When I started at my school three years ago, all three departments had separate ideas about what makes a successful summer reading program. The Administration wanted results and proof of assessment, the English department wanted students to read a wide variety of eclectic books and, as the new Librarian, I wanted students to enjoy reading again. I remember getting to know the students during my first year and asking them how they liked the summer reading book. Many hadn’t read it, since they knew from past years that there was no assessment to be passed in or graded. Of the handful who read it, mistakenly thinking they would be tested on it, only a few enjoyed it. I remember thinking that it was going to take some time and lots of effort to change this program around.
That first year, I read many books that other schools had used as summer reading books in order to find engaging reads for the students. I took informal polls with my avid student readers about what books they would recommend for a summer read. I was so excited that change was coming and I was ready to revamp the whole program. I had just forgotten one major thing. I was new.
Being new is a great thing. You come in with a new perspective and ideas for improvements. You see all the pros and cons of a place with no previous judgement (in theory). I love meeting new people because they offer new perspectives and ideas. This is especially helpful in libraries since it’s easy to fall into the rhythm of days, weeks and years and the problem or issue that first stumped you, you’ve now learned to deal with or work around.
Change is hard though. Change can be scary. I had big ideas and big plans. When I brought these ideas to the Administration and English Department, I hadn’t realized how different these new ideas and plans would seem to them. Some of my ideas were acted on, others were not. And that’s ok.
The following summer reading had many bumps in the road. My idea of having a grade based reading program (9th grade reads one book, 10th grade reads a different book, etc) was taken into consideration and enacted upon. Some teachers welcomed my reading suggestions for their grade, while others chose their own. That year, the departments agreed that assessing students would happen in the classroom, to be decided separately by each teacher and a guest speaker would come talk to the High School about our community read to wrap up the end of the program.
From this experience, I found that teachers needed a common rubric for more equal grading across the board and that a guest speaker every year was unsustainable. Student feedback was that they enjoyed some books while other grades hated their read. The common denominator was that students enjoyed more current and modern books that they could relate to. The grades that got these books recommended the books to upper and lower grades so that more students were reading.
Teachers took this feedback and asked for more current book suggestions for their classes. I was also earning the faculty’s trust as a resource and they were taking my suggestions more often. By year two, I was able to suggest diverse, culturally relevant, social justice themed books for the summer reading program and we agreed to ditch the titles that were dragging the program down. My opinions were taken with consideration and we were able to create an effective summer reading program.
Before school released in June, our departments had worked together tirelessly on how to assess summer reading so that students would both a) do the reading and b) still enjoy the book. We offered a choice of five assignments for their summer reading so that students could choose one assignment that interested them. The assignments ranged from writing poems, developing a picture book or graphic novel, narratives from a character's perspective and more. The assignments all had a rubric for common grading assessments so that teachers graded with similar standards. See the full book list, assignments and rubric from our 2018 Summer Reading program here.
The most joyous part about this years summer reading is that students actually read and enjoyed the books! They came into the library after the first day of school wanting to talk to me and my staff about the summer reading. They connected with the books and enjoyed learning about the different perspectives that each one offered. Teachers said that students had meaningful discussions about the texts and the students turned in some great work!
Now, I’m not saying that our program is perfect. We still have a few kinks to work out. However, with great teamwork and an open mind, we are on our way to having a solid summer reading program that engages our students with current texts that they can enjoy on their break.
I am grateful that my English Department trusted my suggestions enough to read them before hand, agree that they could integrate them into our curriculum and promote the summer reading books to our students before school ended. The English Department and the Library Department has really become a strong team where we are constantly striving to engage our students in the texts and enjoy their reading materials.
Students were asked to read the following books during the summer of 2018:
- Incoming 7th Graders read The Misfits by James Howe
- Incoming 8th Graders read Flying Lessons & Other Stories by Ellen Oh
- All Middle Schoolers also read (Community Read) Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhai Lai
- Incoming 9th Graders read Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
- Incoming 10th Graders read Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Saenz
- Incoming 11th Graders read Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
- Incoming 12th Graders read The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas
For Summer 2019, we plan to retain these choices and add one or two more per grade level to give students more options.