On Required Summer Reading

On Required Summer Reading

August 2, 2011


I’ve been thinking a lot about the required summer reading that schools often force upon their students. In case you hadn’t noticed, it’s now August and many schools will be starting again in a month. I’m sure there are students out there who haven’t started their summer reading yet – there were certainly students at my school who waited until the last minute. Hell, I was a student like this occasionally.

What I’ve been thinking about summer reading is that it’s complete bullshit. To be honest, high school is a period of my life I’ve been trying to block out and I’ve largely been successful in that. That said, I don’t remember much about the summer reading I had to do. I think I read The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley (and I know I loved it). I think the summer reading at my school was something like “read any three books on this list” or some combination of specific titles that were required and some I could choose from on my own. From what I understand, I was incredibly lucky with this set up. I’ve spoken to people who were given a list of titles they absolutely had to read over summer break with no room for freedom or flexibility to choose what they wanted to read.

Here’s the thing about summer reading requirements: when you tell kids that they absolutely must read something while they’re on summer vacation (key word here being vacation), they’re going to feel like reading is a chore, something that’s being forced on them. I personally had a hard enough time enjoying reading during the school year when I was being told what to read. If the goal is to foster a love of reading in kids, schools are failing miserably if their solution is to require summer reading. I’m sure there are plenty of kids out there who try to get around the summer reading requirements by watching the movie adaptation or reading the Cliff Notes. Yes, there are tons of “great” books out there and no, there isn’t enough time during the school year to cover them all. If you truly think school isn’t covering all that needs to be covered, perhaps you should be advocating for a longer school year instead (note: I’m not necessarily in favor of a longer school year). It’s not fair to assign homework when school isn’t even in session!

So how do you foster a love of reading in a reluctant reader? The answer is that I have absolutely no idea. I’m kind of hoping that the folks reading this can share some of their thoughts on the issue. Like I said, I had some flexibility in terms of what I read for summer reading and I still hated it. One suggestion I saw thrown around was to require students read a certain number of books, but to let them decide for themselves what the read (as in, no pick from a list type of schemes); when they get back to school in the fall have them write a paper about what it was like to be able to read books of their own choosing. That idea has potential, but I still worry that kids will see it was work and resent the experience and see it as work they don’t want to do. I feel like in order to get kids to enjoy reading you need to find a way o get them to connect with the books they’re reading and be able to relate them to the lives they’re actually living. I’m not entirely sure how to go about doing that.

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