Ah, summer. Three long months to conveniently forget what was just learned in the previous nine months of school, lounge in the sun, waste loads of time, and just relax and go kind of brain dead.
But wait: there's the summer reading list! Back in my days, in the 1980s, I had huge reading lists to tackle before school recommenced. I'm talking multiple-page lists. Lists of at least 30 books, and I am not lying.
I went to a really good school (thank you Mom and Dad. I didn't particularly appreciate it at the time, but in retrospect, I realize it was far better than most of what I see today, and doubtless, the school was good for me). So yes, I read the 30 recommended/required books over the course of the summer. Reading Ethan Frome lying down in the back of our Volkswagen, driving home from Nova Scotia, straining to keep reading despire the fading light...there's a memory from when I was 12. Honest. On that same two-week vacation, I probably read six or seven books.
I didn't just read the 30 books I was told to read, however. I read more than that. I also always participated in a summer reading contest that my library had. There were about a dozen of us diehard readers, who week by week moved our nametags up in the stacks, until (before the high school reading lists took over) we hit the coveted 100 Book mark. Reading was cool, and again, I'm not lying.
I told my kids about this the other day while we were visiting the library. They were stunned. My kids usually have about five books on their summer reading lists.
I typically assigned about five books, as well, for my high school students to read in preparation for English. That is, I did until I was forced (commanded) to cut it way down. To one book. I protested vehemently. One book for one class is just not going to cut it, in my opinion, and in some other teachers' opinions. We all got the list back up to three, but that was the best we could do.
The list had been effectively dumbed-down, and I can't really fathom the reason why.
Summer reading nowadays apparently feels like teacher-inflicted torture to kids. I would think parents would be pleased to have their kids reading as much as possible over the summers, but I guess it's hard for parents to play task-master at this time of year.
Of course, a student's summer reading should--ideally--not become homework for parents, too, though I do recommend reading what your kids read, so you can talk about it, so you can show you aren't just talking the talk ("Read!") but walking the walk...willingly.
In my tutoring work, which I am doing right now, I help kids with their assigned reading, and already I am seeing the pained expressions that accompany the reading of summer books. Kids may have one book to read for English, one for Social Studies, and then, perhaps, one other school-wide book (e.g., everyone in the school reads it so they can have assemblies about it).
I tell my tutees to not drag out their reading, lest they forget what they just read. I tell them to be active readers, to take tons of notes, to jot down questions, to copy profound quotes. I tell them to stick to a schedule. Read every day, for at least half an hour, preferably an hour. Finish a novel every two weeks (in a perfect world, I would say: finish a novel every three or four days).
Get the summer reading done in a month's time, tops. Fill a notebook with thoughts and ideas and questions. Bring the notebook in to school and impress the teacher right away. Think not in terms of plot (what happened), which any fool can fake by reading the SparkNotes, but rather in terms of language, tone, and theme. Think about how language was used in the books you read, how that language made you feel and what it made you consider, or re-consider.
That's what's important. That's why we read.
Now, having said that, it is not enough, in my opinion, to just do the summer reading. No, the summer reading desperately needs supplementation.
My private students tell me they want to become stronger spellers and writers. That all comes back to reading. The more you read, the more you will absorb--painlessly, naturally--how language was meant to be used and written. Good spellers are good readers. They have seen the words so many times they just know how to spell without even having to struggle or think about it.
But back to the supplemental reading--a news magazine a week should be read by all students, all people. I like NEWSWEEK. The layout is easy to deal with; the language is sophisticated; the content is important. I want all of my students to read at least one magazine a week in addition to their other reading.
With ten weeks or so left of this summer, there's no reason why a student/kid (I mean high schoolers, mostly) can't enjoy at least five or six novels. I personally could read up to five novels a week, but that's just me. I do read faster than most other people, and I love to read. Punishment for me is NOT having a book to read.
The more kids read, the more they will love to read. Encourage wider and more consistent reading. Spoil your kids by bringing home the hot new titles from the library. Give them a bookstore gift card. Take them to the library once or twice a week (that's what I do).
The summer is for fun--and for me, fun is reading. Even if summer just means relaxing to you, why not relax with a book? The beach was made for reading. Porches with lazily swirling ceiling fans are also perfect places to read.
This summer, create your own personal or family book club. Who can read the most? Who can get the most out of what they read? Who can share the most exciting books with everyone else?
Happy Reading--and please, feel free to share lists of books you've read this summer to help give others ideas about what to read. I will do the same.