Integrated Summer Reading

I realize I haven’t posted much about school and my new job this year, but I promise to remedy that as the school year winds down.  Just as soon as I dig out from under this pile of essays and short stories that need to be graded….

I am very excited about everything this year.  What I really love is that our freshman curriculum is integrated across four subjects- English, History, Biology, and Software Applications.  We have a common planning period each week and work hard to integrate as much as possible.  We do a ton of joint projects, work out schedules together, and share resources.  In addition, I co-teach with my history partner and our curriculum revolve around each other.  It’s fascinating to read The Canterbury Tales while my students are studying the Middle Ages.  It really brings a whole new dimension to class discussions and activities.

Recently, our team sat down to hammer out summer reading.  (nota bene: I am not a fan of prescribed summer reading, but I do believe that students should read during the summer.  I believe in choice. Plus, my students are highly motivated and expect to read!)   I wanted to capitalize on our inter-disciplinary team and I’m so thrilled with what we came up with.  First, we decided to have One Book, One Class. All of the incoming freshman will be reading Brian Christian’s The Most Human Human: What Talking with Computers Teaches Us About What It Means to Be Alive for two reasons.  First, Brian is an alum and we expect the kids to love that.  Second, the book (review coming soon!) is a perfect composite of our cross-curricular team.  It covers science, language, communication, computers, history, and so much more.  All of the freshman will have this touchstone text and the teachers will be reading it, too.

In addition, each student is asked to select one fiction and one non-fiction title from the list we provide.  On the list, we also noted our own favorites, in case students were seeking guidance.  I am thrilled with this list- it provides a wide array of choices in a variety of genres and across many levels (keep in mind my students are all accelerated, so while it is a 9th grade list, it may read more like a 10th-11th grade list).  Come September, the students will be meeting with others who read their book(s) and producing a project related to it.  All of the books are connected to our school theme and inter-disciplinary team.  I am looking forward to seeing how the assignment is received.  I ran the list by a few current freshman and they loved it, and they’re the best judges!

 

*I should note that these aren’t paired in any particular order.  Students are free to choose any F and any NF- they don’t have to choose them both from the same line.  One of the activities I am considering for the first few days/as an icebreaker, is having the kids come up with ways to pair the books, after reading them!

Fiction J Nonfiction J
A Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy  

by Douglas Adams

 

Collapse or Guns, Germs and Steel 

by Jared Diamond

 

*
Ender’s Game  

by Orson Scott Card

 

* As The Future Catches You: How Genomics & Other Forces Are Changing Your Life, Work, Health & Wealth 

by Juan Enriquez

 

mtr
Revolution  

by Jennifer Donnelly

How to Read Literature Like a Professor 

by Thomas C. Foster

 

*
House of the Scorpion  

by Nancy Farmer

Outliers  

by Malcolm Gladwell

 

An Abundance of Katherines  

by John Green*

 

Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith  

by Deborah Heigelman

 

Nectar in a Sieve  

by Kamala Markandaya

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope  

by William Kamkwamba

 

Life of Pi  

by Yann Martel

 

The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements 

by Sam Kean

 

The Road  

by Cormac McCarthy

Measuring America  

by Andro Linklater

 

*
Nation  

by Terry Pratchett

A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future  

by Daniel Pink

 

Unwind  

by Neal Shusterman

* Omnivore’s Dilemma  

by Michael Pollan

 

The Monstrumologist  

by Rick Yancey

 

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks* 

By Rebecca Skloot

 

 

My 40-Book Challenge

I have received a lot of comments asking me about my 40-book challenge.  I plan to use it again this year, with a few modifications, for my freshmen and seniors.  I can’t take credit for this idea at all- that goes to the incomparable Donalyn Miller.  Donalyn, the “Book Whisperer” has a fantastic professional resource that every English teacher should own. In The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child, Donalyn discusses her 40-book challenge, in which she challenges each student she teaches to read at least 40 books over the course of the school year.  I took this idea and made a few adaptations to use it in my classroom this past year.

I drew up a document that had a table on it, with a variety of genres.  Looking back over my classes for the past few years, I decided how many books in each genre the students would be responsible for reading.  I want them to have choice but also wanted to guide them towards books they might not otherwise pick up.  The genre requirements are something I would probably change every year to best fit each class.  To give a few examples, I required 3 historical fiction books, 5 fantasy, 3 science-fiction, and so on.  The largest percentage were realistic fiction because it was the perennial favorite in 6th grade.  I also left 10 books open to free choice of any genre.  While the students moaned and groaned a bit, I think the genre requirements were very helpful.  They didn’t hold any students back but they also helped more reluctant readers because they provided guidance.

Now, when I hand out the requirements there is a stunned silence in each period.  Most of my students freely admit that they may have read 3-4 books the previous year, so 40 books sounds like an insurmountable amount.  However, I just tell them that I have complete faith in them and I know they can do it.  If they ask what happens if they don’t read 40 books, I just tell them that isn’t an option.  And that as long as they are always reading when we read in class and they do their reading at home, they will be fine.  I do explain it a little differently to parents, though.  I tell them that even if a student doesn’t complete 40 books, the goal is to read more than they did the year before and to increase their skills.  More importantly, it increases their enjoyment of reading because the 40-book requirement helps them find something they do like!  But I ask the parents not to tell their kids that it’s “ok” not to read 40 books.  If they think they don’t have to, many won’t!  The challenge holds them to a high standard and I like that.

Did all my students complete 40 books?  No.  Did they read a lot more than they did in the past and become more passionate readers?  Absolutely!

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