Why I like summer reading

Image by CarbonNYC via Flickr. Used under cc license.

I’m supposed to hate summer reading assignments, right? I’m supposed to be writing a post right now about letting kids be kids and letting them have their summer while simultaneously saying that learning goes beyond my classroom, right? Yeah, not so much. I happen to like the idea of summer reading, at least for my advanced students who have to read Camus’ The Stranger and Yann Martel’s Life of Pi.

I like that I don’t have to waste time at the beginning of the year and on the second day of school we get to hit the ground running on a discussion of the two books they read and that those two books come up repeatedly in discussions about other books throughout the year.

I like that said discussions easily go beyond plot rehash and delve into the philosophical subtext, much of which is challenging–either to their own beliefs or because they haven’t spent a lot of time discussing philosophy in English class. I like that as a result of reading these two books, they learn an important academic lesson: there’s liking a book and there’s finding a book useful and sometimes those two are actually separate. Now, I don’t like the idea of an assignment to go along with summer reading. I don’t find reading logs useful–what the heck am I going to do with all of this paperwork? I don’t check students’ notes the first day of school–in my mind, they’re advanced students, they should have read the book, and if they didn’t they’d better well know how to b.s. their way through it. And I don’t give a quiz on day one, either–in fact, I assign the first paper of the year by the end of the first week, which I find more useful because they’ll write four more during the year, each with an increasing page count. In other words, I make sure that it’s part of the course rather than just a summer assignment. So as with so many things that get pissed and moaned about, it’s not the idea that is terrible, it’s the way its gone about. Imagine that.

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