The 50/50 Summer Reading Assignment Paradox

May 27, 2013 — 4 Comments

sunThe paradox of summer reading:  Read=pleasure or Read=work.

All students should read at least one book this summer and practice the independent reading skills they have used the whole school year. They should receive credit for reading over the summer, but to give credit means an assessment. An assessment comes dangerously close to committing Readicide,(n): The systematic killing of the love of reading, often exacerbated by the inane, mind-numbing practices found in schools.

Anecdotally, 50% of students will read for fun. The other 50% will skim or Sparknote to complete an assignment, or they will not read at all for a variety of reasons: “it’s boring”, “too much work”, “I hate to read.”  Many students avoid books creating a “reading-free zone” from June through August. In addition, there are some parents who openly complain that assignments over the summer interfere with family vacation plans.

But there are many parents who understand the importance of reading. They could be frustrated all summer as they responsibly hound their children to do their summer assignments rather than wait until the last minute.

Summer reading is fun for some, but summer reading is a hassle for others. Why bother, indeed?

Well, research clearly demonstrates that summer reading is important in maintaining reading skills at every grade level. A meta-analysis (1996) of 39 separate studies about the effects of summer on student learning came to the conclusion that summer reading was critical to stopping the “summer slide”. Without summer reading, there could be a loss equaling about one month on each grade-level equivalent scale. Students would be playing a cognitive “catch-up” through November each school year.

In “The Effects of Summer Vacation on Achievement Test Scores: A Narrative and Meta-Analytic Review” by H. Cooper, B. Nye, K. Charlton, J. Lindsay and S. Greathouse, there were several key findings:

 At best, students showed little or no academic growth over the summer. At worst, students lost one to three months of learning.
 Summer learning loss was somewhat greater in math than reading.
 Summer learning loss was greatest in math computation and spelling.
 For disadvantaged students, reading scores were disproportionately affected and the achievement gap between rich and poor widened.

There have been studies since 1996 that confirm the findings of the meta-analysis, so, summer reading cannot be optional if students are to maintain their skills and progress as readers. The problem for teachers is how to engage the 50% who will not read over the summer. My English Department has tried the following:

  • One summer, we tried an assigned book route. We used a multiple choice quiz to measure student comprehension. The results were average to below average. Most students hated having to read an assigned book.
  • One summer, we tried the dialectical journal kept by a student on either an independent book choice or an assigned book (see post). The results were mixed with 25% students not completing the journal or completing the journal so poorly that we were chasing students for work past the due date and well into the end of the first quarter.
  • One summer, we tried the “project of your choice” in response to a “book of your choice”, but then we were buried in a pile of projects, with a wide variable in the quality of these projects.

So, this summer (2013) we are again trying something different in the hopes of finding a better measurement for summer reading. We are giving students their choice in reading fiction or non-fiction. The incoming 7th and 8th graders choose a book for the summer, and the school will provide that book. Students who will be entering grades 9 -11, may checkout a book from an extensive list organized by our school media specialist or any other book they choose.

Summer reading will be assessed with a writing assignment when all students return in September. The questions will align with standardized test essay questions (CAPT, SAT) and students may have the book in hand or notes from the book; students who read early in the summer will have the same advantages as students who read later in the summer, or the night before the writing prompt:

Essay question(s) for a work of FICTION read over the summer:
How does the main character change from the beginning of the story to the end? What do you think causes the change?
How did the plot develop and why?
How did the main character change? What words or actions showed this change?

Essay question(s) for a work of NON-FICTION read over the summer:
If this book was intended to teach the reader something, did it succeeded? Was something learned from reading this book, if so what? If not, why did the book fail as a teaching tool?Was there a specific passage that had left an impression, good or bad? Share the passage and its effect on the reader.

This assessment will be given the second week in September, and while there is a concern that writing is not as effective in measuring a student’s reading comprehension, at minimum this assessment will give the English Department members a chance to teach a writing prompt response.

Students who are in honors level or Advanced Placement courses will still have required reading. For example, incoming 9th grade honor students will read The Alchemist and The Book Thief while 12th grade Advanced Placement English Literature Students will be given the choice to read three of the following five titles: Bel Canto, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, The Poisonwood Bible, Little Bee, or A Thousand Splendid Suns.

Before students leave for the summer, we plan on putting books into as many hands as possible. We will encourage students to organize themselves with book buddies, a suggestion from a post by Christopher Lehman, having them organize who they will be reading alongside, someone who they could talk with about their reading. The students have Shelfari accounts and can communicate online during the summer. We will promote our own reading book sites and include an audiobook site SYNC that pairs a young adult novel with a classic each week during the summer. For example, August 1 – 7, 2013 will feature Death Cloud by Andrew Lane, read by Dan Weyman (Macmillan Audio) with The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle, read by Ralph Cosham (Blackstone Audio). We will post information about summer reading on our websites, and send out Remind 101 notices.

While the research clearly demonstrates that summer reading is important, how students accomplish summer reading assignments during vacation time is a paradox. Should we assess reading for pleasure, or should students be left on their own and possibly lose reading skills?  Quiz them in September or lose them to the summer slide? No right answer, but good evidence to continue the tradition of summer reading.

4 responses to The 50/50 Summer Reading Assignment Paradox

  1. 

    (You have a minor typo in the NF directions, so fyi failed should be fail.)
    LOVE this post. IT is a great idea…a compromise and gives kids choice. Plus they really do need to keep on reading…..though I know there is no forcing kids to do the reading…..

    • 

      Thank you for the correction… I copied this NF from a standardized test question list…major fail for list and me for not checking!! Appreciate the feedback.

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