Sorry for the delay getting my Teaching Tuesday post up today… I had a little server glitch, but we’re back in business now. 🙂
Speaking of business, let’s get to it…
If you’re like me, summer reading is a school district requirement for AP/advanced/honors English classes. (To be honest, I’d say in the eyes of many of our students, it is the biggest separator between those classes and the “regular” classes. Is the kid willing to do the summer assignments or not?) And, if you’re also like me, you remember those rushed mid-August days when you forced yourself to speed read (which, we all know really means skim) your assigned book and then threw together some big project at the last minute attempting to make it look like you actually understood the book and tried on the project. Am I right? Things really haven’t changed all that much in the last fifteen or so years…
Despite that, in the past, I’ve taken a pretty traditional approach to summer reading – I hand-out a book in the spring with a packet of assignments (journals, discussion questions, projects, essay prompts, etc.) that students are expected to turn in during the first days of school. I can’t say this method has been a bad thing for my classes, but I certainly don’t think my kids have been excited to learn what “fun” I have planned for them over their precious months off either. And – truth be told – I always kind-of hated the fact that other teachers (in other subjects) get to ease into their workload at the beginning of the year, but I’m giving zeros left and right before the first week even ends. Talk about not getting off on the right foot…
Anyway, in one of my department meetings lately, a colleague mentioned that her school decided last year to make summer reading just that – READING. That’s all.The English teachers ask their students to simply READ two books – one required book and one book of their choice. Then, they are expected to be able to talk about those books (intelligently) and – in the more advanced classes – write about those books at the beginning of the school year. NO EXTRA ASSIGNMENTS.
I love this idea!! Not only does it line up perfectly with my overall goal as an English teacher – to instill a love for literature and create lifelong readers; but, it also allows me the opportunity to create some authentic learning activities and get to know my students as readers first – there will be plenty of opportunities for projects and papers later. In addition, while I’ve been tempted in the past to choose books I didn’t want to teach for summer reading, I’m really digging for books this year that will draw my students in and – ideally – introduce some kind of theme or discussion topic for the year…
For example, since my 9th grade year is often focused on answering the questions “Who am I?” and “What kind of legacy do I want to leave behind?”, I’m leaning towards assigning Tuesdays with Morrie for them. In my 11th grade AP language class – where the emphasis is specifically on nonfiction and writer’s style – I’m planning to assign In Cold Blood by Truman Capote to be read over the summer. (That one will keep them up at night! They will love it.)
When selecting a book, I usually try to consider the following:
1. Will it keep their attention and get them talking? How great would it be if they were actually talking about this book with their friends over the summer?!?!
2. It should be challenging enough to require some effort (and time) to read and a good indicator for me of their reading level at the start of the year, but NOT so difficult that they a.) cheat or b.) blow it off all together.
3. It should be – at least in some way – relevant to the concepts/ themes/ skills you will address throughout the year. This is, in many ways, your students’ first impression of your class – make it a good one.
At least in my opinion, the purpose of summer reading is to KEEP STUDENTS READING, to introduce them to a book/books they may not have read otherwise, and to prepare them for the upcoming year. I don’t need colorful dioramas, 200 page journals, or chapter summaries to do that.
I think there is a time and place for more detailed dissection (for example, my students like Lord of the Flies A LOT more when we study it as a Biblical allegory and breakdown/trace all the symbols in it); but, in the “real world,” when I sit down to read a book for fun, I just READ IT. Not once have I taken a highlighter or a journal with me to read in the sun (ok, maybe once or twice, but I’m the exception). Regardless, I think it’s easy to lose the joy of reading when we are frantically searching for significance and trying to “think like your teacher.” Right?
So, that’s my plan for this year. I will assign a book (or two) and let the kids go. It might be a total disaster, but I’m hopeful… Has anyone done anything like this? How did it go? Be honest.
If you have other suggestions for powerful summer reading books or assessment ideas, PLEASE share those too. I’d love to hear what works for you!