Lesson Transformed: Summer Reading

This is the twelfth lesson in the series, Lesson Transformed, in which traditional lessons are transformed into engaging experiences for students which exemplify the premises of the Visioning Document.

Lesson #12

Topic: Summer Reading

Content Area: Language Arts/Reading

*Note: This is the final post in this series, Lesson Transformed.

This post is written by guest blogger Heather Cato, Director of Language and Literacy at Coppell ISD in Coppell, Texas.  Mrs. Cato was asked to share thoughts on transforming traditional summer reading.

As I prepped and planned for my first year of teaching, I impatiently looked forward to the first day of class. I could hardly wait for my students to enthusiastically run into the room and sit eagerly waiting for me to bestow all the wisdom of their twenty-three year old teacher.  When the first day of class came, I was shocked to see that quite a few of the kids unenthusiastically entered the room, and was disappointed that I sensed no eager anticipation of learning. I was somewhat surprised and taken a back. I soon understood the problem when as a student approached me at the door to the classroom, he plopped his backpack down at my feet, scrambled for the zipper and began rifling through his bag. After a short moment the student pulled out a small paperback book that looked like it had lost a battle with a stack of sticky notes and a crinkled packet of papers. Zipping up his bag, he sauntered into the room and slouched into the nearest seat. I didn’t even have to look down at what he handed me to know that whatever was in my hands had been the summer reading assignment.

Because I hadn’t been at that school the year before, I didn’t have the privilege of crafting an awesome summer reading assignment. Had I been able to, as I did in subsequent years, I would have adopted a stance more like that of Donalyn Miller, Kylene Beers, or Claire and Tammy from the Nerdy Book Club. I would have looked for something more authentic that inspired choice and a wide range of reading, but alas those were not the cards I had been dealt. At this point, the first day of school, I had my first pivotal question in my teaching career, “How do I respect and acknowledge the work the students did over the summer, and the teachers on campus who created the assignment, while not punitively punishing learners who either unsuccessfully completed the assignment or did not even attempt the assignment.  

In this particular situation, we ended up playing a game with all those sticky notes that were plastered in each book. While it was light and fun for the learners, it also provided an opportunity for us to build a little bit of community. I can’t tell you how relieved the learners looked when I told them there wasn’t going to be a test over the book.

While you don’t have to make up some elaborate game, here are a few suggestions you could try to lighten the heavy burden of required summer reading:

  • Ditch the essay and host a socratic seminar –

Over on Readwritethink.org, Scott Filkins explains how he sets up a socratic seminar in his classroom. With it being the beginning of the year, you might not be ready to dive head first into this strategy, providing learners the opportunity to get talking about a book is a great first step in building a reading community.

  • Build upon the theme of the book for your first unit –

Pull some great articles or short stories that fit nicely with the larger theme(s) of the novel have learners choose one and build upon how it relates to the summer reading book. I have seen this in action where readers who did not read the book, or who merely skimmed it,  get interested and choose to go back and read the assigned summer text.

  • Encourage reflection-

Pull a few key quotes from the passage that relate to a universal theme. In groups, ask learners to go back into the text and read around the quote (they may have to go back a page or more). After having dialogue with their group, ask learners to talk about how the quote relate to their own life and what they might be able to take away from understanding more about the author’s intention of that quote in the book.

The summer slide is real (Beers, Four Guidelines for Summer Reading), but “when we communicate to children that the only reason to read is to earn a reward or grade, we fail to impart reading’s true value. Reading is its own reward and it bestows immeasurable gifts on readers,” (Miller, Reading Is Its Own Reward).

For more insight into Mrs. Cato and her work with language and literacy, follow her on Twitter: @HeatherCato

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