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.
Heather Kelly says
It’s probably because they are taught from first grade up to Analyze the text. To take it apart, to guess where the story might go next. They are taught to Over Think about the story. Why in the world would you teach children to over think things? It makes them stupid to be honest. I just tell my kids to ignore that part and move on, even with their math worksheets. Even if they get a minus 1 or 2, I honestly don’t care. I don’t want them doing the over thinking part of math or reading (Language Arts my ass)! I hate language arts. It’s NOT Art!!
Nancy Bailey says
Over Think–that’s a great way of putting it. It is like the whole reason to teach reading is lost on skill acquisition. Thank you, Heather!
If you want kids to love to read, read the books, The Book Whisperer, and Reading in the Wild by Donalyn Miller. They are an outstanding approach to reading instruction!
Nancy Bailey says
I will check them out! Thanks for the tip, Jennifer.
Joan Wink says
Thank you, Nancy. I will be quote this blog post in my next book….fyi.
Thanks for all you do!
Nancy Bailey says
That’s an honor! I will look forward to it. Thank you, Joan!
Star Mistriel says
Reading what you LOVE is to be encouraged. Encourage trips to the public library and allow children (everyone, really) to get a stack of books that they WANT to read and explore. That encourages a natural love and joy for reading, an excitement about going somewhere and doing something for yourself, not anyone else or just because you have to. This worked for me as a child, and it worked for my children, and decades worth of students. When you want to do it, it is fun and will last a lifetime!
Nancy Bailey says
I love seeing young children leaving the library with their parent and a big bag of picture books! And it will last a lifetime if you love it! Thanks, Star!
ME Cornell says
Nancy Bailey says
Thank you for sharing. Sandra Stotsky always makes good points.
Lloyd Lofthouse says
Adult controlled rigor reading is a sure fire way to destroy future avid readers that are the foundation of readers for magazine and book publishers.
Contrary to popular myth, the publishing industry is not dying.
“The United States has the largest publishing industry in the world – in 2012 the U.S. market was worth just under 30 billion euro and represented around 26 percent of the total global publishing market. The book publishing industry claimed the lion’s share of that amount, with revenues totaling almost 29.5 billion dollars in the same year, a number which has since decreased to only 29 billion dollars. The market currently appears to be relatively stagnant, as both revenue and unit sales have failed to show significant changes in recent years.”
Without avid readers, the publishing industry would see a rapid decline in sales. It’s estimated that there are 60 million avid readers in the U.S. reading an average of 10 books or more annually. On average, that is about 600 million book sales just from this group of readers.
I am so tired of the education system using the word ‘rigor’ without regard to it’s true definition. As an English teacher vocabulary is high on my list. The word rigor has no place in my classroom.
Full definition from Merriam Webster:
Full Definition of rigor
a (1) : harsh inflexibility in opinion, temper, or judgment : severity (2) : the quality of being unyielding or inflexible : strictness (3) : severity of life : austerity
b : an act or instance of strictness, severity, or cruelty
: a tremor caused by a chill
: a condition that makes life difficult, challenging, or uncomfortable; especially : extremity of cold
: strict precision : exactness
We must change our mindset. We must teach children to love to read and write. At this point in the reform agenda, we have expertly taught our children how to hate to read and hate to write. We must change the way teachers are forced to deliver instructions and how tests are set up to measure achievement. We must, as a good friend says, flip the script.