Sunday, September 7, 2014

Reflections on Summer Reading

Recently, my husband and I made a trip from our home in Ohio to visit our eldest daughter in Washington, D.C.  The route we chose took us through the beautiful mountains on I-68 in western Maryland.  There were many up-slopes and down-slopes to navigate as we drove through those mountains.

We noticed that there were not as many semi-trucks on this route as on I-70.  I'm sure there are multiple reasons that is true, but my husband and I began to reflect on the toll the inclines seemed to be taking on the trucks.

When we were driving on an incline, oftentimes the interstate went from two lanes to three lanes, because the trucks seemed to slow to a crawl at times, carrying their loads upward and they needed their own lane.  It was a very laborious process for the trucks; sometimes you could even hear engines "screaming" in protest.

On the downhill slopes, it was another story.  The trucks would begin to pick up speed, and start flying down the hills.

When Lee Ann sent an all-call out last week because she was beginning to reflect on what was happening in classrooms around summer reading, the pictures of those trucks immediately came to mind.

Like most readers, when a text is required of me (and I'm not invested in that requirement), I move pretty darn slow.  I begin to exhibit many avoidance strategies, and my movement through the required text is as slow as those trucks we watched in western Maryland.

However, if the choice is mine, I am flying through the reading.  In the summer, I always have a huge pile of books from the library and I am a carnivore of books - reading all types, quickly jumping from one to the other.

The week before school, I ran into one of my students from last year and her mother.  This student was a voracious reader; she was always reading and had a "to-be-read" pile at all times.  When I asked her what she read this summer, she listed multiple titles, and was very excited about all of them.  But her ending remark was the one that bothered me and the reason I decided to dust off my part of this blog, and post a few things on this Sunday Series about Summer Reading.  The student said she had started her chosen book (out of a list of 4) for her sixth grade summer reading requirement multiple times, but she just wasn't enjoying it, and couldn't seem to get past page 50.  The book she chose is one I love a great deal - I know it's a good book, and she would like it if it had been her choice.  However, she became like one of those trucks - she was struggling to get up the hill of an assigned summer reading.

I truly appreciate the thinking and effort that went into creating the different summer reading lists for our district's middle school; some of the people that helped create these lists are very smart colleagues of mine.  The books they chose are good titles, and most will provide thoughtful discussion around a common story line.  And they did create choice for summer reading - the soon-to-be 6th graders had to read at least 1 book of choice as well as 1 book from the list of 4.

Yet, all that being said, this voracious reader I know, is left feeling frustrated that she can't complete a required text.  As someone who encouraged her love of reading, I worry about that.  Should she be thinking more about the 1 text she didn't complete, or the 30 books she did read over the summer?

I do believe students should be reading - A LOT -  during the summer.
I do believe there is a perfect time for students to share and study a book as an entire class.
I'm just not sure the place to start that study is in the summer.

Now that Lee Ann encouraged me to dust off the blog, I'll be back with some further reflections next  Sunday.  As truth in advertising, I should mention that as an elementary teacher, summer reading isn't a topic with which I had to deal in my classroom.  However, as a parent of children who had required summer reading, I did have an opinion.  But, I will be interested to see how others who are invested in this topic year in and year out, such as middle and high school teachers, weigh in on this topic.  For more of these reflections, head over to Lee Ann's blog, Portable Teacher, to read today's reflections.


  1. Hi- I loved your perspective...but that is how I feel every night with my daughter trudging through books for AR in elementary. She is a voracious reader, but for the past two years she has been reading books that aren't available on the elementary school list for AR testing. She has almost read every available text for AR at her school. For me, I think the larger question goes to the purpose of summer reading first before we can think about the what. Welcome back to blogging.

  2. Hi Karen,
    Thanks for dusting off the blog and joining me in reflecting on summer reading. Your penultimate paragraph sums up some of my own wondering about the place for and purpose of summer reading. You've got me thinking about investment and slow reading and commitment and submission. I also wonder if the reader you discussed tried more than one of the four bounded choice titles. It seems that we've got to find a way to balance choice and obligation--though I think that might not be the right word--without making the reader come to a complete "mind screaming" stand still (like those trucks). Thanks, Karen.

  3. Love the truck metaphor and can totally see its application to summer reading as well as required reading. Thinking about the lives of grade school readers, I can't help but ponder how read-alouds prompt students to read. My granddaughter texts me and requests whatever book her teacher is reading to the class so that she can "read ahead." If the book doesn't arrive w/in a couple of days, I'm in trouble. Simply giving students a list isn't the same as giving them a book.

    Here are my thoughts for today's #summerchallenge:

  4. I agree with Glenda - love you truck metaphor. Your reflections made me realize how difficult it is to come up with the right assignment for all students. How do you encourage the readers and the nonreaders? How do you push students to challenge themselves over the summer when you may not even know the students you're trying to push? I would hate to think that I'm frustrating the student who would read 30 books on her own.