Summer Reading: It’s All About Priorities

See what others had to say about summer reading at Lee Ann Spillane's blog.

See what others had to say about summer reading at Lee Ann Spillane’s blog.

This week’s theme is summer reading and choice reading.

If you had asked Teenage Me about summer reading and choice, she would have laughed and said, “Aren’t they pretty much the same thing? Shouldn’t I get to choose what I read over the summer?”

I was a teacher-pleaser and I would read anything that was put in front of me during the school year without complaint. (Or at least not that I would have said outside of my house… My parents tend to keep me pretty honest on this blog post thing…)

But my summers? Those were times for ME. I read what I wanted and I enjoyed every last minute of that reading time that was not interrupted by classes and homework and additional obligations.

So when I became an English teacher and realized that I needed to do summer reading assignments, I didn’t exactly do what Teenage Me would have approved of: I did whatever everyone else did.  I gave the same assignment my predecessors had given and even assigned the same books.

That’s not the say the books weren’t good. Or that the assignments were bad.

I liked the books. I thought the assignments were interesting to read.

But it all felt like it was not necessarily engaging to them. Many students told me they didn’t like the books.

No, not “didn’t like” – they HATED the books.

Most of them hadn’t really given the books a fair chance – they assumed that it had to be awful if it was assigned reading. After spending some time in class talking about the books, they generally had a better appreciation for what they’d read, even if they still didn’t love them.

It got me thinking about the HAFTA reading that we do. Being told we need to do something often results in a sense of helplessness and frustration before we even get started – especially when it cuts into our own time.  I remember I felt this way about busy-work homework assignments. They just sucked the joy out of my evenings because I had to do them even though they seemed to serve no really useful purpose in my mind. I just had to do them.

I haven’t totally gotten away from HAFTA summer reading assignments. My freshmen and seniors each read two novels over the summer. Freshmen read F451 and 1984 and my seniors choose two authors from a list — they get to pick which work they read by that given author.

The reactions are pretty different between the two classes. The freshmen overwhelmingly still weren’t fans of their books at first. More seniors, however, seemed to enjoy their titles than not.

Choice – even choice within a finite set of options – seems to make a big difference.

True. It helps. But what really makes kids (and adults) read book after book after book is not being told to read something and be prepared to discuss it or to write a paper on it or annotate it. And I’m guilty of all of those things. Every last one. And I have to be – because there is an accountability piece to the summer assignments for these courses.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t attempt to encourage and demonstrate my appreciation for their opportunity to read what they want.

The best I can do is ask them to keep a list of what they read.

It shows that I expect they read.

It shows that I don’t have an input on what they choose to read for that list.

It shows that I am interested in what they read.

It doesn’t guarantee a well-worn path to the library.

It doesn’t guarantee that they will read anything more than their social media feeds.

It doesn’t guarantee anything.

I just need to trust that it will empower those who are readers and encourage those who don’t realize they are readers yet.


2 thoughts on “Summer Reading: It’s All About Priorities

  1. I wonder what books your seniors chose? I also wondered if all of the freshmen teachers at your school require the same assignments. That’s something I’ve really thought about this week–how the grade level team works together or separately. Many years ago I had students reading Ender’s Game as a summer assigned book and it fed into our first together read of 451. It seems I don’t teach whole-class novels anymore (or rarely). Now students are in their own books and I’m using short texts to teach and anchor the whole. Thanks for joining us in posting and sharing thinking, Cindy. I always enjoy your voice.

    • I am the only ninth grade English teacher. UDA is a very small school. I pulled together a list of classic British authors and contemporary British authors. I’ll check the list of what they read and send it to you.

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