Patrick Higgins, Jr.

What is Summer Reading?

In ascd, curriculum on May 13, 2009 at 9:27 am

summer-reading-533

It’s coming to that time of the year for school districts around the world where we begin assigning our summer reading to our students.  In the next few weeks, PTO’s and other fund-raising groups will be competing with one another to raise money through the sale of every district’s summer book lists.

Concurrently, students and teachers are pondering the merits of the titles on the lists.  Students are wondering if there are Spark Notes or a movie for the books in question, and teachers are wondering which of the titles they have chosen, if any,  will resonate with students.

I am wondering about the reasons behind summer reading.

My office receives more calls about summer reading than we do about just about any other topic within curriculum, including honors placements.  Surprisingly, half of the calls are complaints about the fact we actually assign summer reading (students need a break), and the other half of the calls are just the opposite: that we don’t assign enough (sharpen the saw).  How do you win?

For some reason, summer reading has become the bane of my existence in that I can’t determine its role in our curriculum.  In looking at it, I see it as playing one of two roles:

  • Addendum to the curriculum, meaning that these are books within your curriculum that you cannot get to during the year, but are necessary to the successful completion of the course.  This is truly only applicable in courses where the curriculum is external to the school district, as in AP or IB.
  • Demonstrating to students that reading is not solely an academic endeavor, but a lifelong skill.  This model is not to prevalent in our schools today, but exists in communities that show the value of reading through their actions.

I’ve been looking at various models of summer reading, and I’ve asked the question several places, and what I’ve come up with is that in order for summer reading not to fall back on the drudgery associated with it, both from the students standpoint of reading (or Spark-Noting) the books, or the teachers who spend time assessing the work of the students in the first weeks of September.  I don’t know which is worse: having to write a paper about a book that meant nothing to you, or having to read a paper from a student about a book that obviously meant nothing to them.   What’s the solution?  I’ll present two that I liked from the many responses I got out there.  The first is employs the use of social media, the second, not so much.

As I said above, I asked this question of several people, both on Twitter and on the English Companion Ning, and the responses I got were insightful.  Kristin Hokanson gave me this bit of transition, which matched my thinking very closely:

summer reading2Her first post, which is the bottom image, shows how I view the traditional summer reading process, but the second one shows how her district is toying with the idea that there has to be something more to what the students do with the text; we have to allow them to read together.  In his Wall Street Journal piece from a few weeks ago, writer Steven Johnson describes that the future of reading will involve us reading together and having discussion write on the pages of the texts that are on our e-book readers, so that at any given moment I can discuss with colleagues, or look for discussions that others have had right on the very page I am reading.  Distracting, perhaps, but as an alternate assignment for some sub-groups of students it may work.  Seriously, if I had the ability to take time out and get some clarification while slogging through Jane Eyre as a sophomore, I would have jumped all over it.  That book nearly destroyed my desire to read.  Thank goodness for Holden Caulfield, who arrived swiftly in September.

Others, too, are turning to social media to help them facilitate discussion around summer reading as it’s happening, and leveraging the technology to make the assignments richer.  The English faculty at Fredericksburg Academy have all spoken up about their use of social media with their summer reading as a means to increase engagement.

Late last night, I received this from Candace Follis in response to some prompting:

summer reading3

and it changed some things.  Should summer reading include summer writing, and should that writing be in such a form that it builds communications skills around the text?  Can you have informed dialogue around why a novel is not in your top five?  Simply, can we tell a student that if they don’t like the book, they need to illuminate for us in some capacity why they didn’t love the book?  I am sure several hundred thousand English teachers have done this, but I like how Candace phrased it; it changes the way I see what we ask students to do in the summer.

Lastly, Dana Huff is really the impetus behind this thought stream, and her description of their program is below.  If you look back at some of the posts I wrote during the ASCD Conference this year, you’ll see that I hovered around one idea specifically: modeling expert thinking.  Dana’s school, The Weber School, includes an element in their September evaluation of summer reading that I feel does just that:

Students in grades 10-12 have the opportunity to read books selected for study by faculty members. Students will select which novel they will study prior to the end of second semester the previous year. During the first week of school, students will participate in seminar discussions led by faculty based on these selections. Students will be evaluated by faculty, and these evaluations will be part of the students’ grades for English during the first semester. Faculty members may request that students complete pre-discussion activities. Our goals are to encourage students to become life-long readers who read critically, insightfully, and enjoyably, to give our faculty and staff an opportunity to model the behavior of life-long readers, to familiarize our students with authors and literary works that include a range of genres and universal themes transcending time and place, and to challenge our students to grow, to reach, to stretch, and to broaden their experience of what it means to be human.

In the next few days, I’ll be posting about what we plan on doing here in our district, and appealing to all anyone who has ideas about making it work well.  Whatever we decide to do on the assessment side of summer reading, if we decide to do anything at all, I am going to use Brian Smith‘s post as my guiding principle:

summer reading1
“summer-reading-533.jpg.” Online Image. New York Times. August 7, 2008. May 13, 2009 <http://papercuts.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/08/07/recommended-reading/&gt;.

About these ads
  1. Very timely..very interesting will be curious to see what you do. We are having the same discussion for our Junior High students (6 to 8). I have not completely thought through my response but one idea that sprang from your comments was to create an “in2books” style program pairing my Junior high with my intermediate. It would assure no one was reading at their frustration level and would engage them in discussion and being mentors. Our grades 3-5 used the epals in2books program this year so they already know about the idea of reading and discussing with a mentor… me thinks this might be an interesting win win… Thanks for getting me thinking!

  2. We just made a MAJOR change at our high school. We stopped assigning specific titles and have invited students to choose their own books. Yikes! Kind of scary, but exciting. We have told students to choose a book that interests them and that they can connect to our school-wide theme of “change.” At academic advisory in the fall, we will be having book discussions where the students share the change that happened in their books. We also set up a blog that we hope students will participate in over the summer: http://prhslibrary.wordpress.com/

  3. Mrs. Harland,

    That is more along the lines of what I was writing about. Although I haven’t read it in its entirety yet, Kelly Gallagher’s recent book “Readicide,” hints at some of the tactics that we employ in reading instruction that eliminate choice and free reading of topics that are more “play” like. What you have switched to fosters both choice while still providing some accountability.

    Was it a building-wide decision? How did the essential questions, or themes get decided? I am very interested to learn more about your program.

  4. The decision to change our reading program was a Literacy Committee decision. Each department sends representatives to the Lit. Com. and we discuss different ways to increase all types of literacy at our high school. Our Lit. Com. decided on the themes and essential questions, got input from the rest of the faculty, presented our ideas to the school board- and received full support.

    I just ordered a copy of “Readicide”- and look forward to reading that. Thank you for the suggestion.

    I’m visiting all of our sending school’s 8th graders this week to talk about our change in summer reading. Students and teachers at the elementary schools are in disbelief when I tell them: “You can read ANY book that you want to, as long as you are interested in it and can relate it to the topic of change… and we haven’t yet found a book that we can’t relate to the topic of change.”

  5. [...] What is Summer Reading? May 2009 4 comments 5 [...]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,932 other followers

%d bloggers like this: