Saturday, September 10, 2011

Reading rainbow or revolt?

Now that summer is over and EB is safely ensconced in her new school, I can now admit something that will be considered heretical: I hate the summer reading program.

I understand it, and on some level I even support it. But this summer's program has been torture. EB was assigned five books, only two of her choosing, to read. But it wasn't the usual paragraph or two to be written afterward, stating either a yea or nay on the book's main theme and whether it was liked enough to be recommended. This summer's program required a dialectical journal of at least 10 entries about each book. It was touted as a lot of fun. But it was a lot of work.

Since third grade, when EB was given an extra packet of homework to do on her own in the summer before fourth grade, we've gotten used to summer assignments. Also that year, in her new school (her old school closed), she was also told to read three chapter books of her choosing. From there she would report on them in a paragraph or two, and the librarian would be the collector of these assignments. The whole summer homework program everywhere was a response to the discovery that children tended to regress academically during the downtime of summer. The first couple of months of school ended up being used for review instead of picking up and moving forward from where things left off in June.

Some schools coped by going to year-round school, with three-week intervals of vacation between sessions. Others have assigned summer reading and/or math to be done during the 2 1/2-month vacation, to be turned in at the beginning of the fall.

But one of the other reasons for summer reading is to teach children to enjoy reading. Readers are achievers and I agree with the concept.

I've seen Earbaby get lost in a book, to get so into a story she forgets where she is. That's the kind of reading that is, and should be encouraged. And for the books that she loved, it was easy, although the journal-keeping still was a bit of a pain. But the common book, the one chosen to be read by all the students in her school, was not EB's cup of tea.

In fact it was like pulling teeth to get her to read. The first two of her five books were things she didn't mind, but the common book was not something that could capture or hold her interest. While I found it interesting and well-written, she found it boring. And although we tried to convince her this was a lesson in learning to read things she wouldn't like, it was still pretty awful to have to keep chastising, cajoling and nagging her to pick up the book and read. She was always taking a break, digesting her food, relaxing, something, anything to keep her from reading.

And that's when I realized this reading rainbow was more like reading revolt. By the time she finished that book, we were all exhausted.  She flew through the last two books, then picked up another one two days before school started, hoping to finish a sixth. She didn't, but because she loves it, she manages to find time to lose herself in it without anyone nagging.

I don't have any answers about the summer reading programs. Maybe if students were encouraged to read with minor restrictions, i.e., no inappropriate material, no books way below their age and reading level, summer would go back to being a time of relaxation (who doesn't love a book on a beach?) and not a revolt against reading itself.

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