“Mrs. Ebarvia, do you know what other Stephen King books I should read? I really like this one.”
I wonder if my student knew how happy I was inside when he asked me this. Recommending books—finding the next “it” title for kids—is one of my favorite things to do. It’s also one of the most important things I do.
Today was the last “official” day of our Read-a-Thon—ten days of non-stop reading. Each day for the last week and a half, my students and I have celebrated our reading lives through quiet in-class reading, daily raffles, and shared snacks. I’ve watched students add tallies to the board every time they finish a book, return their books to our classroom library and then immediately pull another from the shelves to begin the process again. Read, finish, repeat. Nearly every student finished at least one book, with many more than half-way through their second. One student proudly shared with me yesterday that she had read more than 2,700 pages in the last ten days. Popular titles this year are the Libba Bray’s Diviners series, Jennifer Lynn Barne’s The Naturals series, and Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One.
My Stephen King reader has been completely immersed in his reading this week. The minute he sits down, he has his e-reader out. He’s almost finished King’s 11-22-63, and at a whopping 830 pages, it’s by far the longest book he’s ever tackled. When another student asked him how it was, he was all smiles. “It’s really good,” he said, and then added, “It’s so long, but worth it.”
When I first started integrating more independent reading time into my classes a few years ago, I wondered if it was really worth the time. Today I watched students grab books off the shelf to take with them over spring break. I explicitly told students that I was not requiring them to read over break, though I encouraged them to continue. In every class, one student after another browsed the shelves and took extra titles for the week.
Which got me thinking… I think there’s a lesson here about summer reading. Like many schools, we assign our students books to read over the summer. Sometimes the titles are shared texts; other times, students choose from a list.
There are many reasons to assign summer reading. One reason is to have a shared text that the class can begin discussing from Day 1. While this can save time during the school year, lately I’ve been wondering about the value and effectiveness of assigning a text without much (if any) scaffolding to help students be successful (especially if the text is challenging).
Another reason to assign summer reading is to give students a preview of the type of reading they’ll be expected to do in the course (translation: assign a difficult text so students know what they’re getting into). The longer I teach, the more uncomfortable I am with using reading as gatekeeper. Philosophically, it feels like we’re setting up reading as an obstacle. There are already more than enough reasons students turn away from reading; I’d rather not add another.
A third reason to assign summer reading is based on the belief that if we don’t assign any reading during the summer months that many students simply wouldn’t read at all. Summer reading, proponents of this view argue, helps mitigate summer reading loss.
Which brings me back to the students I saw today borrowing books for over spring break. I’m not sure how many of these students would have read over spring break had we not had our Read-a-Thon. Reading every day reminded many students how enjoyable reading can actually be—how reading is something worth doing even when they’re not required to.
So instead of assigning summer reading to make sure kids read when they’re not in school, what if we shifted our focus to what we do during the school year to encourage kids to read on their own? What practices do we do in school to ensure that kids become independent readers outside of school? How do we nurture their reading lives while they are sitting in our classroom so that they become readers outside of it?
All in all, my 72 students had finished 120 books by the end of the day today. “Can we count the ones we finish over spring break?” many asked. You mean the books I’m not requiring you to read? I think to myself and smile.
This post is part of the “Slice of Life” series, organized by the teachers at Two Writing Teachers, whose goal is to give teachers a place to write and reflect. This March, more than 300 teachers have committed to daily writing. If you’d like to read more “slices” (from other teachers and even some students), visit twowritingteachers.wordpress.com/challenges.