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.
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.
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.
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):
It sounds like what we all hope summer reading will be. A few questions though: how and when do you know which of the 50 books will become part of the discussions? Is every faculty/staff part of a discussion? Are they all leaders? How do you determine who will lead what group? Love to hear more!
Super impressive! I love your comment that it “increases book chatter on campus.” This is a huge added value to your school. Thank you for including the “bad” and the “ugy” along with the “good.” With students being welcome to contribute titles, it seems like you have made this very welcoming for many kinds of readers. Thank you for this compelling write-up.
I run almost the exact same program here at Horace Mann and have almost the same exact issues and positives that you do. Another issue for us is space- I think I could actually get more faculty involved and I’d love to include more of the staff as well (great idea) to make the groups smaller and more intimate, but we are very limited by how many book clubs can actually run because of available classrooms during the period. For next year I really want the faculty to feel more ownership of their book and have more of the book suggestions come from them.
Thanks for your questions, Allison!
– I solicit recommendations from students during late winter, finalizing list by March Break. List is shared with teachers Mar-Apr, who are welcome to choose one from list or sign up for another. Final booklist (has always fallen around 50 amazingly enough, although we may consider reducing) is made available to students in May. Any books that aren’t chosen by end of May (when registration closes, befroe exams) are taken off the list, so that new admits only choose from a list for which a group exists. Hope that makes sense!
– Faculty/staff participation is voluntary – I visit depts and make personal pleas 🙂 It’s first come, first serve in terms of who gets which books
It sounds like this approach worked well for you — “the ugly” is what we all struggle with every year when it comes to summer reading but judging by “the good” this works well for your school! It’s so hard not to get distracted by the vocal non-readers so you can focus on really celebrating the reading that happened; how did you handle that? Were there consequences for them? It seems like penalizing those who don’t buy in is not a good way to engage them they we’d like. Ideally the majority is on board, so in my opinion the best “penalty” for not reading is missing out on some great reading and discussion.
This year, we got our group of reluctant readers down to approx 20 – we sheparded kids into groups as much as possible (even if you didn’t read it this summer, have you read it in the past? Is it something you’re interested in? Have you seen the movie?) The 20 came to the library for quiet reading – in the previous years, we’ve have them do a group reading, or have read to them, or have them read independently. Will be certainly tweaking for next year – and then my perspective needs an adjustment as well….majority rules indeed 🙂
We have had a summer reading program for the past 3 years called “Book Start”, similar to yours with similar results. One difference is that it is student led. Students suggest the books via a google form. Suggested titles are vetted by faculty. Those that pass muster are presented to the rest of the student body and students choose from the list generated by their peers. In the past students have presented “book ads” to the students during assembly time. These have been 3-4 minute presentations to sell their book. We changed it this year to an online ISSU publication. The kids said that people were choosing or not choosing books based on who was presenting rather than the book itself. The discussion groups in the fall, are led by the students. Faculty are assigned one of the student books in the spring and have the option to read or not read it. Their role is to be an adult presence in the room and help the student leaders if necessary. Many faculty read the book so they can join in as a participant, not the leader. Students & faculty then fill out a survey. Group experiences vary widely. The ones where the students read are usually rated very high. The others are rated very low and there’s not much in between. Students in grades 11 and 12 who are taking honors and AP classes are less likely to read the book and are more negative about the program. Students in grades 9 and 10 are for the most part positive. Next year we may tweak it again and make it mandatory for grades 9 and 10 and optional for grades 11 and 12. Its is a lot of work, but if it helps just a few students to remember that reading for pleasure is actually pleasurable I think it’s worth it.
Here at AOS we do some of all of the above. In our grades 1-8 there are 1-2 titles required of all students in the grade. These are books selected by the core teachers but we do offer advice in the process.
All students are required to read some free choice books (20 in Early Childhood, 4 in Middle School). These books may be selected frm the HAISLN Recommended Reading List (http://haisln.org/reading-lists.html ).
In grades 7 & 8, we require one from the Teacher Favorite List. This year we had 18 teachers volunteer to lead a book discussion. Titles range from The View from Saturday to Unbroken, with as much variety between. Students must choose one title from this list for a lunch discussion in August. We haven’t done quizzes, but I understand the wish. Yes, a few kids don’t do the reading. Yes, we have teachers leading discussions who are not experienced leading book discussion. Yes, we have students who don’t want to talk about the books even when teeth are pulled. But overall, this program has been really popular for three years now, demonstrating to all that we are a reading campus for all ages.
The variety of approaches keeps interest reasonably high. It works for us anyway.