The question of the summer reading slump some kids experience came up during the NPR show on Friday. My response was to advocate for programs that turn all kids into book owners, those programs that buy books for families and kids who might not otherwise have books in the home. Give them fresh new books that they get to read and keep forever!
At one point a mention was made of other media — magazines, newspapers, comics, etc. I didn’t weigh in then, but will now — any sort of print reading seems great to me. If a kid wants to read news accounts of sports, that is totally fine with me. The point is that he or she reads. Doesn’t have to be a narrative, fiction or nonfiction. Just something that has them dealing with the shape, sound, and meaning of words; it all helps them to build stamina, confidence, fluency, and enjoyment. Summer reading is leisure reading for all of us and I think it very important to do everything we can to support developing readers so they begin to see reading as a fun leisure activity and develop reading confidence.
And while I absolutely agree with my fellow-guests that there are books of varying quality out there and it is important to help kids and parents figure out which is which, I also feel it is very, very, very important to support young readers in their summer/leisure reading by celebrating pretty much whatever they choose to read even if it isn’t something we think is particularly well-written. Keeping kids reading over the summer is key to avoid that dreaded slump, weak readers most of all, and so for the summer I’m for every sort of book, magazine, online site, and anything else with text and words that makes a kid want to read on.
I feel differently about the school year. As an expert reader I do feel that I can help my fourth grade students learn more about books, about good books, about good writing. I do think school is the place to teach about best, better, and not-so-great texts. And so I do read aloud books to my class and have my 4th grade students study the best together, all the while supporting them as they choose their own books to read as well. While continuing to celebrate those personal reading choices, I want to help them develop their critical capacities — to be able to recognize the elements that make one book better than another. Because I know my students will be getting more and more assigned books to read in future years, as well as developing their scholarly acumen, I want them to have time to determine just what their own tastes are as a reader and to have plenty of time to read the books they personally love most. For more about how I teach reading go to this post.
A few years ago I wrote a parody about required summer reading. Thought it might be worth reposting for those who missed it. Enjoy!
To require, or not to require, that is the question: Whether 'tis safer for the child to tackle The tomes and texts of summer reading, Or to rest after a year of standards, And by resting be just fine? To bore: to make tedious: No more; and by saying no required reading we end The heart-ache and the hundreds of pages down That eyes are following, 'tis a consummation Urgently to be wish'd. To bore, to make tedious To read: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub; for in required reading what dreams may come When they are reading not what they chose, It must give us pause: there's the worry That makes calamity of so long a summer; For who would otherwise bear the scores of tests, The teacher's wrong, the greater authorities correct, The pangs of summer fun, the sandlot game's delay, The insolence of NCLB and the spurns That patient scoring of the unworthy tests, When the grader himself might his intellect make content with a book? who would a library visit, To read and turn pages under a flickering light, But oh that dread of something after Labor Day, No matter the undiscover'd book in whose pages No child is lost, or left behind And indeed makes us happier for we have played with others and enjoyed the sun! But required reading make cowards of us all; Teachers and parents unresolved Are sicklied 'oer with the pale cast of thought, Is casual fun of greater import and meaning In this regard than our children's future? And so we go --- required summer reading all! The fair child! Innocent, in our eyes Be all our beliefs --- read required, read.