Thursday, July 20, 2017

Parents vs. Schools Regarding Required Summer Reading: Both Miss the Point

My eighth grade daughter has "recommended" summer reading activities. 

She is expected to come up with three goals, write out a plan as to how she is going to accomplish them, and fill out a chart of her "summer learning activities" (this requires an "Authorized Signature", which I assume means me??, and a spot on the grid to write how it made her Grow).

There is also a suggested reading list with books selected from the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC)’s 2017 Summer Reading List for Grades 6-8. I haven't heard of any of them, and I'm pretty sure my daughter hasn't either. None of them exactly pique my interest, and I'm a voracious reader (I should note that this particular daughter is not, although you can see from the pic below that she once enjoyed books)

Image may contain: one or more people, people sitting, child and indoor

There is also a link to a lesson plan that teachers were apparently supposed to go over with students at the end of the school year. According to my daughter, this did not happen, and the message she got from her teacher was not to waste her time because nobody cares anyway. Part of me wants to applaud her teacher for her honesty with her students regarding this.

The whole thing is asinine, in my opinion as both a parent and a certified English teacher.

And, as you can imagine, some people in my city are going wild on the issue. Largely on Facebook, of course, but this is probably where you'll get the most honest feedback.

Some samples (All SIC):
* "I don't agree with [mandatory reading over the summer] at all. Both my boys are working full time and involved with family activities. They work hard in school all year and this is the time for them to just be kids. I'm not going to spend my summer forcing my boys to read. It's time to relax and recoup. It is not a time for more school-related pressures."

* "Most kids were burned out of reading after the reading challenge in elementary school making them read makes them despise it."

* "Between football starting next week--ugh--working, visiting family, and dare I say it, just being a kid, there leaves little time to get all this done. It's too much."

* "I think summer vacation means vacation away from school. If you had a vacation off from work and they asked you to do something over that time period you'd think twice about it. J/S."

There are many, many more, but that probably makes the point. And, to be completely fair, there are lots of intelligent, invested parents rebutting these kinds of statements.

Like me, they seem to focus on the idea that kids should be reading *something* in the summer, not just a book from an arbitrary list. Like me, many are appalled that some see reading as such little value. Like me, the idea that having to find time for reading is troubling bothers them.

Children should NOT stop learning because it is summer vacation. My daughter has learned, to give a small sampling, how to put up a pool and monitor chemicals, how to cook a meal, how to hike, how to teach her little sisters to swim, how to beat Super Mario Brothers, how to zipline, how to do different types of French braids, how to survive her first sleepaway camp, how to play the ukelele, how to master gymnastics skills she's been practicing ...

She has also been reading, albeit reluctantly.

She reads a graphic novel series that her father buys one of each month for her. She's reading Thirteen Reasons Why because she was interested in the difference between the book and the Netflix series and whether the story was helpful or harmful to teens (we are both English teachers, so she's heard lots of conversation on that topic) and wanted to be educated enough to weigh in.

She is currently at sleepaway camp (I miss her so much ...), but when she gets back, we are going to require structured reading time. We are going to know what she is reading and discuss it with her. We are going to recommend books to her and read them along with her. She will not love this, of course, because she is not a natural reader, but she will go along because she understands that reading, that learning, is important.

I am not going to require her to fill out those forms but instead keep a log of what she's read and a sentence or two of reflection.

I am going to encourage her to continue swimming, hiking, hanging out with friends, playing with her little sisters, going to Canobie Lake, and whatever else allows her to be a normal thirteen-year-old in 2017.

We made a decision a few weeks ago to cut off her iPad and wireless access on her phone at 10:00 pm. She's certainly gotten more sleep, which has also made a difference.

We are also going to make an effort to go to more museums, historical sites, and that sort of thing.

That is what learning is about ... and learning should happen in the summer. Reading must happen in the summer if we want to keep our children's reading fluency and knowledge base where it needs to be.

Should the school set out a canned summer  learning recommendation list for all students without taking into account what happens at home? No. Families that value summer learning have, with all due respect, long since put things into place that are far more meaningful than what's been offered.

Families that do not value summer learning need more than a bunch of printouts (and poor printouts, at that). They need to be educated on how to turn experiences into learning, which is far more valuable than how to break down a goal into parts. They need support and explanations and suggestions for how to make learning an integral part of every day.

Am I way off base with my frustration here?  

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