30 Days of Back to School: Summer Reading Redux

How many times have you wished you had the power to change your school’s summer reading program? Well, maybe you do! I had all but given up on making major changes to the long list (250+ titles) that had been in place for years, but when there was a shift in the English department leadership, I jumped at the opportunity to suggest some significant changes in the list and the program.

In my first few years here, I had only managed to add a few contemporary YA titles. I also tried to move away from the paper-consuming process of printing a multi-page list for every one of our 700 students by creating a goodreads account with just the summer reading titles. It was a well-received shift and created a better visual impact – especially the “cover view” option – and also allowed for students to search for a book by genre and other tags. The paper version had been sorted alphabetically by title, with no other information except the author given. Goodreads was an improvement, but seemed like a tiny one. What I really wanted was to give students and teachers a place and time to talk books; for students to see that reading is a lifelong habit; that reading can actually be fun; AND that teachers read things that they don’t necessary teach about! To me, the writing prompt that had been used for years as a schoolwide assessment was unnecessary at best, and a hindrance to getting kids to read for pleasure, at worst.

‘ After the English department lost two long-time faculty members, I started talking to the other teachers about changing the list and the program. I brought some ideas to their department meetings, where the principal (a huge proponent of summer reading) was also present. I mostly wanted to focus on changing the list itself, so the choices might really entice students to read. Well, I got what I wanted, plus a whole lot more. After a lot of meetings and emails, and tons of title suggestions from me, we ended up with a list of about five choices per grade, each grade with a different overall theme.

The plan was (for me) to find or create a video book trailer for each title and present them in grade-level meetings towards the end of the school year. At that viewing, students would fill out a ballot with their top three choices and we would organize them into groups for the fall. The groups of students (and at least one teacher) who read the same book would get together in the fall and have an activity/discussion group about it. It sounded great, and it was, but it did take a huge amount of my time and energy both at the end of the school year and at the beginning. Now that the groups have been held, it appears to have been a great success, although there are several kinks to work out.

‘ We did open the list up to faculty input so that they could add titles they wanted to read and lead in the fall, but honestly, it was much too late in the game to really get them on board. We had only two titles added by other faculty members and those groups were both a huge success (not surprisingly). I found or created a book trailer – with the help of a librarian friend who happened to be subbing with me by chance – for almost every title. We had to teach ourselves Windows Movie Maker in order to do so, which thankfully ended up being pretty easy. It was a huge hit, and the students loved the trailers. We also set up a projector in the library and ran a loop of the trailers in case students missed the initial showing. A student-teacher created a wiki that would be accessible over the summer, where teachers could collect ideas for leading book groups. It wasn’t used much, but I expect as the program grows, it will be.

The logistics of managing who was reading what, and where everyone was supposed to be, were the hardest part, but now I know what to expect and it won’t be a problem next year. With the momentum we’ve created, we’ll be able to start earlier and finalize the groups before school ends.

On September 16, for two hours (the principal changed the day’s schedule to accommodate this new program), students and teachers got together and talked, wrote, painted to music (Boy Meets Boy), watched movie clips, played outside (The Hunger Games), created games (The Hot Zone), ate thematic foods and more: all about the books they had read.

‘ So, take the jump, but be ready for a lot of work, a lot of fun and a lot of kids and teachers talking about books!

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3 Comments

  1. Way to go! You have some great ideas in here. I take it much of the resistance to “old school” and “AP” books were from the older teachers. I think current YA lit is just as good if not better than old school any day. I just wish AP would update their testing.

    You are a great inspiration to those of us just starting out. Thanks for the suggestions.

  2. Megan Frazer Blakemore

    This looks fantastic! Nice work — I am sure this post will inspire a lot of school librarians to try something similar. I already emailed the head of my English department with a link.

  3. Rochelle Garfinkel

    And just an update…today I got a call from a faculty member telling me that he wants to lead a group on Krakauer’s Into Thin Air next year. It was completely unsolicited.

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