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.

Using Your Best Judgment

We’ve often talked about choosing the right tool to use for the right setting educationally, and now we’ve got some research to back it up. Recently, Laila Weir at Edutopia wrote about the results of a study done by the Metiri Group, and commissioned by Cisco Systems. The study was aimed at understanding how and when using technology in regards to learning works best. A lot of what came out of the survey is common sense, but some it struck me as I read it because I’ve been wrestling with this in my practice lately.


Weir writes about how the Metiri Group debunks the “Cone of Experience” theory, whereby:

each of us learns 10 percent of what we read, 20 percent of what we
hear, 30 percent of what we see, 50 percent of what we hear and see, 70
percent of what we say or write, and 90 percent of what we say as we do
a thing.

The skinny behind the research here is that when teaching basic skills, like asking students to learn and memorize the chemical symbols on the Periodic Chart, the use of technology and multi-modal teaching does not raise student scores as much as a lesson that isn’t interactive (21 percentage points v. 9 percentage points). However,when more complex skills or concepts are being taught, there is a noticeable uptick in student achievement scores (32 percentile points for multi-modal learning v. 20 percentile points for non multi-modal).

During our sessions with our teachers participating in our tablet program a few weeks back, the topic of multi-tasking came up quite frequently.  Some of them had said that while having the use of portable technology made them more productive, they always felt more compelled to work on something.  That impulse often came in the middle of other aspects of their lives that didn’t include the processes involved in creative work.  One teacher stated that they couldn’t get anything done because it always seemed they had way too much going on at once.  Another teacher chimed in with a quote from an article about the fallacy of multi-tasking.  As it turns out, the Cisco study also reaches the same conclusion about multi-tasking:

“New scientific studies reveal the losses in efficiency in . . . multitasking,” the Cisco report says. “Researchers find that thinking processes happen serially, resulting in delays caused by switching from one task to another. The delays become more pronounced as the complexity of the task increases.”

I can’t speak for others, but unless I have clearly defined parameters to work and think in that center on a singular idea, I can’t accomplish much.  So, for me, I’ve always been one to shy away from multi-tasking.  And when teaching complex processes, it makes logical sense to teach them serially, at least to me.  It also follows from the study that when you present students with information in a clear, concise manner that flows logically they have a better chance at coming to grips with it.

But, perhaps the part of the article that will be most useful in my practice, is this:

if you never recognize or actually think about that audio input, you’re unlikely to remember it later. Translate that same concept to students simply letting the words of a lecture or a textbook wash over them, and the benefits of engaging a “working memory,” a deeper kind of thinking, are obvious.

Allowing for student reflection time about the lecture, and allowing for them to access various parts of their memories to create connections between this new information and the knowledge they already have has positive affects on learning.  This may seem elementary to some, but it still makes me shudder a bit at all of the workshops I have given this year and last in which I presented a whole slew of information to people, and due to time constraints, moved right into something else without giving them time to digest.

What I’d like to be doing is to build reflection directly into the classes and workshops I teach.  How do you do that successfully?

Image Credit: “Reflection,” by Guacamole Goalie on Flickr