Summer reading was never a difficult task for me. In fact, I looked forward to summer vacation because it meant I finally had time to read the books I liked at my own pace. However, I know not everyone is like me and it may be a struggle to get students to read during “vacation”. But summer reading really isn’t optional.
Research shows that summer vacation often has a significant negative effect on student learning. Providing opportunities for students to read regularly during the summer can prevent documented reading achievement losses. The bottom line is that students who read during the summer do better in the fall. (ReadWriteThink.org)
The best way to encourage students to read over the summer is to make them want to read by making reading fun. Summer vacation is the perfect time to explore interests without the confines of a curriculum. During the school year, education is regimented and, essentially, forced upon students. Many students rebel and say they “hate” school, learning, and/or reading because they just do not like to be told what to do. By framing summer reading in a context that feels student-chosen rather than force-upon, many struggles will dissipate.
Firstly, we need to answer the question: what is reading? Is it only a book? Summer reading can encompass magazines, blogs, comic books, manuals/directions, or anything with words.
Second, we need to establish sources of reading. Students can read paper copies or digital copies on computers or mobile devices. Students can borrow materials or purchase them.
Third, we need to consider content. Summer reading should have no content restrictions, unless it is not age-appropriate. Students should be allowed to read about cars, princesses, singing, sports, medicine, dancing, grilling, or whatever activity students find fun. It is also a good time to disregard reading-level and let students read books below (and above) their reading level if they want. (Remember: the goal is to encourage the student to want to read and to read!)
In English class, students have mostly read “literature”—books that are not popular fiction and rarely connect with students. Students read for an academic purpose during the school year. For summer reading, students should read for an enjoyment purpose. Parents should not give their students quizzes or ask the student to write a paper after reading. Instead, informal, old-fashioned conversation will yield the same outcome and increase confidence. A good example of discussion is this: Ask why the student thought the main character was “stupid” instead of telling the student not to use that word. Most likely, the student has a great explanation, but is just not using academic language.
So how can teachers and parents find the best summer reading for students?
Popular Recommendations—There are hundreds of summer reading lists available through Google searches. The local librarian, an employee at the local bookstore, or the Top Books in for iBooks/Kindle/Nook will yield an even larger selection. A popular TV show or movie “based on” or “inspired by” a book? Pick up one of the books! I found I loved reading Kathy Reichs’ books because my favorite TV show is Bones, which is inspired by her books.
Student/Friend Recommendations—Prior to the end school, students can write down what their favorite reading selections are. The teacher can then compile the information into a list. Students may be more apt to read a book a classmate thought was really good.
Form a Book Club—Perhaps reading a book as a group is best because some students need the encouragement of others for the initial push into summer reading. Friends from school, neighborhood kids, or a group at the library will work out well. Groups can be of varying ages and give perspectives that students may not see otherwise.
Model Reading—Don’t just tell students to read this summer, show them! Teachers should show students the reading that they have done for enjoyment. Parents should read as well during the summer. It might be worthwhile for a parent and student to read the same thing so they can discuss it together. (Side Note—My mom did this with my brother and I when the first Harry Potter book was published. It was so much more fun to be able to talk about the book with my mom and my brother.)
Reading Goals/Rewards—Some students need a little…motivation. While the Six Flags® Read to Succeed Program® is closed for this summer, the idea remains the same. Parents or teachers can create a set list of criteria that the reader must accomplish in order to obtain the goal. Each level should be even more desirous than the previous. The student can either “cash in” at a specific goal level and start over, or keep building until the ultimate prize. For the Six Flags® program, it’s free tickets to ride the coasters for a day. You could use gift cards, concert tickets, or whatever that “it” thing is that the reader wants at the moment. For the Scholastic Summer Challenge 2013, it’s contributing the “World Record” of minutes read to try to reach the Moon.
Do Something—Don’t just read the book, do something with it. Create something from the book, see a play, watch the movie (afterwards!), visit a museum with artifacts mentioned in the book, encourage someone else to read the book, etc. The list is endless.
No matter how you approach summer reading, remember to keep track of the reading progress. You can find printable summer reading logs through a Google search or by using a site like goodreads.com.
For more information and ideas for summer reading programs, books, and project ideas, see 5 Ways to Promote Summer Reading by TeachHub, Celebrate the first day of summer with summer reading by ReadWriteThink, and Summer Reading and Learning by National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).