Time to Re-evaluate: Why summer reading?

This morning when I opened my e-mail, my daily update from the NCTE Teaching and Learning forum was there. I look forward to seeing what conversations are going on about teaching and learning, and although I don’t actively participate (post), I do always read.

And one post quickly got my attention. A teacher asked about summer reading, specifically:

Should we have summer reading?  If so, should students have choice in what they read, or should they be reading classics?  Should students respond in writing to their summer reading?

This was my response: 

We have offered summer reading for as long as I can remember. Sometimes there is one required text, sometimes two. Less often is there any choice. I’ve been rethinking summer reading and finding myself asking a lot of questions.

I had a long conversation last year with a friend and colleague at my writing project site about summer reading. Our conversation clarified a central issue —what are you trying to accomplish by assigning summer reading?

  • Is the point of summer reading to get a head-start on the curriculum? Is the summer reading text an essential part of the curriculum? If that’s the case, what types of instructional support can you give students as they read? After all, we support students with the other texts we read together.
  • Is the point of summer reading meant to preview the types of reading students will do in the course? If so, again, what types of support will students need and get during their reading? What types of previewing, scaffolding, etc.?
  • If the text is a required text, how do we decide? Is it a student-centered decision? Curriculum-centered? Teacher-centered?
  • Is the point of summer reading to give students a shared reading experience? If so, how can we make sure it’s shared in an authentic way that brings them together beyond the fact they all happened to read the same book?
  • Is the point of summer reading to be a gatekeeping device? As in: students need to understand the expectations for the course and/or level. If so, is summer reading the best vehicle through which to do that? If this is the motive, in any part, then there may bigger issues at work. What are they and how are you addressing them?
  • Is the point of summer reading to get students to read in general? That assumes they won’t otherwise. Is required reading over the summer the best way to get students to read? Are there other ways to encourage students to read?
  • Is the point of summer reading to hold students accountable for reading? Do we assess summer reading? What is the point of the assessment? To prove they read the book? Why don’t we think they will? Again, that may be part of a bigger issue. How are you addressing those issues?
  • Or is the point of summer reading to simply encourage students to continue reading, to grow and develop as readers in a personally meaningful way?

In what ways will summer reading potentially help but also hurt students? One book I recommend is No More Summer Reading Loss. In it, the authors review best practices re: summer reading—what practices research has shown to work and not work. It was a thought-provoking read. A question that stood out to me—what am I doing during the school year to encourage and ensure that students read when they are not required to do so?

The colleague I mentioned at the beginning of this post? They do summer reading book groups, inspired by the work of Penny Kittle.

If you have any thoughts or ideas about summer reading, please share in the comments below.

Updated May 2023: Added follow-up questions.

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  1. Pingback: Summer Reading Musings | Orange in the Middle of a Table

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