For over a decade I began the school year by administering a multiple choice test to my students on their summer reading. And for over a decade I questioned this practice as I entered dismal test scores. The testing was not reflective of my classroom practices, did not accurately measure whether students actually completed their reading (some adept test-takers could pass after only studying the SparkNotes version of the novel while other less-skilled testers would bomb despite reading and annotating the entire book), and worst of all it only solidified a distaste for reading rather than encouraging the habit of reading.
After many years of questioning this practice, my colleagues and I were finally able to pilot a new approach. While designing our new plan, we kept circling back to the essential question: what is the goal of a summer reading assignment? Keeping in mind that we ultimately want students to use it as an opportunity to continue to build their reading identities and strengthen their independent reading habits, we realized two elements are key: 1. Choice 2. An evaluation method that celebrates (rather than tests) the reading.
Like most English teachers, one of the things I love most about the summer is time to read for pleasure. While my favorite reading spot in the winter is that comfy corner on my sofa, in the summer, nothing beats sitting poolside, the sun warming my face as I escape into another world.
I know many of my students feel the same way, which is why giving students opportunities to read for pleasure during the school year and during the summer is so valuable. Choice matters. There are too many books in the world for students to be limited by the choices their teachers make for them.
Now, to be clear, I’m not suggesting that teachers are trying to limit students’ experiences. After all, the foundation of our work is to broaden our students’ horizons. And when we assign this book or that, it’s usually because we believe that the texts we choose will do exactly that—broaden their experiences—especially if it’s a text students might not otherwise choose for themselves.
But what if, instead of choosing a specific title for students to read, what if we encouraged them to broaden their horizons by making choices for themselves. Read more
By Tricia Ebarvia
Although I’d been doing some form of independent reading for several years, with each year better than the one before, I came into last school year determined to commit in a way I hadn’t before. I wanted to find a way to make students’ independent reading a core component of their learning rather than something they did “on the side” or “in addition to” what we were doing in class.
Was I successful? I think so. Certainly there’s always room for improvement, but when I look back at last year, my 9th grade students together read more than 1000 books. That’s 1000 books in addition to the whole class novels they were assigned. That’s 1000 books I’m sure that would have gone unread had I not made the time in class for students to develop independent reading habits.
By Tricia Ebarvia
A few years ago, I read Kelly Gallagher’s Readicide, and since then, I’ve had to ask myself some tough questions about how and why I teach literature. This passage, in particular, continues to haunt me:
Shouldn’t schools be the place where students interact with interesting books? Shouldn’t the faculty have an ongoing, laser-like commitment to put good books in our students’ hands? Shouldn’t this be a front-burner issue at all times?
by Rita Kenefic
As a child, I relished a visit to Gruber’s Bakery for a “magic cupcake”. What was so special about this chocolate treat? The dab of whipped cream in the center made an already delectable cake something special. These weren’t just ordinary cupcakes. They contained an element of surprise and magic that kept you coming back for more. Read more