by Jan Silvano, Head Librarian
Summertime! At the end of a school year, this word holds such promise! Fun, excitement, relaxation, travel, and TIME! We relish that idea of more time…to do what we want, when we want; time without the constraints of the school schedule and all the other demands that school makes on us. Throw into this idyllic scenario: summer reading.
Yes, The Langley School expects students to read daily, all summer long. Students’ responses to summer reading range from “Great! I have more time to try the books I didn’t get to!” to “Do I HAVE to?” to “I WILL! Just stop nagging me!” and everything in between.
As a librarian, reading is an integral part of my life. In fact, right now I’m looking forward to finishing the young adult version of Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken after I read The Washington Post sports section articles about the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay. When I have more time, I choose to read…but many of us do not.
Speaking of The Washington Post, maybe you enjoy, as I do, the “5 Myths” column in the Sunday outlook section. I propose my own version with: “Five Myths About Summer Reading.” I hope they offer some food for thought.
- Schools should require students to read specific titles.
Consult the research. Choice is essential. Students are more invested in reading when they choose their books: authors and genres they find interesting; information in all formats; challenging books; books that are fluff; books already read; blogs that make them question; magazine articles that spark conversations with you. At Langley, many of our students create “Wanna Read” lists in May for their vacation reading selections. The library provides a list of websites that guides your child to quality fiction and non-fiction recommendations. Explore the options with them. Talk it over. Maybe the following will happen in your home this July:
Student: “What should I read next?”
Parent: “Let’s look at the lists on CampusNet for some ideas. You know, I checked out a new book yesterday when we were at the library, one of Mr. Willis’ recommendations!”
Student: “Yeah! I was impressed, Dad! I haven’t tried any that my friends suggested; they just read dystopias…everybody loved Insurgent but me…”
Parent: “Really? I thought you liked The Giver when you read it with Mrs. Gustin in LA. Let’s try the NCSS website.”
- Schools should motivate summer reading with incentives.
Surely not a pizza party? How about a Barnes & Noble gift card (choose a new book!)? A little external motivator, every now and again, can go a long way. For example, at Langley in September, the fourth- and fifth-graders’ summer reading times are tallied. The grade with the most minutes is recognized at a Lower School assembly. The “winning” grade is rewarded with 1) kudos from their peers and teachers; 2) a set of books for the grade to share; 3) pride in their accomplishment; and 4) improved vocabulary, fluency, comprehension; enhanced cultural references; exposure to intricate plots; and introductions to amazing characters.
- Schools should require students to do a project or hand in a report about their summer reading.
At Langley, we provide print and digital reading logs for our older students so they can document the amount of time they read, each day and each week. This is a more process-oriented approach. Reading can’t be crammed; absorbing text cannot be rushed; and reading takes effort. Watching people read is not very exciting. Yet, if we could take pictures of what is happening inside the mind of a reader – their imagination, their experiences, the impact on their interior life, their feelings – now that would be a pretty exciting project to hand in.
- Summer reading just happens; either kids read or they don’t.
Yes, many kids choose to read of their own volition. But many others don’t. There are hundreds of options competing for our students’ attentions. Yet when it comes to any skill a person wants to perfect, it is about intention; about practice; about honing a life-long habit; about having an objective and working toward it by carving out dedicated time to achieve it.
- Reading takes time.
This is no myth. Reading – fall, winter, spring, and summer – is a skill that requires practice and time. By making the commitment to each word, page, chapter, article, book – and by making time daily – students and parents will arrive together at a positive summer reading experience. It is our job, the parents and educators, to create the environment, supply the materials, model the expectations, and inspire our kids to get going.