Already Talking Summer Reading…

*Update: Take the poll if you are interested in this topic!

No, not for my own edification.

The topic of summer reading/summer assignments is ramping up in my district, and with it thoughts on either side of the spectrum are piling up.  Some are steadfast in their belief that there should be structured, rigorous work done over the summer that students should be held accountable for when they walk in the doors in September.  This group, in my experience believes that the only way to combat summer brain-drain is through structured summer assignments and summer reading.  These beliefs fly in the face of the other side of this coin: those that believe the goal of summer reading should be to ignite and engage the students in reading that is unstructured, self-selected and fun.

I Love to Read, By Carlos Porto

Personally, I believe that, especially at the middle school level where students really begin checking out of reading for pleasure, we need to create structures that hook kids into reading, not scare them into it.  Now, in thinking this, I realize that is fairly “pie in the sky–” it’s one of those ideas that sounds great but loses all efficacy in the implementation.  It sounds great in theory, but what does it look like in practice?

So I am thinking about what we might do to create systems whereby students are excited to read on their own time, and one thing keeps popping up in my mind as a remnant of watching “The Social Network” over the weekend: community and exclusivity.  We want to know what the people we like are doing, and if the people we like are reading a particular book, we might want to know what they think of it.  With that in mind, I started brainstorming any decent idea I had about summer reading.  What I have so far is below:

  • Piloting an idea with a grade level before we go big.  Meaning that if we come up with something that is pretty out there in terms of allowing kids to choose and not holding them to the traditional accountability standards we have (quiz, essay, book report, project, etc.) we try it with a grade level this summer and see what the feedback from parents is.
  • The Hunger Games idea: I think our media specialist was onto something when she stated that when the Hunger Games series was freely available to large percentages of the kids (she purchased one-hundred copies via a grant), they read it because their friends were reading it.  Can we replicate that kind of social pressure around a book or series of books?
  • Choice with discussion groups: One of our teachers is doing something interesting with her kids using an online discussion board that is private to her kids (via Google Groups).  If we allow students to choose between several titles and assigned each title its own discussion group, we could create communities around each of the books over the summer.  Monitoring would be an issue.
  • Huge list of choices per grade and community promotions.  Ask local businesses to offer discounts to students or families who show up with their summer reading books (one from the list).
  • Figure out ways to create community around books the Barnes & Noble Way.  Staff picks, student-created book trailers filmed or read over the announcements, advertisements and posters around the school for summer-reading books.
  • One Book, One Town.  Everyone reads the same book in all grades (this may be tougher in Middle School where reading and maturity levels vary a bit more in grades 5-8 than in the high school).  In addition to reading the same book, we provide avenues for discussion groups to form at local businesses, the park, the library, etc. as well as online forums and groups.  The reading could culminate in a speaker series or at least a guest speaker who is an expert in an aspect of the chosen book.

I’m doing my best to gather input here for a meeting with all middle school language arts teachers on April 11th where we’ll run through this and see where they want to go.  If you or your school district does something meaningful with summer reading or summer assignments, I’d love to hear it.

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10 thoughts on “Already Talking Summer Reading…

  1. I think we should encourage kids to try “new reading experiences” such as high interest non-fiction, audiobooks, and graphic novels, even periodicals for kids. Also, I see summer reading as an extension of the school year. If we aren’t doing all we can to encourage children to love reading all year, we can’t expect kids to do an about-face during the summer, of all times!

    I don’t want to resort to “gimmicks” to get kids excited about reading, but I have to admit that I have offered prizes like pizza parties to create a “buzz” for reading. That’s why I suggested the idea of getting community businesses involved.

    Off to Battle of the Books! Looking fwd to everyone’s thoughts!

    1. Jen,

      Thanks for commenting, and I really like the point you make about turning kids on to reading over the summer. What are we doing the time they are with us to encourage independent reading?

      Also, I know you’ve heard some of the discussion regarding what truly motivates us to achieve at the cognitive level, and pizza parties and prize boxes, over the long term, won’t do it. However, I think there is a place for promotions like that.

      I’m excited to have you involved in this process–every school needs a dynamic media specialist trying to match kids with reading choices like you do!

  2. Sigh. In my English Dept, we struggled with the same struggles you mentioned every year.
    I have found some success with having two selections – one choice, and one required. The required could be school-wide, and you could build both online and reality community by offering discussion groups with parents, prominent community members (heck, even ask those members to chime in on student online groups) and even go on from there to establish a parent/child book club.
    We’ve also deliberately selected a book for a particular grade where there was a corresponding movie. In our case, it was One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and it was an interesting springboard for class community building and discussion. That way, the student couldn’t get away with just watching the movie and not committing to reading the book.
    One year, we did read a book as a school, and centered it around the author’s visit, building an awareness week around the justice issue of the book. I see so many possibilities when you have an entire student (and faculty) community reading, especially when there is a focused issue at the heart of the selection. Interactions between the grades can be really powerful, as you probably are aware.
    I wonder, Patrick, if eventually you couldn’t enlist the older students (when you have done this a few years) to guide the younger kids in the reading process.
    Good luck. I don’t envy you in your process!

    1. Thanks for jumping in here with the ideas. I love the idea of creating online forums for the community to discuss the books. I’ve done some work in creating a One Book, One Town project before and that was one aspect that never really took off–the online component. We had some success with getting people together around the book in person, but the online forums never grew legs. If I were to do it again, I would do a much better job of promoting that.

      I’m a little confused about the movie piece though. In my experience, having books that were made into movies was always a deal-breaker for the staff. They found that student simply watched the movie and pieced together any missing elements. How did you avoid that?

      1. That’s definitely a concern. We usually managed with asking students to identify specific things that were similar and different between the book and the movie (this was in a writing assignment due the first day of class), and that’s at least partially how students were evaluated. Bonus is that students almost always like the book better, as you know.

  3. Patrick,

    I think you have a great outline for possible summer projects. What if the students create a wiki/webpage or blog dedicated to whatever book they are reading. There are so many cool tools that the students could use for multi-media creations: Voki, VoiceThread, Fotobabble, Weebly (for free webpages), blogger or kid blog, etc. They could do reading journals or book reviews.

    My other thought is after you ask your staff, create a poll for the students in order to see how they would prefer to engage in their summer reading.

    Looking forward to hearing more details about the project. Good luck.

    1. Thanks for stopping by Daniel!

      We are actually meeting with our LA teachers on Monday to try to figure out exactly where they think this should go. From there, we may end up with some of the elements from your first paragraph, but only if everyone is comfortable with that. The question of monitoring keeps creeping up when we talk about wikis, blogs, or any other type of interactive content. I’m excited for the process though.

      1. Interesting. Voicethread is neat for this purpose. I like it because it allows users to talk, text, or video their response.

  4. Our LA staff spoke yesterday about holding “book clubs” this summer to meet with the students to discuss the summer reading. We are going to pick four or five days, let the studenst know when they are and encourage them to come in to discuss the books. The staff seemed interested in coming in over the summer to do this.

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