Saturday, July 28, 2012

Teens and Required Summer Reading


My son is heading into his Sophomore year of high school, and like most high school students, he has a list of required summer reading. I picked up his books from the library, and he grumbled about spending his summer reading books he doesn't want to read. "My friends said these books are really bad," and "They even smell old." It's a big topic of discussion between his friends on Facebook.

I have mixed emotions about this.

The Positive Side

  • I can understand why teachers do this. Their teaching time has been whittled down, but their teaching requirements have either increased or remained the same. They have a lot of material to cram into each school year, and they're doing what they need to do.
  • Required reading exposes kids to books they ordinarily wouldn't read. One of the books I was required to read (during the school year, not summer) was To Kill a Mockingbird. To this day, it remains one of my favorite books.

The Negative Side

  • We consider summer to be relaxed, family time. Our kids work hard for their good grades during the school year, and we feel that summer is the time to kick back and have fun. Required reading is a summer storm cloud that hangs over my son's head. Reading is one of my favorite summer pastimes, but my son would rather be hanging out with friends.
  • If kids could read any book they wanted, and write a report about it, there would probably be a lot less grumbling. I can relate to kids wanting to read what interests them. In high school, if someone had forced me to set aside Danielle Steel novels for the summer (stop laughing), I would've been very upset. Like adults, kids have different reading tastes. 

There is a direct correlation between forced reading and my son's reading habits. He's always loved nonfiction, and couldn't get enough of it. Novels? Not so much. Besides the Hunger Games trilogy, he isn't interested in fiction.

When he was forced to read from a certain list, his interest in reading lessened, and then dropped off a cliff. Perhaps it's his age...I don't know, he's my oldest. My hope is that once he's able to read what he wants, he'll become interested in reading again.

On the one hand, as a writer and avid reader, it saddens me that my son doesn't want to read during the summer. On the other hand, I can relate to his frustration about reading books he's not interested in during a time of rest.

What's your take on this? If you're a parent and went through this with your teens, did they eventually love reading? If you're a teen, do you welcome required summer reading? If you're a teacher, am I on or off the mark about why teachers assign summer reading? Any tips for making it easier on the kids?

32 comments:

  1. My oldest had specific summer reading, and she always ended up enjoying the book. My middle-schooler now has required reading, but she gets to choose the book.

    Both of my daughters were avid readers in elementary school, then they slacked off and lost interest in middle school. The older one began reading for pleasure again during her senior year. I'm hoping the younger one will get back into the game too.

    So, yeah, some teens have to be forced to read. And I think summer reading should be required.

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    1. That's great that your daughters love to read. Unfortunately, "forcing" usually ends up with unintended results, such as "hating" :(

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  2. I think letting the kid pick the book would be better. Maybe two books - one of their own choice and another from a specific genre. Forcing a kid to read something they don't like can make them dislike reading even more.

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    1. Alex, that's exactly what happened with my son. Once he was forced to read what he didn't like, he stopped reading for pleasure. Sad consequence.

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  3. I like the idea of picking your own book - fiction, non-fiction, whatever - and writing a book report which must include certain things depending on the book. That way kids get to choose what they read (which makes them more likely to read) and learn how to write well about what they have read and perhaps think about books differently than they had.

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    1. I think that idea...picking their own book. The kids would like that much better.

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  4. I had never even heard of required summer reading until this post. I know that if I were still in high school, and someone told me I had to read a specific book that didn't fit my interests, that book would never get read. (If you have a different teacher the next year, who's going to hold you accountable, anyway?) I was a voracious reader in middle school, but required reading made my independent reading slack off in high school. Fortunately, I picked it up again in college and haven't looked back. Kids should be able to read whatever they want in the summer.

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    1. That's my big beef...it's summer. I can understand it during the school year...

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  5. We don't have required summer reading in our boards. I'd never heard of it until I started blogging and heard from blogging friends about it. I think it's an awful idea! I think it would mostly turn student OFF reading which is the last thing a teacher or board should be doing. Crazy stuff!

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    1. Jemi, this is exactly the unintended consequences. These summer reading assignments are definitely turning kids OFF reading. It's sad.

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  6. Teacher hat - You've hit the nail on the head with the time element. Nowadays with furlough days to address budget cuts we lose between one and two weeks of teaching time during the year. That might not seem like a lot, but when you look at what we are required to teach in a year, it's an eternity.

    In elementary school our summer reading is in the incentive form, not a requirement. I've also found when kids can pick their own titles they are more likely to read.

    Parent hat - The only summer reading in our house was for my child with honor/AP classes. The required titles in her case all became beloved books.

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    1. Yeah, this is for AP english, but they're not the only ones with summer reading assignments. All english classes at this school were assigned summer reading. For many students, it's setting them up to fail. I know many of these kids aren't doing the required reading this summer. Heck, the honors students don't even want to do it :(

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  7. As a teen, I don't really mind required reading. Some classics or other assigned works, while I don't usually fall in love with them, are quite interesting in their own right.

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    1. That's my hope...that the kids will like the books, and eventually be glad they read them.

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  8. Been there, done that. My son, who's now going into college, had required reading & it destroyed his love of books. When he was little, he always had a book in hand. He read the first 4 available Harry Potter books in 5 weeks, and that's when he was 7. But later, the requirement meant that reading was a chore. I'm against it. I think kids should have the summer off. It's already a lot shorter than it was. They need that time to recharge. Requiring them to read books they aren't interested in during their free time does no real good. There's no lesson to learn without class discussion. It's fine to ask them to read, but let them read exactly what they want to read. For pleasure.

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    1. This is my position. It's summer!!! Instead of creating readers who love books, this is creating kids who look at reading as a chore. Hopefully they'll eventually learn to love reading again :(

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  9. My kids were always readers. I remember visiting some old classics along with them when they were in high school.

    To Kill A Mockingbird is one of my favs too.

    I remember reading - A Tree Grows In Brooklyn - during the summer of my sophomore year. I was so touched by the voice in that book. I had never experienced the poor, hard, city life that Francie had to live. I was hooked. It's another of my favs.

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    1. Loree, I sooo wish my son loved reading novels...especially classics. My hope is that he'll love some of these books, despite not wanting to read them :/

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  10. I"m fascinated by this discussion. Thanks so much for your input!

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  11. My son has trouble with reading too but he's not at the required reading stage--he'll be going into that soon however and I'm worried about it. He does read on his own here and there but he's not a big "book" person. My daughter, on the other hand, loves to read, though she's not crazy about the classics classrooms assign.

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    1. Traci, isn't it amazing how writers can have kids who don't love reading? I don't understand! My boys think I'm crazy for wanting to read all the time.

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  12. My kids all love to read, but two of them were reluctant at one point and I do believe that was largely due to required reading assignments in school. But then my oldest son got an English teacher that allowed some freedom in choosing reading material. He chose books about zombies and aliens and has been an avid reader ever since. My other son prefers how-to books and biographies of inventors. Doesn't care for fiction. He'll check out stacks of books about how jets are made, but barely finish a chapter in a novel. I say hey that's terrific. Drives my nuts when his teacher insists that she can only give him credit for reading fiction. What???? I tell him to read whatever he wants, and he does.

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  13. I used to hate reading in middle school, simply because I wasn't aware of the genre and the type of books that I love reading today. I didn't want to have to read "classics" that took forever to read just because it was so hard to comprehend back then. Sure, I ended up liking a couple of the books I read. But I dreaded summer reading. Like you mentioned, it just hung over my head and wouldn't get done until a couple weeks before school started. So many kids and teens today think they hate reading for that same exact reason that I did. I think it would be a good idea to instead allow kids to read what they want in the summer, like you mentioned, and write a report on it. I didn't actually start loving to read until I started homeschooling in 9th grade.

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  14. Ha, I loved reading as a teen, but I really didn't like the books I had to read for school. And I stubbornly didn't read them. Of course, once school was finished, I read many of those school texts and loved them, lol. I think it's a teen thing.

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  15. I haven't experienced that quite yet but as my son advances into middle school and I look for books in the teen section for him...um, I can understand why teen boys skip to adult books. There are a few and maybe he'll read them but nothing like the great books for boys that are upper middle grade. it's really too bad.

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  16. There IS a direct corelation between forced reading and reading habits. I'm have an English degree and am a law school drop which means I read very well before I ever started writing. But I didn't do it often, because I hated it. I'd never truly enjoyed anything I'd been forced to read, which meant I'd read a lot of books I didn't like. If I were a teacher I'd have the kids read X number of books over the course of the year in hopes they'd find something they enjoyed and could continue reader after the class.

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  17. Julie, Summer is a time for fun, and pleasure. And what would be so wrong to allow a child to read a book for pleasure? One of their choice. If we force our children to read something distasteful to their palate, then we turn them off to the flavor of reading. Allowing them to read what they want, keeps them reading. I totally disagree with this teacher. Reading is fun. We want our kids to feel that way too.

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  18. I completely relate to your mixed emotions. Luckily, my 1st grader and 4th grader just have to read and we read at bedtime anyway. But it makes me sad that my little guy doesn't seem to love it as much as the rest of us do. It's been much harder to find books he enjoys.

    I hope you and your son find a balance between summer fun and required reading. Good luck!

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  19. This has been so fascinating. Thanks so much for your input. I hope that one day, when they're not forced to read, that my three sons will read for pleasure.

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  20. I am opposed to summer reading lists, especially if it's dry 19th century "classics" that today's kids can't relate to. If they must be read those should be read during the school year. What I do support is to require kids to read a certain number of books (let's not be ridiculous, though -- besides enjoying the summer there are many kids who work full-time jobs) of their own choosing. Right now the YA field is flooded with books (some excellent, some not so good) and I think kids are astute enough to put a book down that doesn't attract their interest and to voraciously read those that do interest them. My 11-year old granddaughter has been reading all summer from YA books to Stephen King. There was one book, though, that was part of a series. She began the second book and put it down . . . just as I did (I didn't tell her). There's nothing wrong with not finishing a book. If an author of a series has so many characters and doesn't put them into context (their backstory) in the second book all you have is a name. Tyler didn't have a reading list. She just chose books that interested her. That's what the summer is for. Reading for enjoyment. Just reading is what's important.

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    1. Barry, thanks so much for your input. I tell ya, these lists are really turning my kids off of reading. They used to enjoy it, but now they think it's boring. And I know it's because they're reading books they don't like. Why not let them choose their summer reading? Then during the year, assign them the boring books. Oy.

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