Summer Reading

This summer I had to pack up my classroom library.  No, I’m not moving classrooms.  I actually did that in the middle of the year. :)  And I am not changing schools, either. (Thank goodness!).  Just normal end-of-the-year cleaning.  Because I dread putting everything into boxes, I posted a message on our school’s electronic BBS and said that any students interested in borrowing books for the summer could come sign them out over a 2-day period.  I expected a few freshman to take a book or so each but I didn’t have high hopes.

Umm, approximately 25 students came and borrowed books.  I signed out close to 100 books for the summer!  Some students took one book, others took closer to 10 books!  How awesome is that?  Freshman, sophomore, and junior students came to the shelves and browsed, signing out anything that interested them.  My students are all brilliant and heavily involved in lots of extra-curriculars.  They told me that they were looking forward to taking some time to relax and read this summer.  More than one of them came in with a list of books that they were hoping to read, books that had been on their must-read lists for most of the year.  Other students came in and asked for recommendations, both from myself and other readers.  It was awesome!

I’ve never lent books out for the summer before because my sixth graders moved onto a new school after leaving my classroom.  It’s nice to have the ability to loan books to students over the summer.  Do you loan books out of your classroom library for the summer?

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

 

 

Summer Reading Update

Today I went into NYC to see “Hairspray” on Broadway with my friend’s day camp. A lot of my students from this past year were campers and we got to catch up a bit. Of course, I asked what they have been reading. What awesome language arts teacher wouldn’t? But I got a few recommendations from them, which made me happy. And we laughed because they are starting to see some of the ARCs we read earlier this year finally coming out in the bookstore. They love that they read the books and recommended them to friends before they were published.

Of course, we eventually got around to the summer reading list. The kids I didn’t teach seem to be avoiding summer reading, with most of them saying they will start after camp. But my former students have all finished their summer reading! I was so impressed. And even better, they enjoyed their books! Interestingly, everyone I talked to today read Cynthia Voight’s Homecoming (The Tillerman Series #1). They not only enjoyed it- they even read the next Dicey book on their own!  How awesome is that?  I do find it interesting that the newest book on the list seems to be the most-read.  Yet it is also the longest book!  It just shows what a great book talk can do for a book.  Kids who would never choose a long book on their own chose it based on the summary I gave.  Summer reading lists need to be booktalked!

Oh, and I was so happy to hear that a good number of my students have started using the public library this summer.  In our town, the library is used to research projects and summer reading once the kids reach the middle grades.  To hear that they are going to the library, taking out books, and even getting on the waiting list for popular books absolutely made my heart sing.  (I know, I’m corny).  But it made me feel like I made a difference!

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.

Summer Adventure Packets

Tonight, I finally finished the summer adventure packets for my kids! It was definitely a labor of love, but I feel like they are finally perfect. Jen Barney shared the packet she uses in her class, and I used Stacey‘s as a mentor/template and then added in my own activities. I can’t wait to see if any of my students take advantage of this….

You see, my students move on to the middle school next year, so they will be responsible for emailing or snail mailing their completed packets to me. That’s a hefty amount of responsibility in the summer! But I have some truly awesome 7th grade survival packs planned, so hopefully someone completes it!

I will also be handing out my list of amazing books, places to get books, and blogs to check out. This is the first year I will be doing this, too. This way,my kids will have a list of books I love and think they will love, even if I can’t booktalk them!

Summer Literacy Packet (6th grade)

Must-reads 2008

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