Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Summer reading and the importance of reading

The Council Chronicle (NCTE), dated online May 10th, features a piece on the importance of reading over the summer for kids to maintain their reading skills. While I have mixed feelings about giving out homework over the summer (I never had summer homework, and I turned out fine. In large measure because I was raised to enjoy reading, not see it as something you had to do), I do like ideas that encourage reading. The article recommends that kids should be reading four to five books over the summer. Ideas to encourage reading include: " making presentations about books, giving students a choice in what they read, finding ways for students to connect with books and others, and ensuring students have access before summer begins."

Richard Allington, a professor of education at the University of Tennessee and author of books on reading for young adults, sees the following problem:

". . .that most schools don't own the literature or magazines that adolescents most want to read. 'The books the teens are interested in aren't even in the building, much less on a department reading list. So schools might have to make a choice. Do you want [students] to read over the summer? Then open up the recommended list to a much broader array of texts and introduce those texts before the end of the school year."

Allington also recommends adding more informational texts, a move that he thinks will appeal to boys. I can clearly see the problem, which seems to me a blend of schools often being out of touch with what kids are actually doing and a reluctance of many schools to take some risks when it comes to collection development. However, I suppose much of this may be reflective of the litigious society we live in where no school wants to get sued by some unhappy or unruly parent, let alone have to face a book challenge. From what I have seen, the assumption is school libraries is to let them get it at the public library. But the problem Allington highlights does bring into question how much reading can kids get done if they only get a list. Without access to a good public library, chances are slim unless the kids' parents are able to afford some of the selections. I suppose something to think about further.

At any rate, the NCTE Inbox Newsletter, which led me to the article I am referring to, also provides some examples of what some schools are doing in terms of reading list. I am linking a few to illustrate. The Dallas one does not look too bad in terms of the titles selected once you can get to the actual titles. It has a lot of layering of how they want the kids to read, what books not to read (yes, they have restrictions, mostly because the restricted titles will be read in school at some point and God forbid a kid actually reads a book before the teacher has covered it in class), and how to respond to readings in writing exercises. So, once you get past all the curricular stuff, the list itself is not half bad. Same goes for the other lists and others readers can likely find with a Google search or a similar tool. The fact that you have to give assignments to make sure kids read is usually labeled as accountability, but I always wonder how enjoyable is reading if you are more worried about making sure you get the assignment done. I think usually the teachers that encourage more reflection about reading and response over a formal and structured writing prompt will be more successful. This is where taking a page or two from ideas like booktalks probably pays off.

Episcopal School of Dallas Upper School: List of 2004 Summer Reading.

Altamont School (Alabama) Summer Reading Lists: Grades 5-12. This one seems to be heavy on translated works, at least at the 12th grade level. I am all for reading international works, but I wonder if they ever read anything in Spanish for instance.

Elizabeth Juster's lists for her high school students at Londonberry, New Hampshire.

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