The pressure is on. School starts in another two weeks. Summer reading still needs to be done!
Right about this time, there are some parents who are reminding (nagging?) students about their summer reading assignments, there are librarians and book stores scrambling to locate books posted on reading list, there are some students trying to cram in a little reading, while there are some students trying to cram in a few Spark Notes instead of the summer reading book. Is this commotion necessary? Is all this activity to have students read books over the summer vacation a worthwhile endeavor?
Yes. Yes, it is.
On the New York State Department of Education website, there is a summary of research on summer reading:
“In a 2009 government web cast, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan described summer learning loss as ‘devastating.’ This is what researchers have often referred to as the “summer slide.” It is estimated that school summer breaks will cause the average student to lose up to one month of instruction, with disadvantaged students being disproportionately affected (Cooper, 1996).”
“Researchers conclude that two-thirds of the 9th grade reading achievement gap can be explained by unequal access to summer learning opportunities during the elementary school years, with nearly one-third of the gap present when children begin school (Alexander, Entwistle & Olsen, 2007).”
“The body of existing research demonstrates the critical importance that the early development of summer reading habits can play in providing the foundation for later success.”
We assign summer reading for all grades 7-12. Academic level students in grades 7-11 have a choice of books, fiction and non-fiction, from suggested lists. Our excellent media specialist is a great resource for making recommendations and coordinating these lists for distribution. Honors level students are required to read specific titles; Advanced Placement students are assigned four to five books. Seniors read books that are directly connected to the elective they have chosen. All summer reading is due the first week of school.
We use the dialectical journal as an assessment tool. Students are required to find passages (5 from the first half of the book, 5 from the second half) that they think help them better understand the bigger issues of the book– theme, characterization, narrative voice, the author’s attitude towards his subject (tone), etc. The passages can be either narration or dialogue. Students respond to each passage in one of several ways such as:
1. Make a connection
2. Interpret/make a prediction
3. Ask a question (attempt to answer it)
4. Extend the meaning
5. Challenge the text
The first weeks of school are all about assessing individual student and evaluating class learning. Reading student responses in dialectical journals is one method a teacher can use to quickly assess a student’s comprehension and writing skills at the beginning of the school year.
I have located many of the required texts for summer reading in the used book market to make access easier for honors level students. We are able to offer gently used copies of all of the assigned texts including:
Grade 9 Honors: The Alchemist, Paul Coehlo
Grade 10 Honors: Nectar in a Sieve, Kamala Markandaya OR The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy OR The Life of Pi by Yann Martel
Grade 11 AP Language: On the Road, by Jack Kerouac AND The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards AND On Writing by Stephen King AND The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
Grade 12 AP Literature: The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck AND The Tempest Shakespeare AND The Story Of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski OR The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver AND Reservation Blues by Sherman Alexie OR Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko
Grade 11 & 12 Journalism: Zeitoun by Dave Eggers OR Firehouse by David Halberstam
Grade 12 Drama: Our Town, Thornton Wilder
Grade 12 Creative Writing: On Writing, Stephen King
Grade 12 Memoir: A Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel OR Lost in Place by Mark Salzman OR Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs OR Lucky by Alice Sebold
Unfortunately, the agrarian school calendar has created summer months where many students do not engage in any academic activity. Summer reading requirements for students at any grade level, choice or assigned, are speed bumps in slowing down the “summer slide.”
I find that this entry conflicts somewhat with your entey anout not assigning Little Women because the pleasure of uncovering a book for oneself will never equal that of being forced to read it for school. This is the experience I had with summer reading. Granted, if I had had to deal with summer reading from the time I was twelve, it may have had less of an effect because I was sixteen when my school introduced summer reading (with the exception of a couple of individual classes.) But if I had had to read four books of someone else’s choice over the summer, I may have quit AP English, deciding my personal happiness meant more to me than academic success, and this is coming from someone with a BA in English. I had always been an avid reader, and I looked forward to summer because it was the only time I felt I was allowed to read. I am a slow reader and had little time for pleasure books during the school year, but during the summer, I had no obligation to write journals or essays. All I had to do was delve into the complex concepts of Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, delight in my first Sherlock Holmes deduction, and take all the time in the world muddling through Oliver Twist. But with the assignment of summer reading, I felt that last haven of pleasure reading had been stolen from me and the concept of “reading for pleasure” all but vanished from my life for over four years. (I was saved by J. M. Barrie’s The Little White Bird.) Though I understand I am an exception to the rule, I feel that in the contsant need to push students to read more and read harder books, we sometimes forget the delicate balance in which some of our students sit. Unfortunately, I have no solution for this problem, but since rediscovering the joy of reading, I have been passionate about this subject, and therefore, could not hold back my thoughts on the matter.
I am so delighted you took the time to read two of my posts…and then connected them! There is a truth to what you say about forcing reading on students for AP/Honors level courses; many student would rather not go through the effort. That is the decision a student makes in taking an AP/Honors level course….reading in the summer reflects a commitment to the rigors of the course. There is much more time in the summer to read than during the school year when other disciplines, sports, extra-curricular activities claim even more of your time. Four books is not an exceptionally heavy load (one book every 10 days?). Some college courses require readings the first day, and AP is a college level course (we also receive UCONN credit for our AP Course). The summer reading choices provide the background for coursework over the year; I draw on these selections throughout the school year.
You obviously were a reader; you know many of your classmates were not. You may not need the practice, but they might.
The CP classes get to choose their reading.
As for “Little Women”, that should never be a required read and it is never on any list at my school. If you found that as a summer read, I am glad. That is a book that gives meaning to the “joy of reading”.
Thank you for your response…I enjoyed reading your opinion.