that we are on the same page.

“First--My 201 classes in the fall semester will use the Financial Accounting textbook that I wrote with C. J. Skender (of UNC). This is a free online textbook. So, if you get bored over the summer, you can start reading now. That would give you a huge head start for the fall. Instead of rushing to finish assignments, you could read the book leisurely over the summer. Go to Click on “catalogue.” Then, under “Business and Economics,” click on “Accounting and Tax” and then on “Financial Accounting.” At that point, you should see a list of chapters. Click on Chapter 1 and start reading. If you read 5 minutes per day, you could read the entire book over the summer.

“When I designed this book, I was trying to “revolutionize” textbooks so you’ll find that it is different. It is written entirely in a question and answer format (the Socratic Method) and has videos and embedded multiple-choice questions. I used it in my class this semester and, although they might not be too honest with me, the students seemed to find the reading interesting and informative.

“When you come back in the fall, the book store will have color copies available for roughly $60.00 and black and white copies for roughly $30.00. However, as far as I’m concerned, use the online version and save your money.

“Second--The world of business is absolutely fascinating. Whether it is marketing, production, finance, human resources, or accounting, it is like a giant puzzle with an infinite amount to figure out. Most college students walk into a 201 class on the first day with little serious knowledge about business. As teen-agers, most students just miss out on the fun of business. What is it like to start a business? What is it like to talk customers into buying your products? What is it like to find the money needed for expansion? The more you learn, the more the business world will open to you. One strong suggestion that I would have is to spend an hour or two in the library each week and read (just randomly read) the Wall Street Journal, Forbes magazine, Business Week, or Fortune. Don’t try to learn anything – just read. You will be amazed by what you start to discover. And, it will make class in the fall go so much better. Instead of starting off at absolute zero, you will walk into class with important terms fresh in your mind. Things will just make more sense.

“Third--Around August 1, I will start sending you a few preliminary emails to get you ready for the fall semester. There is just some stuff that you need to know in advance. But, you don’t really need any of that until August. I am just trying to alert you to watch out for my emails (I’m not spam). And, to tell you the truth, if you are not going to be where you can get to your email, your life won’t be ruined if you don’t get this stuff. I simply want to make the semester as smooth for you as absolutely possible.

“Fourth--Have a great summer. Get out and enjoy life. At your age (well, at any age), that ought to be a requirement. If you need to get in touch with me, I’m always available at

“Fifth--I’ve had a great 201 class this semester. It has been a lot of fun. The students have been active, engaged, curious, questioning, and thoughtful. When you have students like that, it is unbelievable the amount that can be accomplished. My wish for you and Accounting 201 is that you’ll wind up demonstrating those same five characteristics.”


  1. This is great! I should send something like this out to the 60 students who will be in my summer intro to MIS class right now. Thanks for sharing!

  2. As long as you can get the e-mail addresses, I don't know why more teachers don't do this. If you can get the students excited (even a little) before the semester begins, you have really improved the chance of a great semester. Joe

  3. Just what information are you referring to that they just "need to know in advance"??

  4. Course Outline, First Assignment, How to Make An A in This Course (paragraphs from former students). My main goal with these later emails will be to (a) have them be ready to start on the first day and (b) start building some enthusiasm for the material.

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