Saturday, June 16, 2018

Priming the Pump for Summer Reading

Adding "the question" to my door of "Mrs. Essenburg is reading..." posters was one way I tried this year...

Summer reading doesn’t happen by fiat. Or if it does, it’s an anemic cousin of the robust thing we want to happen…or even counter-productive, teaching kids that reading is an unpleasant chore to be accomplished under duress. That’s not to say having a summer reading requirement is bad—it just needs to be scaffolded, like anything else. So this year, in addition to handing out the required book, the choice list, and the authentic assignment with each, I did a few other things, like book-talking some of the books on the list, leaving copies lying around the classroom, and posting "the question" on my classroom door, amid the posters of all the books I'd read this year (see photo above). I did one other thing, sort of by accident—because I had a smallish chunk of time left at the end of the last exam period in one of my classes—and I’m definitely going to plan it into all my classes at some point next year. 

What do you do when you have 15 minutes of English class before summer vacation at the end of the exam activity? Something engaging enough to make students forget their yearbooks to be signed, and something that will set them up for a summer not entirely devoid of reading? Of the several ideas rolling around in my brain last Monday at 11:35 a.m., I plunked for reflecting on books we loved in the past, hoping it would ignite an animated discussion and result in, not a “to-read” list grudgingly constructed because it was required, but a good feeling about reading that students would be motivated to find ways to keep alive over the summer. 

So here’s what I did. I wrote 4 categories on the board and asked students to think about books that were significant for them in each category: picture books, chapter books (upper elementary), middle school, and high school. I gave a few examples for myself. My mom trying (unsuccessfully) to divert me from checking out Dr. Seuss’s Sleep Book—yet again. Reading through my neighbor’s entire set of Nancy Drew books in one summer. Call It Courage, one of the few books I re-read after moving beyond picture books. 

We had a great discussion—students building off other students’ memories—from Miss Nelson Is Missing  to A Series of Unfortunate Events and beyond. Here are a few of the highlights:
  • Green Eggs and Ham—“It was the first book I read by myself, and I was so proud. It was really long!”
  • Junie B. Jones—“I consciously modeled my sense of humor on hers, and have just been adding to it ever since!”
  • Danny the Champion of the World—“My dad read it to me, and it was a real bonding experience.”
  • The Miracle Worker—“When I went to see the play in 4th grade, I didn’t know that Hellen Keller wasn’t born blind and deaf. When I realized that I could get sick and lose my sight and hearing, it really impressed me with how fragile life is.”

We didn’t even get to high school favorites! And no one sneaked a peek at their yearbook, we had a deeply engaged discussion about books, and I’m not sure how it affected anyone else’s summer reading plans, but I know that I, at least, added Danny the Champion of the World to my “to-read” list! I think I might try this 15-minute discussion at the beginning of the school year. 

What do you do to prime students for summer reading?

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