Summer Reading

This post started with a tweet from Gary Anderson about what his daughters were reading:

Gary Anderson tweet

Donalyn Miller shared how sad that tweet made her in a reply. I jumped in and later Paul Hankins, Karen LaBonte and Kim McCollum joined the conversation. A few others dipped in and out. The bottom line. What is the purpose of summer reading? How do we assess it? Should we even have required books or should we let students choose?

My school requires students read three books (four if you’re in AP). Of those three, one is a required book, one is a choice selected from a list of about ten books, and one is a faculty seminar book—students sign up the previous spring for the book they want to read. We have everything from The Eyre Affair to Hunger Games to Bringing Down the House. The students seem to like it, and there is sometimes a mad rush to sign up for first picks.

When students return, our first unit of study is the required book. I usually ask students to create a project for the choice book. The seminar discussion is the only assessment for the faculty book.

Basically, our conversation last night centered around whether we should assign summer reading. I admit I’m torn. I want students to read over the summer, and I want them to pick up books they want to read. I think we try to have some balance in the way we do it at Weber, but I admit some students still grumble. And what we are doing now is a big improvement over what we were doing when I started: three required books, some type of assessment over two of them without discussion (usually a test and an essay). The kids hated it.

I will go on record as saying the chapter summaries deal that a lot of schools do is just painful, and it kills books. My daughter has had to do that for summer reading, and I have watched it destroy any interest she had in the book. She had to do it with Speak, and not only did it frustrate her because she couldn’t tell what constituted a chapter in that book, but the directions given by the school were also no help. Once school started and the teachers recognized this, they backed off on the requirement, and my daughter, who had done a whole lot of work, just felt resentful. Last year, her teacher required these study guides for each book they read. It’s painful! And no choices at all!

I know we have some students who wouldn’t pick up a book all summer without a summer reading requirement. Truth be told, some of them don’t anyway. So what’s the solution? What do you think of summer reading? What should schools do?

4 thoughts on “Summer Reading”

  1. There was no "summer reading" when I was a kid. We moved a lot, and I always wonder how I would have handled moving into a new school without having done the reading.

    As a teacher, former student, and parent of a very bright boy, I think summer reading is absolutely terrible. Jr. high & high school kids are ridiculously overscheduled these days. Summer is their time to pursue their OWN interests, whether it be reading, art, bicycling. It's absolutely wrong for schools to try to control every moment of kids' downtime, disruptive to the family, family vacation plans, etc.

    Somehow I managed to be a Nat'l Merit Scholar, graduate college with honors, and complete advanced degrees without ever having been assigned summer reading. Or homework in elementary school, as long as we're on the subject. I think we're burning today's kids out, completely destroying any chance they have of even wanting to be life-long learners.

    1. I had to move a lot, too. My school is a private school—not sure if that makes a difference. We have ways to handle new students and expectations that have seemed to be fair. I agree about the elementary homework. A lot of this is driven by NCLB and the focus on standardized test results. Interestingly, some of it is driven by parents who want their kids to stay busy. What if summer reading consisted of students choosing a certain number of books? Just thinking out loud.

  2. I have assigned summer reading for my AP classes, but not for general ed classes. I find it very valuable to be able to begin oral discussions on the first day of class. The students must comment on the blog I have set up during the course of the summer. I post questions, observations, movie clips that I find appropriate (or just fun), and the students can choose to comment on any of the posts…as long as they get their required number of comments in during the summer. This has historically led to great discussions on the blog between the students and is a great way for them to gain a deeper understanding of the novel. The one thing I have changed is that instead of two novels, we only read one now. It has helped. Due to the summer slide, I think this assignment of summer reading and the blog help the students maintain their focus on literacy without overburdening them.

  3. I like the idea of using a blog with summer reading as a way of creating more of a community around the book, just as you would have when you were in the class itself.

    As a parent, I also appreciate the idea of just doing one or two books. One of our children had 8 books to read, and it was a "summer destroyer". It wasn't rigor, it was just "stuff to do." And it meant instead of having family time together on vacations or during the week, there was reading and homework packets. It really burned the kid out before school even started.

    We have to think about what our goals are when assigning summer reading and how to help students get more out of the experience instead of making it an "aha, gotcha" with a quiz first thing during the year and leaping in with no context.

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