professornana (professornana) wrote,

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Summertine and the reading is NOT easy

As quickly as my colleague Karin Perry and I get carts loaded, people come and take them off our hands. All summer we have watched the book move on to new homes. Teachers, librarians, students, other faculty in the building and across campus, custodians: we place them on the cart and watch them disappear.

But in other places, summer reading is not as much fun as coming and selecting a book on your own, reading it, and NOT doing a bloody thing afterward. This post: talks about those Summer Reading Programs (SRP) that force kids to select from narrow lists and then to complete meaningless assignments, tests, etc. (and often well after the books have been read). I wonder how many teachers and librarians are reading books in preparation for the fall? Are they facing tests and dioramas when they go back to school? Knowing my colleagues as well as I do, I can answer those questions. Yes, they are reading (search the hashtag #bookaday to see some Twitter evidence) and talking about books. But NO, they are not facing the utterly meaningless tasks to "prove" they read. And their students will not be doing meaningless things with the books either. Tere will be discussion and sharing as the kids come back to school instead. So why does this spectre of SRP still exist? Carolyn Ross, the author of this article gets it exactly right when she notes, "Summer reading assignments and reading quizzes and book reports don’t teach our students how to be readers. They teach them that reading is a school-centered activity. That it is a chore. That they aren’t good at it if they can’t remember insignificant plot points. These assignments set students up to cheat, or to fail, and always to regard reading as a drag. This is how we breed kids who say they “hate reading”.

When I went to teach at the university, my summers "off" officially ended. I teach all summer. Breaks between semesters are days and not weeks. So, one ends, and another begins. I miss those summers of the past when my friend Lois and I would float in the backyard pool (working on tans; we wee idiots back then) reading books all summer long. We read, chatted about our books, swapped them when we were done, and continued reading. Now that Lois is retired, I hope she can get back to those stretches of time when she can simply sit and fall into books. I search for those stretches myself. I need to find them. They are the times that calm my brain and allow me to refresh myself before I tackle grading, building out courses, and the like. I read and tweet, post to Facebook, and blog (briefly). These are all meaningful to me. No one requests I DO OTHERWISE.

I know SRP's time is waning for the summer, but let's plan ahead for next year. Let's pledge to let kids pick what they want. Let's include materials other than books. No limits about lexiles and levels. No page count or word count, no forms. Reading without strings, constraints, penalties. I wonder what message that sends? Maybe that reading is something to be enjoyed, something people do inside and outside of school, something for pleasure. Maybe we will not be lazing in the pool, but we will be floating off into the world of new stories.
Tags: summer reading
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