As summer approaches, a hot topic seems to be summer reading. Most schools assign a book for each grade level to read during the summer, and those students are then expected to return to school in September in preparation for an essay/project on the assigned reading. But is summer reading beneficial or detrimental to our students?
I hate to admit this, but growing up, I abhorred reading. I could rarely get into a book, and often found myself falling asleep while reading. I especially despised the books we had to read for school. Those readings never caught my interest, and I simply did not want to read because I was being forced to do so. It was an ongoing battle with my mother to the point where she, along with some of my teachers, believed that I was unable to read, and was using my disinterest in the class readings as a defense mechanism.
It was not until the end of my freshman year of high school that I fell in love with reading. For most of the school year, I got by with Sparknoting the readings, but when my teacher threatened to drop me from the honors class, I began to read the assigned books. At this time in the year, we were just starting our unit on To Kill a Mockingbird, and with my honors placement in danger, I knew I would have to read this novel. I then gave into my vices, and sat down to read a classroom text, but to my surprise, I enjoyed the reading. This was the first time that I was actually captivated by a school-assigned text, and consequently, I finished the novel before the assigned due date.
Just to clarify, it was not that I never read as a child. I knew how to read and I did enjoy it, but I only liked reading books that caught my interest, and the school books never managed to intrigue me. As a result, I adamantly refused to read any book assigned for a class.
So back to the topic of summer reading; after my first year of high school, I became a voracious reader and even read the assigned books for summer within the first few weeks of summer vacation. My school would choose one or two books for each English course, and students were required to read the book(s) and expect an essay, and sometimes an exam, during the first week of school. The books assigned were rarely intriguing, but I did my work anyway, because I wanted to have a strong start for the new school year.
As a teacher, I now am responsible for assigning summer reading to my upcoming students. In the past four years, I have found that most of my students do not attempt to read the books, and the few who do, tend to Sparknote most of the chapters (I teach all College Prep and remedial classes, so these are not honors or AP students to whom I’m referring). When I ask my students why they didn’t read the books, their answer is simple: “I didn’t want to.” They tell me that they read what they wanted to read during the summer months, and their reading usually consists of magazines, Internet blogs, and sometimes, comic books. Yet, I don’t think it is fair to penalize students for not reading the assigned books during the summer; after all, I can relate to their dilemma!
So how do we approach summer reading? Should we provide a long list of books from which the students can choose, or do we simply encourage students to read without requiring them to do so?
For my Senior Psychology and Literature course this year, the students received a long list (two full pages to be exact) of books they should read during the summer. Of course they were not expected to read all the books–they were only required to read one. For the first time in my teaching career, almost all of my students had read an assigned book for the course. I can only conclude that this result evolved from having several options on the summer reading list.
Perhaps this is the best way to assign summer reading: provide the students with as many options as possible and encourage them to read books from the list. This list does not need to consist of the classics; there should be a variety of texts to read, including graphic novels, biographies, short stories, etc. There should also be books from each genre, and the books should all vary in length (as I see it, it’s okay if a student chooses to read a novella of only 80 or so pages during the summer). The goal is to get the students to read, and more importantly, to enjoy reading.
As a result of the long summer reading list, students are now coming to class on the first day of school, asking if we could read books this year by a certain author. In fact, when my seniors had to write their major research papers at the end of the first term, most of them went to the library to seek books by the same author of the text they chose to read during the summer.
Summer reading doesn’t have to be painful. Let’s make it enjoyable for our students and foster a generation of avid readers! We need to give our students options and allow them to take ownership of their learning.