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.”