Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Summer Reading

photo credit:  pixabay.com

The beginning
Many years ago, when Three Cups of Tea was sweeping the world (in a good way at the time) I encouraged my school to try a whole-school summer read.  The opportunity to read one story at three different levels (Listen to the Wind for lower school, Three Cups of Tea Young Reader's Edition for middle school, and Three Cups of Tea for upper school) was so exciting.  We could unite around one topic, centralize our philanthropic efforts, and move away from the notion of summer reading as getting a jump start in the English curriculum.  It was wonderful to have a shared experience as a school, and I would consider that summer reading a success.

The journey
Over the years we have tried several iterations of the whole-school summer reading idea.  We have not had another opportunity to read the same story across three divisions, but we have read about common themes.  One year we selected one book for each division, which was also fairly successful in terms of providing a shared experience, albeit divisionally. 

But we worried about providing books that would be interesting and accessible to all students; the one book for all concept was outstanding for building community but not for building readers.  So we tweaked the model again, devoting the summer reading to one core value (honesty, compassion, respect, responsibility) and generating lists many books long for each division.  For two years we also included movies on the list.  Once we did that it was clear that the mission of summer reading, or summer learning as we then called it, was to serve as a spark for an ongoing thematic conversation throughout the year.

Those of us on the committee knew and understood these shifts.  We regrouped every year to select the theme, review our purpose, and read like crazy.  Unfortunately, few people beyond our small group had any idea what we were up to.  And it seems that the parents of our students were the most excluded in understanding. We have fielded many questions from about our book selections and about the assignment in general to signal that we need to have a wider, more substantive conversation this year.

Now what?
It is time to iterate again--and as my twitter handle (@bookcrusader) intimates, I'd like to bring the conversation back around to how our summer reading program can nurture and inspire readers.  It's time, in my opinion, to figure out how to help our younger kids celebrate the joy of reading and our older kids rediscover it. 

From looking back on this 7-year summer reading journey, I can tell that we've been floundering to ask the right questions, to really identify the problem, and to "think like freaks" about how to find the best solutions.