When the classroom doors close for the last time until the fall, we teachers reluctantly relinquish our authority and influence over our students, cross our fingers, and hope for the best. We hope that our students will keep reading, will remember the community that was developed in our classrooms, and we hope they will transfer that community and the good habits in an authentic manner. There are no guarantees about summer reading, but we can at least try to set our students up for summer reading success.
My department was lucky enough to get a little more than an hour’s worth of face time with all of the students in our high school during the last week of the school year. The purpose of the time was to launch our summer reading program in an authentic, realistic-for-teenagers kind of way.
We had about an hour with each group (of about 40 students), and we wanted to provide an interactive, student-friendly experience. Instead of asking the students to meet us where we want them to be, we tried to meet them where they are.
She challenged our students to read, think, and then reach out to authors and to each other, using twitter and snapchat. Students responded with chuckles and enthusiasm as they watched her stumble through snapchat, but with interest as they realized they could continue and develop reading communities with this tool.
We challenged our students to create small groups, using this app, with the deliberate purpose of supporting each other with their reading over the summer. Students connected with each other using their phones, which once again, is what teenagers already do. Our aim was to make a summer reading plan easy and natural.
Our fearless colleague, Vicky, created a bingo page for students so they could talk and develop next reads list for summer reading.
The activity took around fifteen minutes, and it got kids talking to each other about titles, authors, books they love, and most importantly, books they might want to read over the summer. Some of the categories were: book in verse, graphic novel, book about food, and so on. The categories aren’t important. What’s important is that students are talking to each other about books, and are discovering their own curiosity about books they hadn’t already known about.
Book tastings were another fun activity. Students once again had to get up out of their seats, make some choices, and talk to each other.
My esteemed colleague, Phil, selected several (a couple hundred?) books and set them on the surfaces of the shelves in the library. He instructed students to get up, choose a book, and learn as much as possible in a minute or so. Students then shared the books with each other – about four students per group – and had their phones close by so they could add titles to their next reads lists.
The final activity in our session was to revisit the individual reading lists for the summer reading assignment.
Students had previously planned their summer reading, but were given the opportunity to modify their plans based on the new books they had just discovered. Since all of the English teachers were in the room, any modifications could be approved and encouraged.
Summer reading can be delicate and dicey, to be honest. I am encouraged that some students were really excited about new titles they had just discovered, or were looking forward to finally getting to some books that had been on their next reads lists for a while. But I’m also worried about the students who still struggle to make time to read during the school year. I know that with the freedom of summer comes a lot of choice, and sometimes students choose not to read. My hope is that with the encouragement of teachers, friends, and peers, along with a healthy dose of excellent book choices, our students will continue to flourish and grow as readers. My heart is with them, even if they no longer report to my classroom.