Reflections on Summer Reading

by Shelagh Straughan on September 15, 2014

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Three years ago, I was given the green light to implement a new summer reading program, which we call Trinity Reads. Students pick a book from a list of approx 50 titles (many recommended by them), adults in our school community volunteer to read a book and lead a group, and in September, we all gather for informal conversation. Last Wednesday was the day when 500+ TCS staff & students sat down for simultaneous book discussions – here is my short list of this year’s good, bad and ugly.

The Ugly

Nothing new – the kids who don’t read the book. And the very small group of kids who don’t read the book and are disdainful of the initiative. While hundreds in our community found this to be a meaningful experience, I remain distracted by the students who wouldn’t buy in.

The Bad

No surprise here – it’s a lot of work. Gathering book suggestions, creating book lists (with covers, blurbs and available formats), making promotional videos and presenting to students and staff, registration that starts in May (for returning students) and rolls up to the morning of September discussions (getting summer admits involved is a particular challenge), surveying for feedback, etc.  All to good end, but like so much in library-world, it’s time intensive.

The Good

Where/when it works, it really works: “”My group had a blast! It was a great discussion that went really deep into themes and symbols and all kinds of awesomeness” (Physics teacher on Jasper Fforde’s Shades of grey).

This program has definitely increased the ‘book chatter’ on campus – from book selection in spring right through and after the crazy week leading up to book discussions, it’s a great conversation starter because so many people are part of it.

Group leaders, my colleagues, are amazing! From making mocktails (Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale), skyping an author into the conversation (Richard Monette’s The gift), helping a student work through a difficult issue raised by the reading (Ned Vizzini’s It’s kind of a funny story)  – they go above and beyond.

One of the small but greatest successes has been the role of staff (in addition to faculty) in this initiative. Over the past 3 years, staff from Admissions, Advancement, Communications, IT, Athletic Therapy Clinic, Property & Kitchen have participated along with teachers. It’s simply awesome that some of our kids have had the opportunity to have a conversation about a shared text with our school carpenter (Neil Peart’s Clockwork Angels).

The really good is the support that this initiative has received. The English Department was wonderfully open to switching up the old model and trying something new. I’ve had little problem getting 50 members of staff and faculty to sign on (a few for one year only, many repeats). My immediate supervisor, the Head of Senior School and our Headmaster all pick a book and lead a discussion. Our HM (Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind) even wrote about it in his blog this week. An embarassment of riches, I know.

Onto tweaking and planning for next year!

(Here’s my group – 5 Gr 9s, 2  Gr 11s, 1 Gr 12 – who read Mr Penumbra’s 24-hour bookstore):

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