There’s about a month left in a school, which means the summer reading lists are coming home.
What came home in my going-into-sixth-grade daughter’s weekly notices was a 12 page booklet of suggested titles – over 100 in all – broken down by genre and category, each titles annotated as either “challenging,” “more challenging,” and “most challenging.”
As if an emerging sixth grader isn’t going to see Jumanji on the list marked as a “challenging” title and not say “baby book.” Taking into account that there are ids whose reading levels might not be as strong as their classmates, except in instances where a child has a true disability (in which case I would expect to see an entirely different list), acknowledgement of the “chore” of summer reading and the inclusion of a picture book on this list is an admission of failure on many levels.
Kids should want to read.
Kids shouldn’t have to be coaxed into reading by providing them “easy” books to meet a quota.
Summer reading should have a clear-cut purpose, with measurable goals, if it is to be assigned.
I recognize how lucky I am to have daughters who don’t have to be forced to read. They are constantly asking me for new books. I feel like a failure sometimes when I do not have a book at the ready, or cannot rush out that moment and go and buy them a handful. My girls will use the town and school library to fill their needs willingly. As a testament to their voracious reading habits, the challenge of the annual reading list is to find interesting titles they haven’t already read.
But worse, it’s finding titles they haven’t already read that are at their reading level.
There’s a lot of concern about literacy, and a lot of well-intentioned programs like summer reading to try and help pick up the slack, but in the end the system fails because it turns reading into a chore, allows lazy students to accept that they will be catered to, and offers no consequences for lack of participation.
Every summer, kids put off their summer reading until late August, scramble to get titles read and summaries written, and hand in their “proof” of participation at the beginning of school. In addition to the four book minimum there is a grade-wide required book that is used by teachers at the beginning of the year as a point of discussion in class. Having worked a bookstore I know for a fact there are a lot of kids (and their parents, mostly) scrambling to find copies of the required book that first week of school because then, and only then, are kids frantic enough to care about reading it.
Unless someone can enlighten me to the contrary, summer reading evolved from private schools looking to give their students an educational edge over their public counterparts. It began in the high schools and trickled down (thank you Ronald Reagan) through the middle schools and into elementary schools. It also spread out beyond private and into public school. What began as a w/edge for the elite became “sound” educational practice.
Are their studies that show a child is better prepared for the coming school year as a result of summer reading? Studies that show children becoming more fluent readers, more engaged readers, more willing readers? We have this notion that kids are vessels, that the more we can pour into them, the better they’ll be. Build a better sixth grader in just five extra books a year! Ask me how! But what do they really learn from the experience?
We are learning, in our over-programmed world, that there is value in play, and that kids aren’t getting enough of it. We give them a summer’s worth of opportunity and then attempt to structure it with a solitary, generally indoor activity. It is a noble thing to want to promote literacy, and year-round learning, and to keep those minds limber. We want children to be well-rounded and we want them to love reading and to love learning.
There has to be a better solution than summer reading.