If middle school students require summer reading assignments to coax them to read, shouldn’t we be looking at what went wrong with reading instruction in elementary school? By the time a student reaches middle school, shouldn’t they like to read?
Yesterday I noticed some of these summer reading assignments posted online. Reading rigor is found everywhere.
But why don’t students jump off the school bus at the end of 6th 7th or 8th grade and race to their local library or bookstore? Why don’t they automatically start reading stories on their tablets, or on the computer?
It is not that older students who dislike reading can’t get help and encouragement to be better, happier readers. It just doesn’t seem like piling on reading assignments over the summer is going to do the trick.
And it could be turning off the students who enjoy reading! Once reading is turned into a chore, it is hard to make it sound enjoyable.
Summer Reading in the Past vs. Present
Studying the assigned summer work, I was also thankful I am not a student. My summers as a kid were filled with frequent visits to the library because I loved to read. Nobody said I had to do it. I didn’t have any reading assignments.
My teachers were glad we’d finished up their grade, and happy to hand us over to the next teacher, but none of them were about to write summer assignments to goad us to get there.
Summers involved fun and recreation. Sometimes you were bored. I am sure I often became enthralled by a book because there was nothing else to do.
Books were also mysterious. I wanted to find out what they contained. Part of the fun of going to the library was to explore the titles that I found interesting.
Most of the summer reading assignments I read about yesterday were set in stone. Students are given a list of about 15 books. A nice description of the book is given, and students are told they “must” pick a book from the list.
Usually students are required to read a set number of books—three seemed to be the average. Of course, students were encouraged to read more.
But even setting a number of books to read quantifies a right number of books to a wrong number.
I read Gone with the Wind, a big book, during one summer in high school. I loved it, but it took me awhile to read it.
What Students Miss When Adults Control Their Reading
Insisting students choose from a rigid list further narrows the freedom students have to explore on their own, the titles that will be exciting for them to read personally.
I think when students return to school, after vacation, it is more interesting to hear why they read the books they chose. Finding out what interests a student gives teachers much insight about them.
Also, sometimes the word “expectation” is used in reference to the summer reading assignments. I find this ironic. Real expectations involve the assumption that students will read on their own if you give them a chance.
Those who control what a student reads, really mean they don’t expect the student will read without being pushed to do so. They actually have low expectations, or no expectations, of the student.
Summer reading assignments almost always include questions for the students to answer about the book they read. I assume that’s why they are told to read certain books. Those are the books the teachers read beforehand and teachers want to be able to check on whether the students did the assignment.
These summer reading assignments are pretty common. My daughter, an adult now, had them every summer. If you have children, you probably take such summer schoolwork for granted—even expect it. I know I did.
Summer Reading Enjoyment is Important
But looking at this summer schoolwork, I found myself wondering why there is such a push at this level to have to make students read. Almost all the requirements said something about “Summer Reading Fun,” or “Learn to Enjoy Reading.” But reading assignments are not really inducing fun. They’re making work out of reading.
The good news is that some schools seem to understand this and only provide a list of recommended books, along with book descriptions. They add that if the student finds something else to read, that’s fine too.
In the spirit of summer relaxation, reading should be encouraged as something enjoyable to do.
In the end, if one doesn’t like to read, they just won’t do it. And that means there is probably a real reading problem that requires fixing, or the student never really learned the great joy that can come from reading.