Sunday, September 14, 2014

Choice in Summer Reading

As I join this Sunday Series about Summer Reading, it is only fair to let you know that while I am currently a literacy coach, I taught 5th grade for the past ten years.  I share this information because summer reading is not a topic with which I had to deal.

However, in recent years, I made it a personal crusade to make sure my students, who all embraced reading while in my classroom during the school year, continued their reading lives once they left fifth grade for the summer, where weeks of doing nothing but what they wanted appeared quite delightful to some.

The last week of reading workshop became the time we planned for what our summer reading would be like.  Much like having a 40 Book Challenge (Donalyn Miller) during the school year, for a variety of reasons, students might not be able to achieve everything listed as a goal on their summer reading plan.  That's okay because I knew that having the plan might just be the kickstart they needed to keep reading, rather the end result is two, ten, or thirty books completed.  It beat the number zero every time!

When we developed our plans, we spent time looking at a variety of reading possibilities:

  • the new book release calendar that John Schumaker kindly curates so that they could plan to read new books from favorite authors or series
  • books that were so popular in our class they just didn't get their hands on them
  • rereads of some of our read-alouds
  • online reading
  • audio book reading
  • magazine and newspaper reading
  • trying a genre they had never read before
  • fun, easy on the brain, books
  • the book they chose from the 6th grade summer reading list
The list went on and on.  As students developed their own summer reading plan, tailored just for them by them, I could see the ownership they had in their reading.  Students knew their likes and dislikes, and were basing their summer reading plan on that information.

But here's the thing - because those students moved on to middle school, a new building where I didn't see them, I'm not aware of how those reading plans fared.  It would be wonderful to have a district plan where, each year, we all had students create summer reading plans for themselves, and then had the conversation of how they did with those plans at the beginning of the school year as we begin to learn about our new groups of readers.  Wouldn't the knowledge based on that type of conversation be incredibly helpful at knowing students' reading interests and abilities?

When reading is assigned for the summer, I worry about the readers who do not have the tools to be able to access an understanding of the text.  It is the same argument for why I believe read aloud is a critical part of a child's literacy day - it levels the playing field for those who might not be able to read the text on their own, but if I read it aloud, they can share in the contextual thinking along with everyone else.

Teaching, and in this case teaching literacy, is an art.  So, is it fair to ask students lacking in those skills needed to understand a text, to read something "above their understanding" during the summer?  Wouldn't it better to wait until we could use our "artistry" of teaching to best help them scaffold and understand a piece of literature?

I've rambled a bit today; I apologize.  I do think this is an important conversation to have, and I am thrilled that Lee Ann started it now as she is reflecting on the summer reading her students did.  It could help guide all of us to a better understanding of what are the best practices when it comes to summer reading.  To read more about what others are saying around this topic, check out Lee Ann's blog.


  1. I love the idea of having students develop their own summer reading plan. This should be a district-wide goal. By the time kids graduate, many more would be readers. I think this is a good idea for teachers, too, regardless of the subject and grade level. #SundaySeries

  2. I love the idea of aligning those reading plans across buildings/schools. What rich conversation that could generate year to year. If only that communication were easier to maintain. Summer reading is so much more than a personal teaching decision. We could have such a powerful impact if we developed a culture of reading that traveled with students through school. Love that summer reading plan. I 'm going to be thinking about what that would like for high school students.

  3. This is the part that most worries me too, that choice of a book that is slated to 'cover' all isn't realistic: When reading is assigned for the summer, I worry about the readers who do not have the tools to be able to access an understanding of the text. So at the beginning of the year, when the goal is to have a positive start, some begin with a failure. Love your idea of 'leaving' with summer goals!

  4. I love the idea of summer reading plans. We know that readers often have TBR lists. We are worrying about tools that students may or may not have access to which get in the way of comprehension of assigned books. I am wondering how we can provide support for those readers during the summer.

  5. I really love the idea of a personal summer reading plan. That's what we do, after all - why so many of us love the summer. We get to read what we want. All the things we didn't have time for during the school year. And if we've spent a year creating and supporting readers, that would be a fitting connection to the following school year. Definitely some ideas to think about!