Summer Literacy Packets and Summer Reading

At the end of the school year I handed out a Summer Literacy Packet to my students.  I told my students it was completely voluntary, and I am very happy to say that a few of my students have been sending me weekly emails detailing their progress.  And come August I expect a few more to pop their notebooks in the mail to me.  It’s been awesome being able to continue our literacy dialogue through the summer months and I am enjoying the deeper conversations we have been having over email.  But today I received a letter essay from one of my students that only further fueled my anger with required summer reading lists.

This particular student is a very strong reader, and an avid one.  She is currently reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.  (Three of the six books on our summer reading list are classics).  The email I received from her today broke my heart.  This girl loves to read and shouldn’t be forced to read a book that she is hating.  All year long I preached choice, choice, choice.  I taught my students to choose books on their level, and to be aware when books are not on their level.  Tom Sawyer needs a good deal of scaffolding for 7th graders, and that scaffolding can’t happen over the summer, when students are on their own.

I want to share a few quotes from her letter:

Today, I read chapters 15 and 16 in Tom Sawyer.  So far I rate this book a three out of ten.  this book is really boring and I do not understand it.  Every chapter talks about something different then the last chapter.  It doesn’t flow very well.  It also shocks me that it is considered a classic because I am not enjoying it.  I expect more from a classic than this book has to offer

Is this how we want to introduce the classics, the canon of English literature to our students?  How long will this attitude stay with these student?

Also, they talk in old southern accents and use older words and use old fashioned tools and devices.  Finally, it is boring because the print is small, it is hard to read, the characters are boring, the adventures are boring, and basically the whole book is boring.

Scaffolding, scaffolding, scaffolding!  This should not be happening!  The vocabulary is difficult, the accents are hard to decipher, and a lot of the “adventures” require a good deal of historical background knowledge.  All things students are not being supported with during summer reading.  Ridiculous!

I would recommend this book to no one except older people from the South.  This book is boring and a waste of time.  I can’t wait to finish this book and be done with the required summer reading!

The only thing these required reading lists is doing is making our students despise the classics.  There is nothing wrong with the classics, but forcing students to read them independently, without the background knowledge and support they require is practically cruel.  It really is a shame.

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6 Responses

  1. Tom Sawyer was on the North Carolina Battle of the Books list for years but at my school only the really dedicated students chose to read it. They didn’t have as much trouble with the language, but we are from the South so the dialogue might not have been as much of a challenge. It was Tom’s turn to be back on the list this year (the list rotates every three years) but the committee decided to take it off and put Treasure Island on instead. My students are already complaining about the difficulty in the language of Treasure Island so I’m not anticipating a lot of them reading the book.

    I’m really glad that my school has not gotten on the summer reading wagon but I do think we could do a better job of encouraging free reading in the summer. I am opening the library for two hours every two weeks and I have had around 14 – 15 students each time I’ve been open.

  2. My two children’s school requires that they read three books. (ANY) They have to write 3 sentences about each of the three books. I thought that these were low expectations. Now I am grateful.

  3. WOW, did I understand you correctly? Sixth graders, moving into 7th, expected to read Twain on their own? I’m with you on this one. What an effective way to guarantee that their attitudes towards the classics will be altered for the worse.

  4. Yup! Crazy, right?

  5. yeah, i agree, mostly.

    but i would think a reader who is that strong of a writer would be able to get through it and maybe even, with a lot of effort, uncover some of the deeper meanings and richness.

    getting through hight school and then college involves reading and understanding lots of stuff we’d prolly never pick up and read on our own.

    i’m totally, 100 percent behind you as far as the value of choice reading. but—well—part of the point, for me as a teacher, is to build strong reading muscles so that when my students are assigned tough books, they can do more on their own than whine and falter. my response, as an adult and teacher, wouldn’t be so much hating on the seventh grade expectations (which i do agree are a tad ridiculous here) but more along the lines of: it’s a tough book, you’re a strong reader, there’s a lot in there if you work for it, and i know you can find some of that meaningful stuff with some sincere effort. working through a book you didn’t choose is good practice for, well, the next ten years of your life.

  6. Oh absolutely, Amy! And that has been my response to them. It’s also the reason I booktalked all their summer reading choices and tried to give them as much background as possible before school ended. But I really think that at 12 years old, these heavy classics should not be reserved for summer reading. They should be done in school, where students have a teacher to turn to and discuss the book with. Other than my class, the other students entering 7th grade don’t have a teacher to turn to/email. As far as I know, I am the only one who handed out my email address. I just feel like a classic, like Tom Sawyer, deserves better treatment than being relegated to the summer reading list, then a test the first week of school. That’s it- no discussion, no talking about the issues in it, nothing!!

    Next year, my kids will read Shakespeare in 7th grade. While I also think that’s a bit much, I don’t disagree with it. It will be hard, the language is gorgeous but exceedingly difficult, yet I know they can do it. Why? Because they will be in a classroom, with a teacher helping them scaffold the information, process new information, and to guide them through the language. It’s very different from the summer reading list.

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