Sunday, September 7, 2014

Equality's Secret: Summer Reading Sunday

Share your own Sunday Series post on summer reading now through Halloween.
Link up in comments.  

Students at my school read two books for summer reading: a common title and a choice book. This year the common titles were:
9th grade: Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie by David Lubar
10th grade: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
11th grade: Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
12th grade: Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
For the choice book, students in my Pre-IB English II class are directed to read a classic. I inherited the choice assignment when I took a new teaching position last year and I've yet to modify it. As with any assignment there are aspects that work and aspects that do not.  I got quite a few emails during the summer asking to verify whether the book the student had chosen is a classic. I also found that students do not always understand genre: novel versus drama versus novella or short story. Several students emailed to ask if specific titles would fit the requirements, some did some did not.

The classic requirement challenged some tenth graders. I discovered as I walked through the media center after school last week students scoping out Spark Note classics. Sometimes students choose not to read.  I know full well that happens especially when choices are constrained. However, that is a topic for another day. For now I want to focus on summer reading and the assessment we are using to see where students are as readers, writers and thinkers.

My summer reading collage for Anthem by Ayn Rand.
To assess students levels of comprehension I ask them to complete a mini-collage about their choice book and to write about the symbols and colors they've used to represent ideas from the text. We do this during the first weeks of school. The art work and writing gives me a lot of initial data about what students know and are able to do.  When I assess the collage work I can see which students are able to maintain a clear focus in writing, which are able to paragraph or use an organizational patter, which are able to balance summary with explanation. Students' initial writing about the artwork they create reveals a lot.

I do the work I expect students to do. I've made collages for The Hunger Games, Divergent, and more. This year, I created one for Anthem. Though Anthem is a novella by definition and not a novel, I chose it to teach the difference and to book talk some short classics.

 Every year I learn something new when I do the summer reading work with students. Sometimes it's how the essay is difficult to start. Sometimes it is how to balance explanation of the artwork with summary of the book. One year I really thought about how students would embed quotations from the book. The collage gives students a way to talk about books analytically. They are not sharing a reveiw or writing a summary, though some students will default to those.

The writing that is more exercise than expression. Create something, then explain it in two pages or less. I don't think it's my best writing, but the writing helps me rehearse the story. A story I will tell when I share my collage in class, a story about the artwork, a story about the book and a story about my own thinking. If you'd like to read my write up scroll past the assignment in the documents embeded below.

Want to discuss summer reading? I'm going to use the next seven Sundays from now until Halloween to sift through my thinking around summer reading: assessment, research, believes, readers' rights, grading.  I want to explore my practice around the topic of summer reading. If you'd like to join in and share your thinking about summer reading or summer reading assignments grab a button and add a link to your post in a comment below. Then respond to at least two others.


  1. Hi Lee Ann. I'm sorry not to write a post, but feel like I can only respond to the experience of meeting with a group of students about their required summer read. One of our teachers of the older students just had a baby & won't return until October, so I volunteered to meet with her older students (most 8th grade, a few 7th) who read A Separate Peace, by John Knowles. We will meet for the 4th & final time next Tuesday. I've focused on the book as well as approaching any book in all its subtleties, symbols, characterization, this time-the limits of a first person narrative & why the author might choose to tell a story. These students are advanced readers, reading far beyond their age levels, have been able to connect more than anything about the connection of the feelings about war and about growing up-something rather tragic to me in the book. I love seeing your collage, will pass the idea on to these teachers as an idea for response. Hope your year has started well!

    1. Hi Linda,
      Sounds like those 7th and 8th graders (and the teacher out on leave) are lucky to have you! This morning I got to thinking about whether having students make art or write is valuable --we do it--but really, why does it matter to me or does it matter to students at all? I'm still thinking about that. I most like just talking to students or to readers about books. Sounds like your students get that with you talking with them about their summer reading. It's been quite a while since I read A Separate Peace by Knowles, but I can see how advance students in particular would connect to the books tragic. My year has started well, thank you. I trust yours has too!

  2. Hi Lee Ann -
    I had a free flow of thinking about this topic of summer reading. Your post last week had me reflecting on the practice of summer reading in general, and then connecting those reflections to some trucks we saw in the mountains of Maryland while traveling this summer. I'm not sure I'm even on-topic, but here are my reflections:

  3. Consider issues of access

  4. I always love the collage assignment...thinking about how to engage the other readers with digital creativity tools....Photo essay or video...etc...

  5. Art is so important to students' learning. I'm a big fan of Sunni Brown's ideas about doodling. I'm thinking about book collages and doodles as prewriting for essays.

    This week I asked students about their reading stories:

  6. I decided to just start with where I am and what has led me to this point.

  7. I'm slow, but I've done it. Sorry it's late!

    Are you all doing the brown bag anymore? Or your collage takes the place of that? I like the collage idea.

    1. Late, smate... there's not true deadline here, we're just thinking and sharing. Plus, you live on the other side of the world, Lee.