Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Required Summer Reading?

After the various conversations about kids reading above grade level, I'm sure the other hot topic for this time of year is required summer reading.

Yesterday my 12-year-old daughter came home from school positively incensed that she was going to have to read two specific books and write a three page paper on them for the first day of school next year.

And when I say incensed, I mean all the injustice of the world had fallen on her soon to be 7th-grade shoulders.

The thing is, she loves to read. Absolutely loves to read. She's not mad that she has to read two books. She's mad that she has to read these two books. And it's not even that the books are so horrible (though not necessarily her chosen reading material). It's more that she's mad that she has to read these two books.

As far as the paper - she is not happy about it, but she writes more than that on her stories every night, I'm sure three pages comparing and contrasting these two books won't be too horrible.

This is the first time either of my kids has had a specific reading assignment over the summer. I know a lot of kids have them even at younger ages. And I understand the purpose behind them. 1) to make sure kids are actually reading and 2) to have kids read the same books so that they can have a discussion of them in school. Neither of these are bad things.

Of course as my daughter was reading one of the books last night (she plans to finish the assignment before school is out next week because she doesn't intend to do any homework over the summer) she was complaining about how much she didn't like the book.

"Is that because it's that book, or because someone is making you read it?"

She admitted it was probably a little of both.

So that begs the question - even with good motives, are required summer reading lists counterproductive? I understand that teachers want to make sure that kids (at all levels) are reading during the summer, it's an important skill to keep up. But is turning fun into work the best way to do that?

And as a side note -- this assignment is only for kids in Honors English, and these are kids you probably don't have to encourage to read for fun.

Oh - and the books she has to read: Crispin, the Cross of Lead and True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle both by Avi. Books I think she would like if she allowed herself to.


  1. Sad truth is, the kids in Honor classes are just as likely to get turned away from "reading is fun" because of summer reading lists and how reading is handled in classrooms. Shannon Hale has written very eloquently on this.

  2. Both my kids will gladly tell you that having to read a book for school sucks all the fun out of the book. Since it would seem important that kids do read books for or in school at some point, I'm not really sure what the solution to this is

  3. Get rid of required books and instead give out a list of great MG and YA books for the kids to pick and choose from in case they need suggestions. Here we go with kids not even knowing what awesome books are out there because even at Katie's age, the books they read are being dictated by the schools.
    What was the book? email me!

  4. PJ - the books are listed at the bottom of the post.

    I agree - give the kids choices of "age-appropriate" books and let them read.

  5. That's what we do. Create a list of super awesome books and tell the teens they have to read one book over the summer that doesn't necessarily have to be on the list but its there are a starting point for them.

    There's a ridiculously easy assignment to go with it (answer five really broad questions about the book) and booktalk the book to your class in September. Not so tough.

    The honors kids do have to read a specific book or two and do a long and difficult assignment though. (I still remember wanting to throw Tess of the D'Urbervilles out the window, though I ended up liking it).

  6. Keri - this is for an honors class. Otherwise the kids are pretty much just encouraged to read. And the assignment is really long or difficult. 3 pages comparing/contrasting the author's style in the two books. (same author). It would be nicer if they just let kids read for fun.

  7. I don't like being told what to read; why should Pippi? Tho I do admit that there are times when I ended up liking the books I had to read. So I hope she gives the books a chance. But why do we treat kids & their reading as being lesser than adults & their reading?

    The big question, of course, is what is the point of summer assignments?

    You have two very different ones -- "1) to make sure kids are actually reading and 2) to have kids read the same books so that they can have a discussion of them in school." The second is easily answered; the school has decided this is a summer assignment. End of story. Why they have summer assignments -- another issue. Is it busy work? If it's important, what is the teacher involvement/ guidance? And it'll be hard to tell just how valuable this was until September.

    "To make sure kids are actually reading." Why? Because studies show scores go down over the summer, I believe is the standard answer. I think its extremely important that the fun/pleasure of reading not be lost; so my answer is let kids read what they want to read, period. Any book in the library; any magazine; any newspaper. If it has to be "measured" to make the kids do it - -a summer assignment -- do something like measuring hours. Booklists can be great to guide and suggest; but how do I recall finding good books? From being allowed to browse for myself in the library.

    What about the weak reader who doesn't like reading? I stand even more so by the above becasue here is a kid who finally gets out of the classroom and go do what they want and what they are good at (so maybe building self esteem by not being judged by what they are worst at) and they "have" to read. So allow other books to count -- Guiness Book of World Records, magazines, etc. If books = punishment and "have to" you've lost the kid.

  8. Liz, I agree, let kids read whatever they want. And if a kid really doesn't want to read. You know what - they should have a time and place for that too. Of course I want all kids to love reading. But anything that is too forced on anyone is going to seem a lot more like work than like fun.
    Encourage reading = yes
    Force reading = no (except of course in a reading class, then it would be more or less expected)
    That said - the assignment isn't particularly onerous - and it is for honors students. And she'll survive this - even if she is ticked off.

    Also - I did point out to her that it doesn't hurt to pick up a book you might not have otherwise - because sometimes you can discover some great books that way.

  9. You'll have to report back in September whether it turns out to have only been busy work -- which may also be something Pippi is reacting to. There is also the "punish the smart kid" with extra work vibe (oh, you're so good at cleaning bathrooms now you can do them all the time!!) she may be reacting to. Why should honors students have less time over the summer? Why increase the time they are doing school stuff? I'm being a bit of a devil's advocate, I know!

  10. Liz, I agree with you - but as the Mom I have to make sure she does it, so I have to be careful what I say. kwim?

  11. I agree with what everyone has been saying here. It would be great if the school provided a suggested list of books, but the child could pick the books they want to read. In the end, the book report still needs to be done, so why not on a book one wants to read?

  12. Vivian, the funny twist in this is she ended up liking the first book. The second one... well, after 8 pages she hates the heroine, so I'm not sure what will happen there. I think her biggest grief with the whole assignment is that there is anything required at all during her summer break.

  13. Christine, I home school Ivy and her required reading over the summer? Fairest, by Gail Carson Levine and her newer sequel, which the name escapes me at the moment. Why? She is to take a character out of the book, not MC and write a short story around that character. Also, she will make a poster illustrating the story. She is pretty excited since that is her fav author. *Robyn stamps her foot* Why can't the schools do the same? She is still learning A LOT. But actually writing a story instead of a report. :) Great discussion.

  14. Robyn, first, hat's off to you for home schooling that takes a great mom to do it right. Sounds like a good summer reading assignment. I think the other book is called Ever.
    What's interesting is my daughter was telling me all about how she thought the author chose the wrong POV in one of the books - so I told her she could incorporate that into her paper. It has her thinking and that's a good thing (though, she tends to be a thinker anyway).

    But, personally, I believe in summer reading freedom. Anything forced isn't as fun.

  15. Amen! If it's getting in the way of actual reading for the love of it, then they may as well not do it. What are these kids going to take away from it? Nothing. That's just sad.

    My writing email is off for a few days, because I switched my domain. My son has done my site and wants to host it himself, so I left godaddy and even though I pay for my email, they took it away. GRRR. So I'm sending you an email from our business addy. :)