Dear Dr. D’,
Our district is considering summer reading. What is your opinion?
One answer: the best of times; the worst of times. I say that because summer reading can be a wonderful experience for the students, but if it is not planned well, it can be a nightmare for teachers.
- Reading is just not done at school; it can be done on the beach!
- Summer reading promotes reading year round.
- If the whole family gets involved, it provides an opportunity for families to read together during the summer.
- Commitment and time management are part of advanced courses; summer reading sets that bar early on as to the level of rigor expected from the course.
- Because time management is an important component of college readiness, summer reading prepares students for college-level time management skills – pacing vs. procrastination
- Summer is supposed to be fun! (Well, isn’t reading fun? – I’m just saying, that’s what you’re going to hear.)
- Students wait until the last minute or do not read at all, and they start the year frustrated and in a slump.
- Students who matriculate into a school during the first week are already behind in their reading and performance.
- If the reading and/or project is too difficult or not planned well, everyone will start the year in a bad mood.
Some of my favorite College Board® presenters and my own highly respected mentors say, “No to Summer Reading.” Other College Board presenters® and mentors of mine say, “Yes, Summer Reading is a Staple of our Curriculum, and We Love It.” I respect both opinions. In some schools at which I taught, we required it. At others, we didn’t. The students survived and excelled in both cases. I think it can be a very valuable requirement if done right. To do it right, however (so that it does not end up being a logistical nightmare), requires a great amount of effort by the English Vertical Team. The most successful summer reading includes all or most of the following items:
- parent and student awareness letter and cut-away form that is signed before students leave for summer (include a list of all grade levels’ selections, so parents see that it is a school-wide program);
- signature of receipt by each student who receives the summer packet, either digitally or in hard copy);
- extra packets
- for counselors to disseminate when they matriculate students into the courses in which summer reading is required
- for students who transfer or enroll on the first day of school or during the first two weeks – what are their expectations?
- flyers posted on the entrance doors during the summer, reminding students about their summer reading;
- a school and community press release
- posting of requirements on the school/district website
- In the packet or through electronic files
- list of all grade levels’ selections, so parents see that it is a school-wide program
- information about the book: title, author, image shot of the book cover, ISBN, number of pages, pacing guide, price, e-book availability, focused skills (e.g. For Watership Down, 7th graders will focus on main idea, archetype, imagery, setting, figures of speech)
- alternative title or titles for each grade level (in case a parent is uncomfortable with diction or subject matter – e.g. The Things They Carried.)
- clear expectation
- deadlines and late policy
- Will the students read the book and take a test when they arrive to school?
- If only a reading assignment with no project attached, give them prompts before they begin reading as a way to annotate the text and review for the test.
- Then, on the day of the test, give them the prompts and ask them to choose one and write on it (do not tell them beforehand).
- If you are expecting embedded quotations, have an open book timed writing for the test.
- Or, are they required to submit a project?
- If it is a project,
- how will the students submit it? In what format(s)?)
- options for submitting the work (e.g. one essay and a project that can be presented in written or digital formats (See Teaching Digital Natives: Partnering for Real Learning)
So, to answer your question, I appreciate summer reading and have assigned it to my Pre-AP® and AP® students and asked vertical teams to put together summer programs. I’ve also been fine when the teachers or administration decided against it. But if you are going to have summer reading,
- Do NOT assign a book EVER that you have not read.
- Do NOT select a novel or drama that will turn off students to reading because they cannot understand it.
- Do NOT assign a book that needs your expertise in guiding the students’ understanding of its importance.
- Do NOT select a book that is so hard that it keeps good students from being able to mature during a year in your class.
- DO make the assignment meaningful.
- DO put yourself in the shoes of the student and the parent. Ask yourself, “Is this assignment furthering my students’ lives or just giving them busy work?”
- DO choose a book that is going to make the students enjoy reading. And, as an added bonus, pair it with a couple of films with the same theme(s) or setting/mood for archetypes found in the book and recommend family movie nights. If you make it interesting and fun, then the parents will enjoy it, and who knows, the students might gain a love for reading!
Keep writing (and reading),
P.S. For those of you who would like my summer reading packet (vertical approach), go to our website’s Contact tab and request it in the “Comment” section.