Saturday, June 12, 2010

Summer Assigned Reading

 Calling All Teachers:  I Need To Hear Your Voice

Since the school year finished, I've been hearing lots of complaints from families about assigned reading taking all the fun out of summer experiences with books.  There are two camps:

1) the parents who kids love to read and will read all summer but feel "constrained" by a book list, required reports to "prove" their reading or assignments during the vacation months.  These moms and dads are telling me that making reading an "assignment" creates an environment where children see it as a chore rather than an adventure.

2) families who don't have a personal connection to the importance of reading for recreation during the summer to protect the reading gains a child has experienced during the school year.  For these families, reading is also a labor, not a pleasure, an assigned task that someone always seems to slip through the cracks with other time demands and distractions.

What Do Researchers and Experts Say?

There are several studies relating to this topic but one I find helpful in addressing our first group is from the American Library Association.   Their findings took into consideration both teacher and student perspective.  This study also provides insight into the use of technology. 

Did you know that there is a research brief on a website called   These ideas began at John Hopkins and you'll find plenty here to raise your level of understanding.  And June 21 of this year, they are sponsoring a Summer Learning Day.  You can visit their website and share your ideas or read to the end of this blog where you'll find a free, grassroots way to touch a child.

Reading is Fundamental, so often in touch with the communities that surround our at-risk populations also comes through with an interesting article entitled A Primer on Summer Learning Loss.  What I appreciated in this article are not only the statistics about summer reading loss which we all know too well but the solutions framed from real schools and school districts.  Duplicating best practices for those who have gone before us AND been successful is one of the best resources we have.

Kids are making a splash with reading in Kansas this summer.  I think any student would find at least one activity at their local library that they would enjoy.

Even Michelle Obama is speaking up on this issue.  Regardless of her husband's politics, she's taking her stand against obesity and pairing it with the idea that summertime is reading time.  Learn more about her support of United We Serve's Let's Read, Let's Move initiative.

Here's a novel idea:  take the ideas from this research and make them a part of a short "mini-study" for yourself, a personal investment in your own professional development this summer.  It will put you in a position to positively impact the summer slump next year.  Set yourself up to start planning to prevent the summer slump at the beginning of the school year.  Make it your goal to not only teach all the strategies and skills but to help your children fall in love with reading and find the book that will get them hooked.

How Do We "Make" Them Want to Read?

I really believe the answers lie in the arena of motivation.  We must give children an authentic, a good reason to read when they are outside the academic arena.  That's why I love Donalyn Miller's approach during her instructional year (you can learn about it in her book, The Book Whisperer and her blog).  She begins working toward summer reading the first day of school by daily crafting her instruction so she builds that key motivation all year long.  She listens to their voices and learns herself how to more strongly motivate students from year to year.  Any student  is much more likely to read if he or she has been in the habit and found it enjoyable and stimulating throughout the school year.  Unfortunately, we seem to separate these key ideas more and more as we become more "curriculum driven" in the classroom.  Don't get me wrong: curricula are good tools but we cannot ignore the motivational piece of the puzzle.  We don't seem to think much about summer reading until it's time for the school year to end.

Answering the question: "why should I read anyway?" honestly and, for our more at-risk students, with a certain level of support, is essential.  Too many "checks" or "requirements" can take the fun out of reading and demotivate rather than motivate. 

But If We Don't Make Reading Assignments, How Are We Going To Know If They Read?

What is your answer to this question?  I'd love your take on your personal experiences with assigned summer readin's effectiveness and the research you have seen (if any) on this subject. What does your specific school or district do ? What would you say to one or both of these families when you send home the "required" reading lists?  Do we have an authentic answer?


If you are on Facebook, I invite you to visit The Literacy Ambassador's K-6 Summer Challenge cause page and take up the challenge of finding a child to turn on with a book this summer.