Why do the words “summer reading” elicit such dread in our students? Let’s give kids the chance to view reading as an opportunity to relax and learn and grow. Take a look at this summer reading video about a creative community partnership in Montgomery County and Dayton, Ohio. They’ve managed that so many children keep learning and reading over the summer:

The majority of the reading I do does not involve a test, an essay, or a project. Let’s give kids reading as a gift and remove the stigma that reading is a chore. Last summer, while browsing in my Overdrive app, I found all kinds of new releases and librarian suggestions for books that had huge wait lists due to their popularity.

Then I looked in the “Summer Reading” category and found that the first four titles were 1984, Crime and Punishment, A Tale of Two Cities, and David Copperfield. Not one had a waitlist, no surprise there.

Now, I was an English major who had always loved books. I read Crime and Punishment in 5th grade (true story). But in the summer, I tend not to lean toward Dickens or Dostoyevsky. I much rather read what my friends recommend, what’s on the book store’s “What’s Hot” shelf, and what is featured on the websites I follow for book recs. The same is even truer for 15-year-olds.

Book Floods and Droughts

Take a look at your school’s library in the summer. Are there gaps on the shelves? Does your library have an open door? Do kids have the opportunity to check out books (plural) for the summer? Too often, we collect all of our books in our classroom and school libraries, lock them down, and close up shop for the summer. All of that momentum during the school year in flooding kids with books suddenly runs dry.

We have to recognize that many kids go home to book droughts. Not all families are able to purchase books, and not all families visit public libraries. It’s our job to send them home with good books over the summer though, of course, we cannot control what exactly they’ll be reading, and provide easy access to more if we truly want kids to be reading.

Should We Assess Summer Reading?

I’ve been snooping around various schools’ websites to see what they require of students during the summer.  I have seen so many different forms of assessment. Read one book (only one? yikes!) and have a parent sign a paper. Keep a record of double-sided journal entries. Place post-its in your book. That’ll help your readers focus. Draw something. Take Cornell notes. Construct a diorama/board game/poster. Write a book review/blog post. Compose a 5-8 page essay (my own child’s summer assignment). Choose a form of assessment. Do a required form of assessment. The list goes on.

I’m gonna venture a guess that not one of these assignments forces a child to read in order to be able to complete it. In fact, many of them actually encourage a child to fake their way through it. To learn more about reciprocal teaching activities, check out this post.

To require unsupported written assignments, whether a challenging piece for upper-level students to prove their correct course placement when they enter the room in September, or busy work that can be given to students at any level, is a mistake. During the school year, not one of my assignments is given with the caveat, “You will do this and I will not be available to help you in any way.” Why should summer expectations be any different?

What Can Teachers Do to Develop Summer Readers?

If we expect that students are reading in the summer, we have to create a culture of readers in our classrooms, our buildings, our communities. We need to develop phonics with intermediate readers. These are huge tasks and a huge responsibility.

We can start in our classrooms. Let’s work to give kids a head start on being summer readers. Here are some easy ways to send them off with more tools in their toolbox.

  1. Book tastings. Check them out on Pinterest. Pull out those plastic tablecloths and battery operated candles and have at it. It’s amazing. Works like a charm. Pick a day before the end of the school year to let them discover all the good stuff they will want to take home and read over the summer.
  2. Visit your school library. Teach them how to find what they are looking for. Show them that the library is not as overwhelming as it might seem. Insist that your library allow for multiple checkouts for the summer, and petition your administration to staff some open library days over the summer with people who know and love books.
  3. Let kids use your classroom libraries. I had over 100 books on loan last summer and most came back. I’d call that a victory.
  4. Provide opportunities for independent reading that increase stamina and complexity and provide reading comprehension strategies. Get your kids reading every day in class for 10 minutes or three times a week for 15 minutes all year long. Challenge them to challenge themselves. Help them develop strategies for text selection and completion.
  5. Provide strategies for thinking about their reading. The signposts in Notice and Note by Beers and Probst are great to help readers think more deeply about texts. Send them home with signposts on a bookmark and strategies to set reading goals after they have practiced and practiced under your guidance.
  6. Encourage kids to talk about books during the summer. Help them set up book clubs to bring readers together. Consider starting a hashtag or social media account where they can share their best reads. Well, the fact of the matter is that reading is the best leisure activity!
  7. Have students sign up to read a book with a faculty member and then attend a book discussion upon their return to school in September. This can exempt them from more traditional assessments that your department may require, and it can build long-lasting relationships and groups around books and interests.
  8. Teach readers that reading during the school year and in the summer can be done using a variety of materials. Graphic novels, newspapers, magazines, and news websites count as reading! Use e-readers, audiobooks, and apps.
  9. Take the pressure off kids. Eliminating assessment sounds counter to what we know as English teachers, but by removing the chore of grades, tests, essays, and projects, students can enjoy books for the love of reading! See also this post about how to help your 6-year-old reading.
  10. Take the pressure off yourself. This is no magic bullet. Give it a few years to catch on. It takes time to change the culture of a classroom, or department, or building, or district. Survey students each year and watch your participation in summer reading grow. Be gentle on yourself and your work. There may always be students who refuse to identify themselves as summer readers, but by making independent reading a priority from September to June, your participation will only grow. I promise!