Monday, June 16, 2014

What Are You Reading This Summer?

I love summer reading, and have since I first joined the Tacoma Public Library's summer reading program after first grade. I read over 100 books that summer and got to meet the mayor.

I don't love summer reading assignments. My freshman year in high school, it was Ivanhoe. Junior year, I read Tom Sawyer and The Sun Also Rises. I could not figure out the Hemingway book at all, and wrote that all the characters did was drink and go to bullfights. (In defense of 16-year-old me, that really is all they do.) It wasn't until later in the school year, after studying both In Our Time and A Farewell to Arms with my class under the guidance of our teacher, that I understood the Hemingway.

As a teacher, I've tried every version of the summer assignment. "Read from this list of classics," I said when I taught AP. "Read from this list of fun books," I said when I switched to middle school. A few years ago I abandoned the teacher-made list entirely and had my graduating 8th graders suggest their favorite books from the year.

This year I didn't even go that far. In fact, if you read what I handed out closely, you'll find that I didn't assign anything at all. Instead, I issued a Summer Challenge. I wrote the following:

See what I did there? There's no points, no assignment, just a little healthy competition with the younger grades and the offer that books read in summer count toward books read in 8th grade. The truth is, I never gave points for summer assignments anyway, because I was always too busy starting the year to sit down with a stack of book reports (and what you get after summer is a book report, regardless of the year in school). I also hated to have students start the year in the hole because of a summer assignment. I don't know what goes on in their families. I don't know what their summer was like, or even the kind of reader they were at the end of 7th grade. How can I grade them before I even spend one day in the classroom with them?

As for my own summer reading, well. . . at the end of the school year, my currently reading sign looked like this:

I've finished three of the books on there (Fake ID, The Hidden Gallery, and Mortal Heart). Now I'm reading Vertigo 42 by Martha Grimes, the 23rd (!) Richard Jury book. I'm listening to the next Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place book. I WILL finish those teaching books, and read Congo.

What are you reading this summer?

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