Re-staging summer reading
A student walked into my office recently, and glumly announced, “Well, I got it.” Taking in the slumped shoulders, the dragging backpack, and the facial expression that would lead one to believe this child had just suffered a betrayal of the deepest sort, I answered gently and (fearing the worst) warily, “Got what?”
“This.” The student reached into the worn backpack and listlessly tossed a stapled packet of papers onto the table. I leaned in to look. “This” turned out to be his 2015 summer reading list.
“Ooooh!! Nice!” I said, perking up, just as my student’s head fell forward into his hands.
“I knew you’d say that,” he grumbled into his palms. “I just knew it.”
This is a scene that plays itself out time and again, not just in my office, but in other offices, classrooms, kitchen tables, and anywhere else reluctant readers have to give up the goods that comprise their reading choices for the summer. This is a scene that most definitely needs a re-write.
Let’s start with the staging. Imagine a classroom, or a group room in a library, or even an auditorium – you know the ones that double as the lunch room AND the gym? It’s full of students, and there is a buzz of excited anticipation in the air as students chat excitedly with one another. Suddenly, a teacher/principal/parent/upperclassman/local celebrity/librarian/rock star steps to the front of the room. The chatter dies away as the students collectively lean forward.
“Introducing,” our announcer says with a flourish, “your summer READING!!” There is whistling and wild applause as a curtain parts (or table appears, or the baseball teams runs in with a book in each players’ hand… you get the picture) and books are introduced, read from, excitedly talked about, and claimed by students eager to dive in. Okay, okay, that may be taking it a bit too far, but then again, maybe not.
Summer reading needs to be recast from an assignment that students have to do to something worth doing. The big intro with all the students would be great, but you don’t really need it. Focus on just one class, or a small group, or just one student… your student. What do they like to read? If they can’t answer that (or if the answer is “nothing”), then explore what they DO like, and teach them how to link their favorite ideas, topics, and activities to books.
Don’t just have them choose something off a list sight-unseen; take them to a book store or library, and let them spend some time digging and searching on their own. Have them explore online, reading excerpts, watching book trailers, video reviews, and reports of the book done by other students. (Thank you, Youtube, I don’t know where I’d be without you!). Really get students involved – and invested – in the process. They are, after all, the ones who will be spending the most time with their summer reading books. Every student may not absolutely love summer reading, but they definitely don’t have to hate it.
It’s up to educators and parents to rewrite the scene called, “I got my summer reading list today.”