This is all about how we completely changed our summer reading assignment and the transformation that took place for us as a result.
Allow me to take you back to when I was a little girl in grade school. Every summer, without fail, the summer reading assignment would be to read a novel or two, answer some questions, maybe do a book report, and then take a test during the first week back to school.
Sound familiar? I’d be willing to bet you probably did the same thing as a kid, and might even do something similar now. I know my students’ high schools are requiring them to do something along those lines this summer. This practice really is quite prevalent – at least in my own personal experiences as a student and over a decade of being an educator.
Now in full transparency, I used to do this same exact thing for years as a high school and even middle school teacher. Assign a book or two, do a few questions, a book report, and take a test when we return to school. And let me just say a few things regarding my experience in doing this:
- Many times the students wouldn’t actually read the books assigned
- Or if students did read, it happened way back in June when we got out of school and by the time we returned to school, they had completely forgotten what happened
- Occasionally I would get emails from parents complaining about how long the assignment was taking, that it was cutting into their vacation time, etc.
- Then, I also had all of these book reports that I had to grade right out of the gate – not really a fun way to start the school year
- AND, the ever important question, how was I to really, genuinely utilize this summer assignment in a positive, constructive, and learning-fueled way when we returned to school if half the class didn’t read, half the class doesn’t remember what they read, and those two students who are on top of it lead the discussions.
- And then also, were the kids really even learning anything through this exercise other than to dread and hate summer reading??
- SO MANY THINGS WERE NOT WORKING WITH THIS WAY OF UTILIZING SUMMER READING ASSIGNMENT
Something had to change.
Now that I’ve hopefully convinced you of the perils of what I used to do. Let’s talk about what I do now and how it has drastically improved my instruction when students return in the fall and created a much more positive learning outcome for my kids.
About three years ago, I made the switch to an evidence-based writing packet for a short story. (I also gave students the option to challenge themselves and read at least one other book of their choosing! I provide them with a list as well if they don’t know where to start. This also helps parents out over the summer, too, if they really do want their child reading – which hopefully they do!)
I want to walk you through WHY I chose to move to this model for my summer reading assignment and why it’s been so incredibly effective.
First I needed to focus on my goal for assigning a summer project. What did I want students to gain from this?
- I wanted students to practice analyzing evidence from a text and use it as a baseline assessment, since we would be doing so much literary analysis throughout the school year.
- If my students were really strong with citing a quote properly, I could breeze through that lesson in the fall.
- If students’ justification was weak for the evidence they chose for a particular prompt, then I knew we should spend extra time on how to write strong justification.
My “why” for moving to this model was really to have access to immediate assessment data from my students in the fall, but also, so they could work on a variety of common core state standards for ELA through the packet that I created. And then finally, to take the burden away from reading – I don’t want my kids to dread, or worse hate, reading, and I really found that that was what was happening to so many kids each summer.
I’d like to walk you through the exact short story assignment that I give to my students for their summer packet, so you can utilize a similar strategy and see the same positive results that I’ve seen after making the switch.
I use the short story “Eleven” by Sandra Cisneros because it’s extremely short and it is an easy text for students to read through time and time again as they analyze various elements of the story.
I have my students complete the following assignments along with this short story:
- A vocabulary warm up for six unfamiliar words in the short story
- Character connections … with this assignment, students are required to create short descriptions for three significant characters and find a quote that supports their descriptions. Then they explore how each of these characters connect to one another using sentence starters that I provide them.
- Searching for evidence from the text to support a claim that I provide them…They also have to justify their reasoning for the evidence they’ve chosen.
- A complete multi-paragraph response to literature (or essay) that explores the claim I had provided for them on the previous activity… I love this because those initial essays are an excellent tool for me to use as assessment data when we begin our year together. (And I know that collecting a bunch of essays at the beginning of the year sounds daunting to grade, but I actually just grade these as credit / no credit because I simply want the assessment data. Plus, I haven’t yet been able to teach my students the essay format that we’ll be using, so it wouldn’t be fair to grade them on something they haven’t learned. So it really isn’t as daunting as it seems!)
As a result of using this new approach, here’s what I’ve seen happen:
- I have completely minimized the quantity of work students did, but I have completely made the work they’re doing quality instead.
- There is now a clear purpose for the work – as a baseline assessment AND as activities that build on one another to help students compose a multi-paragraph essay on their own.
- My summer reading assignment has so much more meaning – for the students and for me as the teacher!
Next week we’re talking all about finding and using bell ringers in a constructive way that enhances student learning and isn’t just a bunch of busy work that students come to loathe. Sounds good, right?
If you love our podcast, which I really hope you do, please share the podcast with your friends, tag us on social media @ebacademics, and just let me know that you’re here, hanging out with me every week!
To download this episode, just click here!
Want to listen to even more episodes?
- Episode #1: 3 Simple Ways to Create Student Buy In
- Episode #3: Constructive Criticism: How to Change Your Mindset and Be Open to Feedback
- Episode #6: Keeping Students Engaged through the End of the Year