Take a Reading Inventory

“Summer slump” is an oppressive-sounding term, describing loss of learning during the summer when reading can stagnate. How do you avoid the summer reading doldrums and learning loss? A recent Harvard study stresses the importance of teachers personalizing the reading experience for students, shaping “lessons and activities” to support the reading experience. One way that our school is personalizing reading is through the Teacher Favorites program. Teachers sponsor books, allowing a wide variety of choice for students, and each book has a plus factor, suggested videos, websites, and art/writing activities that can enhance the experience of reading the book. (A big nod to McCallie School which shared their plus factor reading program through our AISL listserv.)

Whether students and teachers are blogging “what if” scenarios about a Harry Potter book or visiting online Holocaust museums as they read The Diary of a Young Girl, student engagement in the activities can enhance the reading of the book and enliven the small group book discussion with teachers and students in August. View our school’s suggested books and activities: Teacher Favorites 7/8 and Teacher Favorites 5/6.

Families can also build excitement for summer reading by placing an importance on reading habits in their home. This suggested Reading Inventory provides ideas to start conversations about the enjoyment of reading and how books can be an important part of the summer routine. Below is a checklist to jumpstart how families can infuse a reading climate in the home and include the reading habit alongside the demands of summer activities.

Step One: Make a Shelfie.
What were the books that ignited you as a young reader? Arrange those books for a “Shelfie” photo and share with your child the meaning books had for you. If you no longer have the books, capture screenshots of book covers or use GoogleSlides to arrange your Shelfie stack. Interesting conversations about books can arise as you share the types of books you loved to read and how your reading grew or changed. Modeling your love of reading and your reading habits is a powerful message to children.

Fairy Tales (upper left to right): Andrew Lang’s Fairy Tales, Brothers Grimm Folk and Fairy Tales edited by Jack Zipes, Andersen’s Fairy Tales (copyright 1945), and Grimm’s Fairy Tales (copyright 1928).

Step Two: Create Book Reading Corners.
Where are the prime locations for Book Reading Corners in your home? Do you have a basket of books by a favorite reading chair, bedside table, and even magazines or books in the bathroom? All of these are prime locations to make reading opportunities readily available and enjoyable, and these reading corners are a visible reminder of the value your family places on reading. Encourage your child to personalize and develop their own favorite reading corner.

Step Three: Read Poetry, Aloud.
My mother loved to share a large volume of children’s poetry, and she dramatized, sang, and engaged us in choral reading of the poems. She even (gasp!) invited us to write our initials next to our favorite poems and color in the line drawing illustrations. This poetry book became a living, breathing reflection of our time shared in enjoying poetry. Discover your own poetry anthology such as those by poets Shel Silverstein, Jack Prelutsky, J. Patrick Lewis, Paul Fleischman, Lee Bennett Hopkins, Margarita Engle, Naomi Shihab Nye, Jacqueline Woodson, and Nikki Grimes. Poetry anthologies are also themed to experiencing art (Hopkin’s Make the World New: New Poems Inspired by Art from the Metropolitan Museum) and even objects (The Death of the Hat: A Brief History of Poetry in 50 Objects, selected by Paul B. Janeczko).

And, poetry is not just for young children. Poetry connects to tweens and teens in dynamic ways that reflect their own voices and concerns. Poetry can transport the reader through a historic moment (such as the sinking of the Titanic in The Watch that Ends the Night) and personal crisis (such as Jason Reynold’s Long Way Down), or celebrate heroes (such as Margarita Engle’s Bravo! Poems About Amazing Hispanics) and feature voices of hope (such as Naomi Shihab Nye’s Voices in the Air: Poems for Listeners). Encourage your tween or teen to perform a Poetry Slam of a favorite poem. Poems spoken aloud allow us to savor the sounds and rhythms of words and connect powerfully to emotions.

Step Four. Read Aloud.
Reading aloud creates moments of bonding with your child as you share the mutual love of a book. Dive in and do the voices, and invite the child to chime in on favorite lines or read a page in the story. You can read aloud a chapter book that is above the reading level of your child, thereby building vocabulary and encouraging empathetic listening. Many children’s books have cliff-hanger chapters and cause children to beg for the next chapter to be read. For an extensive list of read-aloud books for all ages and genres, see Jim Trelease’s The Read-Aloud Handbook. Jim Trelease stresses that reading aloud not only increases I.Q., but also H.Q.(the heart quotient). Award-winning children’s books from ALA and books for young adults from YALSA are another way to select excellent writing from diverse voices.

Step Five: Books on the Road.
Summers are busy with family road trips and commutes to activities such as swimming lessons and ball games–perfect opportunities for stretches of time to enjoy books. Encourage your child to pack favorite books in the car (I always traveled with collections of fairy tales) or take advantage of wonderful audio performances of books to enjoy as a family. Many public libraries have audiobook collections, and our own school library is showcasing new audiobooks through Overdrive this summer. For quick free browsing and sampling, you can search a book title in Amazon Audible and listen to a few minutes of a book. Listening to audiobooks can be a delightful way to fill long car commutes, and children can read along to reinforce the experience of the book.

Illustrated books, nonfiction informational books, and short story collections travel well because these books invite browsing, lingering over illustrations and short text boxes, and short chapter reading. Author Melissa Stewart’s Celebrate Science website has wonderful recommendations for informational books and activities. Graphic novels, magazines, and comics can also be good choices for books on the road. Classic Comics were my first exposure to the “classics,” and new graphic novels adaptations include Anne Frank’s Diary, the Graphic Adaptation, The Giver, Manga Classics, and Shakespeare, Poe, and The Odyssey adaptations by graphic artist Gareth Hinds, not to mention the hilarious Hazardous Tales history series by Nathan Hale.

This five-step Reading Inventory may help families re-evaluate the importance of reading and reading habits in the home. See also the National Education Association, which features research on preventing the “summer slump” and provides tips to encourage reading. Spark enthusiasm with families for reading this summer!

Playing book fairy

(Warning: I’ll be library-nerding hard here, it being a safe space to do so 🙂 )

Oh, the thrill of connecting a reader with just the right book, at just the right time! I particularly enjoy making a literal connection; this could be placing a book in a reader’s hands (although a member of my library team brought back an interesting tidbit from our provincial conference, about how to find greater success by not holding a book when talking about it, but placing it on a table/bookshelf, allowing for something akin to transfer of ownership to the reader…fascinating! But I digress…)

Making a literal connection could also be following up on a conversation over the lunch table or by email, by placing a book in a school mailbox, or on a reader’s desk.

As I’m on and off campus throughout the summer, I like to keep this going when opportunity allows. Sometimes I’m dropping things off for people who live/work on campus, sometimes I’m bringing things to people who live near me (we’re in a small town, and I’m lucky to live close to quite a few colleagues)

I had 2 deliveries this morning:

  • A teacher has finished reading Narnia to his kids and was curious about Percy Jackson, so I gave him the first 2 Olympians. He also likes Michael Lewis, and we didn’t have The Undoing Project – I’d ordered it, it recently arrived, so it’s in there too.
  • I ran into a colleague in the park yesterday, which gave me a chance to tell him that I was disappointed about being off my game when he asked me for some summer reading suggestions at the very tail-end of the school year…my brain was fried by then. Based on his reading interests, two books had come to mind, and bumping into him reminded me to get them to him – The Mandibles and The Art of Fielding.

Note the ziploc bags, also doubled-up with plastic bags on this misty morning.

This is strictly for fun, when my schedule allows, not onerous in any way – and I’ve found people to be so appreciative. I’ve also found it a good motivator for getting myself out for a walk!

 

 

The Gift of Summer Reading

There has been no shortage of discussion on the topic of summer reading, but as ’tis the season, here’s another piece! As the end of the year approaches and a flurry of school events come and go, it seems to be the library-mission related topic that is most visible and most on the minds of school community members at the moment.

This will be our third year of using a student-driven summer reading model first inspired by a presentation from a fellow independent school librarian at our state affiliate organization conference several years ago. I know many schools have been approaching summer reading in similar ways and each school whose summer reading process I’ve taken note of “does” summer reading a little differently to fit their own school mission and reading community. I’ve learned a few things about summer reading at our school over the last two years and I’m sure I have more to learn this year as things come together.

To sum up our method: starting in the winter, I recruit Summer Reading Leaders (SRLs) from the ranks of returning students in grades 9-11 (rising sophomores-seniors). I make announcements, send out visually appealing emails, and speak face-to-face with students.

Together we select a book for each of them to put forth as an Upper School summer reading option. Some of these students know a book they’d like to share immediately, others need suggestions to choose from or a little re-direction. Once the list is final, the rest of the students rising to grades 9-12 fill out a Google form asking for their top three favorites from the list. I arrange the students into reading groups based on these preferences. Nearly everyone is assigned to their first choice reading group.

When we return to school, a one-hour Summer Reading Group session is built into the orientation/pre-season sports days. The SRLs are in charge of leading discussions, or, for the more ambitious, activities during this time.

I am always thrilled to see which students might volunteer to be SRLs and to see positive responses from those who are so happy to be asked. I am often tickled by their book choices, too.

The benefits of this approach:

  • More choice means more student buy-in and excitement around summer reading. The peer-chosen factor is a big one here.
  • We start the year on a positive note around reading. The idea is that everyone is reading something of their choice which ideally they also enjoyed.
  • Through their choices, I get to know the students better as readers; especially those who don’t read for pleasure as much or new students who need to be welcomed into the library.
  • When a SRL needs help choosing a book, I get a chance to promote something that deserves more readers, or else provide overlap with Reading Olympics or the PA Young Readers Choice Award.

Of course there are also The Challenges

  • When it comes to recruiting SRLs, it’s easy to think first of the students you know to be voracious readers. However, other students want to be involved too. They might just need to be asked. They are likely to bring great additions to the list. (I aim for enough SRLs to have reading groups of about ten students and to provide enough diversity in the book options.) 
  • Relatedly, balancing the list takes careful consideration, as Christina Pommer posted a few years ago. The list has to appeal to many different reading preferences.
  • There are some students who don’t read the summer reading book. I survey the students anonymously after the groups meet, with one of the questions being “Did you read the book?” Most have either responded “Yes” or “I read most of it.”

Lessons learned

  • Last year we had a couple of repeated books from the year before led by new SRLs. I was happy that I still had the previous year’s reading group rosters, as some students wanted to sign up for the book they had already read the previous year. While I was pleased they had enjoyed it so much the first time, I could refer to the old roster and assign them to their second choice.
  • Keep Admissions informed of the process. Make book selection easy and friendly for new students. Seeing their book choices come in during the summer is a great entry to getting to know them before the year starts.
  • It may be that the students who initially resist assigned Summer Reading will make great SRLs because it’s the SRLs who have the most choice in their Summer Reading selection. 
  • Check that the books are easily available; internationally, if applicable. A book fair can really help with this, or hold a book downloading help session before the end of the year.

Through most of the school year, I worry that Upper School students generally don’t seem to be reading for pleasure very much. Though we put together physical and virtual book displays, promote new and seasonal titles through email and social media, set up pop-up libraries in different spots around campus, participate in Reading Olympics and book talk for classes and clubs, often it seems that this dynamic collection of super-awesome books is going unnoticed, spines in near-perfect condition with nary a stamp on the date due slip. I wonder whether I am promoting the collection enough, or selecting and purchasing books the students want to read. Maybe students are just not interested in reading library books, preferring to watch TV shows or read on Wattpad when their hearts and minds need a story.

While these are important things to evaluate, I often forget about the simple and real factor of time. Like many of us, our busy college-prepping students just don’t have that much time during the school year to curl up with a good book that they love. Some make the time, but it’s hard to do. When a break rolls around, I am delighted by the reading that is all of a sudden part of the imagery of “how I will spend my summer vacation.” That’s when many students are ready to have a book put in their hands. When given the chance and an enticing array of  choices many will welcome summer reading as the gift a good book is.

There are a lot of great summer reading ideas to be found on the AISL wiki, listserv, and other places. I’d love to see a comprehensive database of different summer reading approaches in our schools, so we can see others’ ideas and lessons learned. Anyone with me? 

Interactive summer reading

I know it’s (only) April, but with just seven weeks of school left, my mind is on the finish line – summer! I don’t want to think about database renewals or cleaning the mess that is the workroom, nor do I care to give another thought to the book hospital that is overflowing with patients or the inventory that is calling my name. That can all wait until tomorrow (or the next day). No, right now, I’m planning summer reading!

For the past two years, I have created recommended summer reading magazines – my favorite picks from the year (here’s 2015 and 2016). I include them in my end-of-the-year library newsletter and send black-and-white copies in our end-of-year reports which go out mid-June. I print some in color and place them on our Parent bookshelf in the lobby, so that all who walk by can see and take them. I have ideas in mind for this year’s magazine, but I want to do more – I want this year’s summer reading to be interactive.

Lower school students do not have required reading over the summer, but I know they are reading voraciously. I have wondered about how to stay connected with students and their reading over the summer and have dismissed many ideas because I didn’t think they would work with our population. Send me a picture? Write me a letter? Blog about it? What’s a quick and easy way to collect and share our summer reading?

I am always looking to connect the right student with the right book at the right time, and now I find myself in need of the right tool. Books, I’m pretty good at and manage to stay updated. Tech tools, I always feel a step behind. So, please try not to roll your eyes when I introduce the new (ahem: four years old) tool that I plan on using for summer reading this year:

I don’t know why I hadn’t heard of Flipgrid until just recently, but I feel like I am seeing it everywhere nowadays. For those of you, maybe like me, who may not know what it is – Flipgrid is essentially a video discussion board. Imagine if Padlet and Voicethread had a baby (though I wonder about the ages of those two…). For my summer reading Flipgrid, I plan on taking video of myself talking to students about sharing their summer reading. Then, they can go to my Flipgrid page and add their own video about what they’re reading. In the end, I hope to have tons of videos of students sharing with me and each other. What I love about Flipgrid is how easy it is to use – go to the board, click the plus sign, and record yourself! It organizes the videos much in the same way as Pinterest, very neat rows, and students can watch each other’s videos.

I’m looking forward to introducing this next month and might encourage some beta testers to add videos of what they want to read over summer break. Have you done anything similar? Advice to share?

Jumping the Gun on Summer Reading?

It’s almost spring break, and so my mind is turning towards….what….summer reading???

Orion reads The Hobbit

I’m betting that my students would be shocked to learn that my internal goal involves having the framework set by spring break. This informal list lets me, or other teachers, read any books that have been recommended but that are unfamiliar to us.  I’m sure the students have never thought about the magic behind the curtain of a well-produced list. Instead, selections are unveiled at a fast-paced assembly on the final day of school when teachers each have a minute to whimsically “pitch” their books to the students.

Since upper schools operate all sorts of summer reading programs, here’s some background on ours. We have one community book that all high schoolers read. Discussion takes place in advisory and focuses more on personal growth than on literary merit. All students must also read a book of their choosing from a list of 12-15 teacher-sponsored books. Some AP courses also require course-specific summer reading, although that’s decided by the individual teacher. Finally, the division directors each sponsor a professional book for the faculty to discuss the week before school starts. In a practical sense, this means that all teachers read at least three books over the summer, and all students read at least two. Short comprehension quizzes, mainly multiple choice, are given in the discussion groups, and summer reading is a requirement that is marked on student report cards.

This has been a series of compromises, most notably the quizzes. I have mixed feelings, which now lean slightly towards supporting them. I’m curious to hear your thoughts below. For years, we had some students who did not complete summer reading. Every year, a few of these students would brag to their friends about getting away with not reading. Even worse, they’d tease their friends for wasting their time reading. (Mind you, we’re talking numbers you can count on one hand…) Thus, administrators added the summer reading completion component to report cards. However, teachers leading book discussions felt that they could not always tell solely from participation whether a student read or not. They didn’t want to send kids in the direction of the principal simply for being quiet. The rules for quizzes are simple.

No trick questions. No sneaky answers. If a student read the book on the beach in May, he should pass the quiz in school in August.

 Here are three sample questions from our most recent community book, The Hobbit.

 Who is the leader of the dwarves?

A.  Thorin Oakenshield           B.  Gloin Erebo           C. Bombur Esgaroth                D. Dori Sindarin

 What is Bilbo’s stated role on the quest?

A. Burglar                    B. Musician                 C. Archivist                             D. Bait

 Throughout his travels, what does Bilbo say he most misses about home?

A. His food                              B. His parties                  C.  His wife                           D. His radio

 All justification aside, I hate testing students on summer reading. I think that basic comprehension tests undermine the complexity of reading, and they imply that students are completing an assignment for a grade. At this point, however, students expect the quizzes at the beginning of their discussions. Many teachers will finish with a free response question that they’ll use to begin the discussion. Since our threshold for passing is 6 out of 10, students who have read are generally not too anxious about the process. Looking at the examples above, if you’ve read The Hobbit in the past 10 years, I hope you’re at least two for three.

I’ve run the statistical data for the sponsored books. (For example, almost one third of the students read nonfiction texts, no matter how many are offered.  Or English teachers sponsoring classics get higher readership than Math or Science teachers doing so.) Because we know how students think, we prominently note the page count of each option. Past “shortest books” have included C.S. Lewis’ Out of the Silent Planet and Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground, books that provide excellent fodder for discussion and are in no way easy reads. I am confident in my ability to juggle a variety of sponsored texts each year into one list that will support English Language learners, Physics buffs, and Harry Potter fans. The community book takes more thought. The criteria as explained to me include:

Zoo-Story
Lowry Park Zoo Field Trip
  • Interesting for boys and girls as old as 19
  • Appropriate for boys and girls as young as 13
  • Something students wouldn’t be embarrassed to read on vacation, on an airplane or in a coffeeshop.
  • Something we can justify to parents who might question its legitimacy
  • Available in paperback and on the iPad
  • Around 200 pages

Writing that out makes me a little amazed that we’ve founds some excellent choices that meet the criteria. Here are some quick reflections from the last five years’ books:

 

PB2009Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card – The students were more skeptical than the teachers of Ender’s young leadership, though a fair number picked up Ender’s Shadow in the fall.

2010Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes – Students refused to admit they liked it. The intensity of their emotional response to Charlie and Algernon’s plight showed that they connected with the story.

2011Zoo Story by Thomas French – This book focuses on the management of a zoo about an hour north of us at the turn of the twenty-first century. Most students were more interested in the sections about animals than those about humans. They loved visiting the animals in person on a fall trip to the zoo.

2012The Princess Bride by William Goldman – We required them to watch the movie and read the book, which led to some fabulous discussions on adaptation. The book is a hilarious satire, though that sadly went over the heads of many of our less adept readers.

2013The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien – More people read more thoroughly when it’s a book that’s well below their reading level, but some people who encounter unfamiliar fantasy vocabulary don’t give fantasy books a shot. Also, you can tell if someone’s just watched the movie.

 Moral of the story: You can’t please everyone all the time.

Books don't have to be read in English
Books don’t have to be read in English

Top surprise hits in the sponsored book area were: Twelve Mighty Orphans by Jim Dent (thank you to whoever on the AISL listserv told me about that book last year when I was soliciting suggestions) Pure by Juliana Baggott, The Pregnancy Project by Gaby Rodriguez, The Cardturner by Louis Sachar and Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things by Randy Frost. Let me know if you want annotations and reviews for any of these books, or, alternately, books that didn’t go over as well.

Continue the conversation below. What have you done to improve your school’s summer reading program? What books have most resonated with the students?