Far too many of our students enter as ninth graders reading woefully below level. Part of the problem, we believe, is due to the Matthew effect. The gist of this theory is that kids who struggle with reading for whatever reason avoid it all costs, causing them to fall even further behind. And of course, the farther behind they fall, the more they avoid reading.
As a result, our school’s English department has set out to create a culture of reading. We envision a school full of students who read for fun and engage in informal conversations with each other about books as readily as they do about last night’s basketball game. Students who would talk about the film version of a text and proclaim the book was way better. By focusing our efforts on creating such a culture (rather than on, say, scripted remedial curriculum), we hope that students will enjoy reading more and then read more.
One of the first things we changed to this end was our summer reading, as summer reading loss among inner-city students is well-documented. Previously, each grade level had an assigned text to read over the summer. Students would read the book and then write an essay or create a project that they would submit upon their return in the fall. As well-intentioned (and plagiarism-prone) as this was, it did not create the culture we wanted.
So last year we gave students more choice. We created a list of books with a few selections per genre. Students were given a packet that featured the cover, a brief synopsis of the premise, a simple approximation of difficulty, and page count for each book. After a week, they submitted their top three choices were then assigned one of those titles. Over the break, students completed a log in which they had to summarize and annotate each chapter and create a few discussion questions. In the fall they took part in discussion groups in their English classes with others who had read the same book.
Of course, things weren’t perfect. One thing we learned (i.e. were told by students) was that we needed more sports-related selections (we’re in all-boys school). We’re also going to encourage all faculty members to read at least one of the books from the list, and we’re considering creating cross-grade level reading groups.
But overall, I liked the results. Some students claimed it was the only book they had ever read all the way through outside of class. Others cited their summer reading book as their favorite book on my beginning of the year survey. And I had numerous old students stop by to talk about how great their book was and did I have the sequel for them to borrow. By these indications, I think we’re getting there one page at a time.
What does your school’s summer reading look like? Do you have any recommendations for books that should go on our list this for this summer?