“You have to read what over the summer?!”

Summer reading. Two of the dirtiest words I feel I could say to some students as an English teacher, or at least it feels that way sometimes.

As an ELA teacher, reading is a passion. I have always voraciously devoured  books as long as I can remember. But, sadly for many, this is not the case. Regardless, if it’s part of the course description you choose, then it is what it is. ELA teachers, myself included, take great care in selecting the summer reading options, yet there always seem to be objections to selected works of literature, works meticulously chosen to give our students an opportunity to safely explore complex thematic elements without having to experience them in real life.

Summer reading is required by a multitude of schools across the country, primarily for honors and college prep classes, so why is it still such a hot topic? Is it the content of the books? Is it the assignment paired with the selections? Do we really have such little faith in teachers’ abilities to plan curriculum and execute discussions thoughtfully? What are your thoughts and suggestions?

10 Replies to ““You have to read what over the summer?!””

  1. Hi Angela,

    I had a similar topic for my discussion post, it focused on determining the best approach to assigning homework for today’s students and their families. I teach ninth grade and I see no problem with requiring students who are about to enter 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th grades to read a book over the summer, so long as it is appropriate and meaningful to them in some way. I think a majority of the “push back” probably comes from a required assignment when it comes time to return to school. I think as educators we need to be aware that most of our students have a lot going on in their lives outside of school. Many of my students are involved in school activities and community organizations while others are depended on to work and/or take care of other siblings. Please don’t get me wrong, I fully believe in pushing students so they can realize their full potential, however, we must acknowledge that our student’s summers (and their lives) are probably a little different than what we experienced at their age.

    1. Yes, I agree that we all have obligations over the summer, but I do not seem to understand complaints when one signs up for a course knowing it is required and then complains. That would be like us complaining about the work we have to do for a class. I think the other aspect stems from the backlash over the choices, too. Teachers are professionals and choose works that will benefit the students and complement the coursework, yet there are still folks that question the choices.

  2. Ah, the bane of a teenager’s life: work. Any type of work. I don’t think there will be a solution, really. Think of yourself as a teenager. Did you want to do summer homework? When I reflect back upon my teenage self, I can honestly say that I loooooved learning. I looooved reading. I loooooved school. And yet, when it came to summer reading, if the topic wasn’t of my choosing, I dragged my feet a bit. I still did the assignments – and I realize not all teenagers do – but if I lost choice (my voice) in the matter, I wasn’t as motivated. That pertains to today as well. Take grad school, for example. Not every class is my passion. I don’t find all the readings to be stimulating. In fact, some assignments are the epitome of what I’d deem is boring. Add to that an adult life that is infinitely busier and more taxing than that of my younger years. Do I want to do my homework in the summer with two little girls at home to care for, a house to manage, summer professional development workshops to attend, an entire German program to re-develop, and an exchange trip to constantly tend to? Not at all. Not one bit. To be completely honest, I whine more now than I did as a teenager, and I’m a much bigger procrastinator, because I want to enjoy the little time I have to create memories for my family and myself. So while the feds, school districts, and teachers like ourselves continue to work to enrich the academic lives of our students and bridge performance gaps – even in the summer, I think we can always expect pushback (though we don’t need to accept rebellion). It’s only human 🙂

    1. I guess the pushback is human, but pushing back over something you inherently chose makes no sense. It seems that the pushback over reading implies the questioning of the professional teachers’ choices despite them selecting pieces to complement the courses. Sometimes there is the point that there is not much choice in books, but if there is free reign, then it makes it difficult for the teacher to assess and tie into the curriculum for the whole class. Like you said, I guess it’s the nature of the beast.

  3. Ahhh, the bane of a teenager’s life: work. Any type of work. I don’t think there will be a solution, really. Think of yourself as a teenager. Did you want to do summer homework? When I reflect back upon my teenage self, I can honestly say that I loooooved learning. I looooved reading. I loooooved school. And yet, when it came to summer reading, if the topic wasn’t of my choosing, I dragged my feet a bit. I still did the assignments – and I realize not all teenagers do – but if I lost choice (my voice) in the matter, I wasn’t as motivated. That pertains to today as well. Take grad school, for example. Not every class is my passion. I don’t find all the readings to be stimulating. In fact, some assignments are the epitome of what I’d deem is boring. Add to that an adult life that is infinitely busier and more taxing than that of my younger years. Do I want to do my homework in the summer with two little girls at home to care for, a house to manage, summer professional development workshops to attend, an entire German program to re-develop, and an exchange trip to constantly tend to? Not at all. Not one bit. To be completely honest, I whine more now than I did as a teenager, and I’m a much bigger procrastinator, because I want to enjoy the little time I have to create memories for my family and myself. So while the feds, school districts, and teachers like ourselves continue to work to enrich the academic lives of our students and bridge performance gaps – even in the summer, I think we can always expect pushback (though we don’t need to accept rebellion). It’s only human 🙂

    1. Isn’t that the nature of teaching? I had a long list of books I’d like to read, but, sadly, I’ve only managed to read about five books this summer. There’s never enough time.

  4. I think there may be a few reasons for the backlash, the principle among them being that students who want to sign up for honors English classes typically sign up for several other activities during the school year and summer. Camps, lessons, teams, etc., can all cut into potential reading time. Students may see reading lists not as the valuable tool they are to discover new treasures, but as a loss of time to read books they want to read.

    While I don’t think it’s the principal cause, it is true that people don’t seem to trust teachers. They go to the doctor, they listen to the doctor. They go to a mechanic, they listen to the mechanic. They go to a teacher, they tell the teacher why they’re wrong. While that can be frustrating, I doubt it would be the driving source of problems in an honors class.

    As far as what can be done to improve attitudes, I don’t know that you can fix it entirely. Someone will always find a reason to complain about something. However, some of it might be mitigated by allowing students more agency in which books they read. Maybe the teacher could provide a curated list of options, or perhaps have one required book and require certain other genres related to other works the class will be studying (e.g., requiring Old Man and the Sea, an American play of their choosing, and a book of their choice from the following list). I’m just spitballing here since I teach math to adults and don’t have first-hand experience with this, but my gut tells me that regulated student agency might help.

    1. Yes, the kids in the Honors tracks seems to be the most involved, BUT again, they know this going in, so time management is really the issue. I think they complain partly because they want to do it all, and that is simply not possible. As for options, we have tried it all sorts of ways, and there’s always still an issue somewhere. Our current list has 15 options for grades 9-10, and there are also 15 different options for 11-12. Truly, I think time management and picking a select few activities instead of everything would help. I don’t necessarily think summer reading takes away from their choices to read as much as kids aren’t reading as much as they used to do.

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