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.

Summer Reading continued

Thanks to everyone for the great responses to my summer reading rant!  I am so glad to see that I am not the only person who is upset with the static, stagnant lists handed out by too many schools across the country.  I am also thrilled to hear from so many others that their districts are not like that. I love hearing about what is and isn’t working in your schools.

There are a lot of great ideas being kicked around in the blogosphere right now.  I think we, as bloggers, are in a prime position for affecting change when it comes to summer reading lists.  I am thrilled by the passion and ideas that my rant seemed to dredge up.  I am looking forward to working on a few of these ideas and seeing if we can make enjoyable summer reading an important part of growing up!

Summer Reading Rant

Over the last few weeks, I have been fielding a lot of questions from friends and family regarding summer reading. Many a parent has placed a list of 5-6 preselected books in front of me saying, “Which of these should my child read? Which one will be the least painful? Which one will help us actually enjoy our summer instead of making it erupt into a mass of screaming and fighting parents and children?!”

Ok, maybe those aren’t their exact words. But the look of fear in their eyes says more than their words ever can. And that’s a lot of pressure!

Yet, inevitably, the list that I am handed is dated, frought with “classics”, and BORING!

I do the best I can, pointing out books that the student can probably enjoy, but it’s usually a difficult task. Most of these summer reading lists look like they have not been updated in over a decade. And while I am all for kids reading the classics, like The Secret Garden, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer , and Gulliver’s Travels , I am not sure summer reading is the place for them.

Most of the classics require a good deal of scaffolding- the vocabulary is difficult, the situations are usually unfamiliar, and the context of the stories has not always been explained. While these novels can certainly be enjoyed by rising 7th and 8th graders (the lists I usually see them on), without that scaffolding they do not enjoy or even necessarily understand the books! All too often I see students reading the “Great Illustrated Classics” edition of the story, slamming the book shut at the end, and calling it a day. That’s it! They consider themselves well-read and some will even make it to college telling those around them that they have “read all the classics”. Yes, the abridged, illustrated versions! Are we really doing them any service at all by requiring these books as summer reading when students will not get the support that need and might even be turned off to these books for the rest of their lives?

And if the lists don’t consist of 5 classics, they are made up of middle grade or YA novels published 10, 20, 30, maybe even 50 years ago. And the choices are few- maybe 4 books of which the students must choose two. And worst of all, they all seem the same to me! There is no diversity, the books are not high-interest, and heaven forbid we include ANY YA or newer middle grade novels. Not to say that the books on these lists are bad- in fact, it is just the opposite. It seems like someone, somewhere along the line, grabbed a list of award-winning books, looked for a few that were age-appropriate, and then put them on the summer reading list. The problem is that that list hasn’t been updated since then! Most of these books have great literary merit but they don’t always “fit” the reader. In fact, when you only offer 5 books, very few of those will fit the majority of your readers! The problem with only allowing students to choose from older award-winners is that they see these awards as old and stale, not at all relevant to their lives. They don’t even realize that books written this year will be up for the 2009 Newbery or Printz award. In fact, I would venture to guess most students don’t realize those awards are still given out today!

Summer is the time for students to expand their reading horizons. They should be reading all those books they didn’t get to read during school because of their homework, sports, and activities schedules. When we force them to read what we deem to be worthy literature, we all to often force them to hate the books, and by association, hate reading.

This is my plea to administrators, teachers, media specialists, and parents- revamp your summer reading lists! The best decision would be to do away with specific required books while letting students choose their own reading material during the summer. But if this is not a reasonable request, then I beg of you-update those stale summer reading lists! Put together a committee of well-read teachers, students, administrators, and parents. Have them come up with the list. And no list should be stagnant. It should be alive, and it should be allowed to change as the years go by.

Even better? Make up a suggested summer reading list and include the reasons why each particular book was placed on the list. Or just have each teacher from the next grade choose a book and write a quick paragraph explaining why they are recommending that book. This allows rising students to become familiar with each teacher’s personality through their choice of book(s). This will also ensure a varied list. I would be willing to bet you would see classics right alongside newer books, award winners next to beach reads. And the students would see that each teacher values reading in a different way, just like them! Some teachers would recommend fiction, others non-fiction. You would see a variety of genres. And a list like this could easily be updated each year!

Summer reading should not be a time of torture, arguing, and cheating (I’m talking to you, movie-watchers and Sparknotes-readers!). Summer reading should be fun and enjoyable. It should allow students to try new books, read the latest in their favorite series, or try out those great classics. Without any pressure. It shouldn’t be miserable. I firmly believe that miserable summer reading experiences are just one of the reasons we are raising a generation of bookhaters instead of booklovers.

For some of my favorites (and some that I recommended to my classes at the end of the year), check out my Amazon store here.

Newbery 2009?

The year is half over, which means it’s about time to start forming short lists for the Newbery.  Well, at least in the blogosphere.  I am currently working on my own list, but in the meantime check out Fuse #8 for her ideas!

June issue of Edge of the Forest

The latest issue of Edge of the Forest is out!  It’s an awesome issue!  Here are some highlights:

The Edge of the Forest will return the first week of August with the July-August issue and a technical redesign.

48 Hour Book Challenge in the Classroom

No, I am not that crazy!  But today I brought in my stack of books, piled them on the desk in the front of my room, and explained to my students what I spent my weekend doing.  After that got over their shock, I told them that part of the reason I participated was to get a great pile of books to recommend to them for summer reading.

I passed out our summer reading plan worksheet to the class and explained that while I want them to complete their required summer reading, I also want them to read the books that they enjoy, just as they have been doing all year.  Because I won’t be there to make recommendations and pass out new books, I want them to have a list of books ready for this summer (and hopefully into next year).  For the summer reading plan, I planned to begin by booktalking the books I read for the Challenge.  Later this week the students will recommend books to their classmates.  At the end of the week they will formulate a summer reading goal.

Today’s booktalks went really well!  Most of the students wrote down 3-4 of the titles I read over the weekend, and many of them wrote down even more.  So thank you, Mother Reader!

48 Hour Book Challenge Final Wrap-up

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Total Pages Read- 3498

Total Time Reading- 19.50 hours

Total Books Read – 17

This was my first foray into the Mother Reader’s 48 Hour Book Challenge. I didn’t set any goals going in, other than to read a lot! I could not dedicate the entire 48 hours to reading, as I already had a dinner planned last night (which was well worth it, as I learned I am going to be an honorary “aunt”!) and today I had to dedicate a few hours to food shopping and cooking dinner.

I loved participating in the challenge though. I finally got a chance to read a lot of the books that I have been meaning to get to but never do for one reason or another. Most of the books I read were already published, because they tend to get moved to the bottom of the pile when I receive an interesting ARC.

What I learned:

  • While I am a fast reader normally, the competitive nature in me forced me to read even faster. This meant that I could not savor books that I really loved, and that frustrated me. It also meant that I skipped reading one of the books I really wanted to read, because I had been warned I would want to savor it.
  • The other people in my life think I am crazy to do this. And reading is a bit solitary, so the BF spent the hours playing his new video game.
  • I am getting old! Staying up past 2am to read used to be a very frequent occurrence. Friday and Saturday night I could not keep my eyes open past 12am!
  • It takes me 30-45 minutes to write a review and it is difficult to cut down on that, even if it means having more time to read.
  • Even if I pick out my books beforehand, I still end perusing my piles in between books and choosing different ones.

What I Finished:

Rumors: A Luxe Novel (The Luxe) by Anna Godbersen- 419 pages
Thumbelina: Tiny Runaway Bride by Barbara Ensor- 149 pages
Secrets of My Hollywood Life by Jen Calonita- 255 pages
Turnabout by Margaret Peterson Haddix- 227 pages
Ellie McDoodle: New Kid in School by Ruth McNally Barshaw- 190 pages
Violet Raines Almost Got Struck by Lightning by Danette Haworth- 162 pages
The Trial by Jen Bryant- 168 pages
Physics: Why Matter Matters by Dan Green- 122 pages
Cornelia and the Audacious Escapades of the Somerset Sisters by Lesley M.M. Blume- 264 pages
Regarding the Bathrooms: A Privy to the Past by Kate Klise- 144 pages
Princess Academy by Shannon Hale- 314 pages
Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson- 250 pages
Welcome To Camden Falls (Main Street) by Ann M. Martin- 174 pages
Belle Teal by Ann M. Martin- 214 pages
In the Small by Michael Hague- 124 pages
How to Raise Your Parents: A Teen Girl’s Survival Guide by Sarah O’Leary Burningham- 141 pages
Two-Minute Drill: Mike Lupica’s Comeback Kids by Mike Lupica- 181 pages

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