Assigned reading equals summertime blues in my book

Dad Days of Summer: While Momania’s Theresa Walsh Giarrusso takes a vacation, local dad and sportswriter Andy Johnston will be filling in. You can e-mail him at ajcmomania@gmail.com.

A quick Google search showed me something that I hadn’t thought much about because we haven’t reached this stage with Ty, who will be in kindergarten this year.

Two questions:

  1. When did teachers begin assigning books for their classes to read over the summer?
  2. Whatever happened to summer vacation?
Andy and his son Ty.

Andy and his son Ty.

At one high school, the advanced placement English class must read “The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck and “Into the Wild” by Jon Krakauer and then study essays that other people wrote about those books.

Another high school assigned “Lord of the Flies” to sophomores, “The Scarlet Letter” to juniors and Aristotle’s “Poetics” – have they made a movie of that? – to juniors and “King Lear” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” to seniors. In addition, the students were expected to write lengthy answers to questions about the books and journal about them, providing “reactions, analysis, and interpretations of your reading.”

Another school assigned two books to students in the regular English classes and told the AP students that they must read those two in addition to their other reading.

I’ve always read a lot, which pleased my mom, who was a teacher, but I probably didn’t read anything other than the sports section during my summers in high school. I couldn’t have given you a reaction, analysis or interpretation of anything other than reruns of “Hogan’s Heroes” or “Gilligan’s Island.”

Most of my friends tore up their notebooks and left the pieces on the bus on the last day of class.

I didn’t take AP classes in high school, but knew plenty of kids who did and don’t remember them ever having to read anything on summer break. Theresa, who is several years younger than me, said she had to read books over the summer for her AP world history classes.

I think it’s ridiculous to ask kids to assign kids to read over their summer break. What do you think?

Is it limited to AP classes, or do other students have to read all summer?

Are your kids doing their assigned summer reading? What are they reading?

Do you think it’s fair that they are expected to read during their so-called summer break?

What did you have to read over the summer when you were in school?

- By Andy Johnston, for the Momania blog

68 comments Add your comment

malleesmom

July 18th, 2011
1:15 pm

My middle schooler has a summer reading/writing assignment. It counts as her first grade for the upcoming school year. It drives me nuts!!! Last year there was a choice of five books for incoming 6th graders. I believe there is only one choice for 7th grade. If she hadn’t dropped her PROBE (i.e. gifted) language arts class, there would be two books and corresponding assignments. Oddly enough the middle schools surrounding our cluster do not have summer assignments, but ours does. That begs the question, why isn’t the standard the same across the county system? (Another topic for another day LOL) So yes my child has a summer assignment. She read Hope Was Here (great book), I do not think it’s fair. I ready nothing but brain-candy over the summer. It should stay that way. That’s my two cents.

Shannon

July 18th, 2011
1:27 pm

My daughter is an incoming 4th grader at a private school. She has to read three books over the summer and take the AR test for each book before the first day of school. Two down one to go. You definitely can’t be carefree over the summer. I have to stay on top of her reading because the summer goes by so fast!

motherjanegoose

July 18th, 2011
1:35 pm

My kids have always had summer reading. Of course, my kids would have read even if they did not have summer reading as they usually loved to read. They usually were not all that thrilled about the titles on the list but sometimes they were surprised and even enjoyed them. Sometimes, the book was passed to me with a “you might like this.”

A friend I have known for years, has just read the summer book her son is assigned to read before his freshman year in college. It was posted on her Facebook account:

Just finished reading ( book title) ….( son’s name) has to read it as the summer reading assignment for the ( name of college) Honors College. He’s gonna hate it. I figured he would so I read it first so I could help him along.

Do other parents actually read their kid’s college assignments to help them out? Maybe I am really out of the loop here?

Both of mine were required only one semester of English in college…they tested out of anything else. My guess is that this will eliminate a lot of class reading assignments for them. Maybe all that reading saves money in the long run during college?

Daughter knew a HS English teacher who put My Sister’s Keeper by Jody Picoult on the reading list.
Many kids saw the movie and thought they were set. On the day of the test, the teacher announces:

“Before we take the test, I just want to thank those of you who read the book. There are several questions on this test that you would not know the answer to, if you only saw the movie.”

TOO FUNNY!

HB

July 18th, 2011
1:42 pm

I had to read 2 or 3 books each summer for Pre-AP and AP English classes 15+ years ago at two different south Georgia high schools, so I think this has been around and fairly common for a while. We read a lot during the year too, though, so I don’t remember which ones were summer books. I think To Kill a Mockingbird was a summer assignment.

MomsRule

July 18th, 2011
1:43 pm

I have two boys, one going into 7th and the other into 10th. Both are in advanced courses and the 10th grader will be taking his first AP course in August.

To date they have never received summer reading lists. The oldest did get a list of optional extra credit activities that he could work on over the summer for his AP class. I was very proud of him as he took the initiative to complete 5 assignments the first 5 weeks of summer break. (The max he could complete of that particular activity.)

The youngest has been reading a couple of books over the summer as Mom made reading a requirement.

We have always encouraged reading but I would not be a fan of “required” reading over the summer. I prefer to use this time for the boys to pursue their own reading interests VS feeling like they are still in school.

I never had assigned reading during the summer months while I was in school but I loved to read and spent hours doing so.

Lori

July 18th, 2011
1:46 pm

I remember having assigned reading over the summer when I was in high school, but it was for AP English. I didn’t like it because the books were boring to me, but it didn’t really take me all that long to get through them, so I didn’t have a huge problem with it.

My son is going into 2nd grade, so they didn’t have assigned reading. However, I have been making him read anyway. I don’t think 20 – 30 minutes of reading everyday is going to kill his summer break, and since he’s so young and still learning the fundamentals of reading, sounding out words, and comprehension, I felt it necessary to make sure he didn’t backslide over the summer. But I wouldn’t have had any problems with the teachers assigning a few books for him, in fact I would have welcomed it. I am less knowledgeable about what books at the store are on his reading level, so advice from his teachers would have been fantastic!

HB

July 18th, 2011
1:48 pm

MJG, a girl at my school wrote an essay on light imagery in The Natural citing Roy Hobbs’ homerun ball sailing up into lights at the end…oops!

jarvis

July 18th, 2011
1:50 pm

MJG, your friend needs to get a life. She is a product of an overbearing mother left with an empty nest.
Stop doing your kid’s work for God’s sake.

homeschooler

July 18th, 2011
2:10 pm

@ Lori – Magic Tree House books are the bomb for 2nd grade boys. (if he’s not into Chapter books yet, take turns reading with him). Little kids should definately be expected to read over the summer. My kids read every night. No assignments, just a habit to read before bed.

@ MomsRule I definately agree. Encourage but don’t assign. Summer is a great time to let kids read for enjoyment. Most kids don’t get a chance to “choose” what to learn about. Unfortunately, most won’t read anything if they are not forced.

Too funny about the “My Sister’s Keeper”. The book and movie are completely different. And that was such a great book. Why wasn’t I ever assigned books like that to read? Beats the heck out of Alas Babylon and Wuthering Heights.

I was never assigned summer reading. Seems like it has always been an AP thing that has now moved into mainstream.

Summers are short enough. Let’s just not worry about “assignments”.

Mary

July 18th, 2011
2:18 pm

I had summer reading for AP English in the early ’80s. Almost 30 years ago, so yeah…..it’s been around for a while.

Techmom

July 18th, 2011
2:27 pm

I loathe required summer reading. I have to oversee and monitor school work during the year and I would like the break! My son’s school requires 1 book for regular English and 2 for Advanced/AP which I don’t feel is totally awful except they have to annotate the books and some of them are just not fun reading. The annotation totally takes the fun out of reading even if it is a good book. The books typically result in 3 grades the first week of school (annotation, test, and an essay grade). I would rather see the teachers assign a book that is actually enjoyable and not require the annotation. My opinion is that if the book is enjoyable, it will get read and remembered.

Here is the summer reading list for his school:
9th – Mythology, To Kill a Mockingbird
10th -Peace Like a River, The Sword in the Stone
11th – The Education of Little Tree, The Glass Menagerie, The Scarlet Letter (AP only)
12th – Their Eyes Were Watching God, Wuthering Heights, The Grapes of Wrath (AP only)

5th – 8th graders are allowed to pick from a list of books on the Children’s Book Award Nominee List or they can submit a request for another book but it must be pre-approved. Then the students have to do 3 or 4 activities from a list of about 20. They include things like: create a 20-word dictionary, make a book jacket, make a poster advertising your book, etc. Most aren’t difficult activities, I just am not a fan of requiring this type of work over the summer.

motherjanegoose

July 18th, 2011
2:28 pm

@ homeschooler….I have not seen the move but have now read all of her books and enjoyed them as she was a new author to me. I am not big on movies. My sister wants to see The Help with me. I read it when TWG recommended it last fall and that was a BIG hard back book to lug on the airplane.
I think the movie looks good, we saw the previews while on vacation.

April

July 18th, 2011
2:35 pm

I require summer reading for my students. I do not think it is too much to ask a student to spend a few hours preparing for the next year. I carefully choose the books and make sure they are entertaining and interesting to the students. There are also some choices.
Kids who are serious about sports or any other activity would not dream of taking 2-3 months off without practicing those skills. Academics should be the same way.

As parents you have to teach your children to have a love for reading and learning. If you adopt the attitude that reading a book is a boring chore that should be confined to a classroom, you are almost guaranteed that your child will feel the same way. There are some exceptions to this, of course.

April

July 18th, 2011
2:35 pm

I require summer reading for my students. I do not think it is too much to ask a student to spend a few hours preparing for the next year. I carefully choose the books and make sure they are entertaining and interesting to the students. There are also some choices.
Kids who are serious about sports or any other activity would not dream of taking 2-3 months off without practicing those skills. Academics should be the same way.

As parents you have to teach your children to have a love for reading and learning. If you adopt the attitude that reading a book is a boring chore that should be confined to a classroom, you are almost guaranteed that your child will feel the same way. There are some exceptions to this, of course.

Techmom

July 18th, 2011
2:42 pm

@MJG – you need a Kindle!

jarvis

July 18th, 2011
2:48 pm

April, why reading and not science experiments? Last time I checked, we aren’t trailing the world in literacy.

jarvis

July 18th, 2011
2:53 pm

Also, how exactly is requiring reading going to teach a child that reading isn’t a chore?

April

July 18th, 2011
2:53 pm

@jarvis – if I taught science, I might just assign science experiments for the summer, but I don’t. I teacher language arts. I do try to find books that are both entertaining and educate across the curriculum. There are many good fiction books that contain important facts about history, science, math, and foreign languages.

MomsRule

July 18th, 2011
2:59 pm

@jarvis – good points.

Concerned parent

July 18th, 2011
3:04 pm

We had summer reading requirements in the 80s and early 90s but we didn’t have assignments and we could pick books from a really long list (many were not your traditional school books and were more fun-type reading). I think it’s important to keep using your mind during summer but wouldn’t want my kids to have to spend hours doing projects (although I do require mine to read every night).

April

July 18th, 2011
3:06 pm

Summer reading for me is less pressure. There is a longer time frame in which to get it done. I think the attitude of both the teacher and the parent are important. I never approach reading as a chore – “Tomorrow, we GET to read a great story about a boy about your age who is faced with a tough decision.” instead of, “OK, you HAVE to read this story whether you like it or not.”

I also put a lot of thought into the books I choose. I listen to what my students like and find interesting. I also read a tremendous number of books aimed at middle school students to find ones that bring a different perspective, setting, or conflict to the genre.

With my own children, I talk about their books with them, and we discuss what is entertaining and interesting. We do not spend time griping that the book is boring or taking time away from tv or video games.

tmom

July 18th, 2011
3:09 pm

Summers are already short – don’t fill them up with required reading……Many libraries have summer reading programs that parents can enroll their kids in if they wish. For some kids, their summer already is full of ball practice, cheer practice, or band practice. Let them have some lazy summer days!!!! Also, how do teacher’s treat kids who transfer from one school to another during the summer who did not “benefit” by getting the summer list

louise

July 18th, 2011
3:24 pm

In the 60’s in NY I had to read ‘Ivanhoe’ entering the seventh grade!! Awful, it was. Summer reading has been around forever.

jarvis

July 18th, 2011
3:29 pm

As much as this may pain some to hear this, reading for enjoyment isn’t for everyone. Just like any other activity some people like it, and some people don’t. I’m a highly active person (diagnosed with ADD as a child). Sitting still for hours on end looking at the same pile of bound paper is not enjoyable to me. In fact, it is torture.

I took speed reading in preparation for grad school. This has allowed me to swallow up the information in books, but it does not mean I enjoy the time spent looking at the pages.

Rsmom

July 18th, 2011
3:35 pm

Has anyone watched Transcendent Man? Now that’s how to spend a summer!

We are doing science experiments this summer. I hate how reading, especially fiction, has the huge emphasis in our school system. Not everyone will be a marketing major. Somebody has to invent the stuff to market.

In the gifted program at our school, my son spent his time writing book reports on Amelia Bedelia. How did that harness his intellect? Now he wants out of the gifted program.

I think the emphasis on reading comes from the school system being run by liberal arts majors who don’t like math and science.

This is being reflected in the economy and the huge section of the unemployed who are becoming unemployable because they read Grapes of Wrath (great book) instead of learning the sum of 3 triangle angles = 180.

Lachandra

July 18th, 2011
3:37 pm

My children attend Atlanta Public Schools and they don’t know how to read or write but they keep doing so darn well on that CRCT.

D

July 18th, 2011
3:43 pm

All through high school (I graduated 15 years ago) I had 3 works of summer reading plus summer math sets to complete. We were tested on the books the first week back, and the math was the first major grades we received that year. I went to public school in Savannah, and everyone I knew had the same level of work to do during the summer.

D

July 18th, 2011
3:49 pm

We read:
The Scarlet Letter
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
There Eyes Were Watching God
Run With The Horsemen
Whisper of the River
Song of Solomon

In the summers between the 10th and 11th and 11th and 12th grades. I don’t remember what we read in earlier years though.

DB

July 18th, 2011
3:52 pm

@Andy: You’re a writer, and you don’t believe in summer reading? You think it’s “ridiculous”? Really? There’s a disconnect there so wide I can’t wrap my head around it!

I don’t see where “summer reading” is any different from any other kind of reading, or onerous– our family has always read voraciously. Books are windows to the world — I’m sorry, but this topic is going to be difficult for me to grasp the other side’s argument, because I honestly cannot imagine a life without at least a couple of books being devoured at any given time, and a pile of books beside the couch in the den and a different pile beside the bed. Both of my kids are big readers, too, even now. Staying up late in the summer, reading until 1 or 2 am, was one of the delights of summer!

My kids usually had at least three summer reading books going through school — and in high school, there was the required reading that had to be completed by the first day of school (second day of English class was a test on the book). There was also a “teacher’s choice” book. In the spring, you signed up for a book sponsored by a high school teacher, and in the fall, they participated in a book discussion about that book with that teacher. The books were as varied as “Atlas Shrugged” to “Freakonomics” and “Gone With The Wind”, depending on the teacher’s preference. My son enjoyed choosing books by favorite teachers to see what kind of books appealed to them and to get to know them better.

At my son’s university, they had to read a book before freshman year — I don’t think there was any penalties if they didn’t, and there was a discussion group they were required to attend, but it was pretty loose. I read the book, too (”The Death of Innocents” by Sr. Helen Prejean), but only because I had always meant to and we were on a car trip when he finished it, so I picked it up. Not to help him with it — he sure didn’t need my help with a book at that point! — but we enjoyed discussing her views on the death penalty. After freshmen year, the kids always preferred to order the books for the next semester as early as possible to get a leg up on the reading — especially my son, with his reading-intensive majors.

D

July 18th, 2011
3:52 pm

We also read To Kill A Mockingbird and The Once and Future King between 8th and 9th grades.

Could be worse

July 18th, 2011
3:55 pm

When I started 9th grade in 1994 in Gwinnett Co. I had to read 3 books and write essays (literary analysis, not book reports) on 2 of them, and we were tested on the third during the first week of school. This continued for the next 2 years. For AP English (Fall 1997) I had to read 6 books. I don’t remember all the assignment we had for that summer, a couple of essays, journal entries, etc. Then we were tested on one of the books during the first week of school. And there was a whole unit on Hamlet when school started (yes, we had to read Hamlet during the summer). For AP European History that year, I also had to read 2 books and write a book report on one of them. The other was the textbook we used and we had to read several chapters and answer questions on the reading. And there was a book for AP Econ (Worldly Philosophers), but I don’t think there were any assignment with that one.

I’m a librarian now, and it amazed me when I worked for the county library what books were on the summer reading lists. All the books on the very prescribed lists I had in high school were classics. These kids could read a Nicholas Sparks or a Stephen King book!

HB

July 18th, 2011
3:55 pm

“Also, how do teacher’s treat kids who transfer from one school to another during the summer who did not “benefit” by getting the summer list”

In my case, by giving me the first 6 weeks of the school year to finish the two books everyone else read during the summer, while juggling the current books we were reading and all my other homework. Plus, I had already read one of the summer books for my previous school before I knew we were moving. That summer and fall sucked.

Longtime Educator

July 18th, 2011
4:01 pm

@April at 2:35…Thank you! The parental attitudes regarding doing a bit of reading and maybe even some math review over the summer is why I retired after 33 years. I still loved teaching and loved working with the kids, but I couldn’t continue to fight parental apathy regarding their child’s academic success. And before I get flamed, yes, I had many wonderful parents and students, but the tendency to ignore nightly reading and math facts help was becoming the norm. I couldn’t do it alone for 25 kids with the amount of NCLB paperwork piled on top of my normal teacher’s workload.

Kate

July 18th, 2011
4:01 pm

@ Jarvis and Rsmom, AMEN! Could not agree with you more.

I personally enjoy recreational reading, but do I believe that it’s a mark of intelligence? Absolutely not. It’s just a matter of personal preference. There are plenty of other worthwhile things you can use your brain for, and, frankly, finding a hobby which requires more social skills might be a better use of your time.

Mike

July 18th, 2011
4:11 pm

Aren’t we something like 20th worldwide in overall education now? Nevertheless, my kids have three full months to bring the crops in.

CDW

July 18th, 2011
4:24 pm

I always had summer reading (2-4 books, depending on the grade) and was tested on them at the beginning of school. I love to read, but I hated being told what to read. The summer assignments always waited until the last, and sometimes even then I didn’t get to them, even though I may have read 3 or 4 other books of my own choice over break.

I went to a large local private school. To this day I don’t see the point. I don’t think they contributed to my overall level of education (I have college and graduate degrees) and would have done just fine without them. But then again, I read for the enjoyment of it, not to pick a book apart and analyze it.

anne

July 18th, 2011
4:27 pm

I’m not sure why people are surprised about these assignments. Summer reading is not new to me. I had similar summer reading and writing assignments as those listed, including Beowulf in the summer before senior year in high school, while growing up. However, I am almost 60 and went to school in Wisconsin. Perhaps different states had different standards then.

My daughter entiers H.S. next month. Her science/math teachers have assigned “Jurassic Park”. I think it’s kind of cool that even the science and math teachers have required reading.

Green

July 18th, 2011
4:30 pm

My children have never needed a summer reading list because they love to read and learn all the time! They are quite better than your children, all of you reading this. And do you know why my children are better? Because I deserve it.

April

July 18th, 2011
4:37 pm

Academic skills are like any other skills – they require practice for mastery.

If a parent commented on this blog that his or her child was allowed to avoid physical activity during the summer because he/she “did not find it enjoyable” that parent would be blasted and bombarded with evidence and stats about the obesity epidemic.

The obesity problem is real, and so is the crisis we face in education. Until parents work with and support educators to make learning important to this generation, we will see no improvement. Maybe summer reading requirements are not the perfect solution, but they are far better than the complete lack of brain stimulation that many children would engage in without them.

atlmom1

July 18th, 2011
4:40 pm

I’m reading “the case against homework” now. And it talks a little bit about all this ‘assigned’ reading and how horrible it is.
I don’t think it is horrible for kids to have a ‘work free’ summer. My child reads ALL THE TIME. He doesn’t need an assignment to do it.
I think the problem is that there are too many kids who would do nothing but watch tv. so these assignments are to get them to read. the problem is that they start to hate reading even more and are even less likely to ever read for pleasure.
as for AP classes, if one chooses to enroll in them, then I think that, yes, they should have the assigned reading for the summer. but from what i recall, they only assigned reading for the classes, not essays and journaling or answering questions or any of the other things that make kids hate reading…

Roekest

July 18th, 2011
4:42 pm

In a country that’s obsessed with American Idol, Jersey Shore, and The Emmy’s, kids in this country need a whole lot more than reading assignments during the summer.

Ylloh

July 18th, 2011
4:50 pm

My daughter is entering the 7th grade and has to do reading logs (basically mini-reports of books that she reads over the summer) and a page of math problems. All of this is due the 1st or 2nd week of school.

Jeff

July 18th, 2011
4:57 pm

Uhg. Never been a reader. Can’t focus long enough.

If only it were 3 mos long!

July 18th, 2011
5:11 pm

April, I don’t know about where you live, but school year here in the metro ATL (and other parts of GA) is barely 2 months.

the dude

July 18th, 2011
5:25 pm

If reading a couple books over the summer is a major burden, maybe your kid should be in summer school period.

motherjanegoose

July 18th, 2011
5:45 pm

@ Techmom…I just traded in books at BOOKS FOR LESS Mall of Ga. My account has almost $900 in credit…this is half of the retail value of the books. I love to read but I love holding a book. I have entertained having a Kindle but am not sure if I would like it as I am not good with most things electronic.

Carla

July 18th, 2011
5:53 pm

I really don’t see a problem with it. My son’s teacher sent home his homework folder with a small amount of work each day of summer…and he is going into 1st Grade. If the kids would retain more during the summer time off, teacher’s wouldn’t have to focus so much time at the beginning of a school year re-teaching things from the year before. Maybe this isn’t as big of a problem in higher grades? I understand some kids don’t enjoy reading, but reading and understanding what was read are important skills for every other subject. Just my thoughts.

Carla

July 18th, 2011
5:55 pm

@mothergoose, I felt the same way about the ereader until I actually got one. I thought I would miss the feel of the book in my hand…but after lugging the ereader around vs real books…well, I’m sold! LOL

BlondeHoney

July 18th, 2011
5:59 pm

April, I’m on your side which makes me the minority here. I was very surprised to see on this blog many summer reading assignments that I read as a kid for pleasure. As for not having any summer, every year my two boys attended summer school and not because they had to, because they actually liked it and I encouraged it (this was in Florida). I didn’t want them to lose that discipline of the school year over the summer months and it has paid off with two successful college graduates, one a chemical engineer. And they both still love reading :)

RJ

July 18th, 2011
6:00 pm

My daughter’s private school used to not only give summer reading beginning in Kindergarten, but they also had work to complete over Christmas and Spring break. Don’t know how much it helped, but we enjoyed reading together. She also had to read books prior to World History AP class. I personally don’t get the point. Let them rest!