The trend has been rolling across this country for a few years now: High schools and colleges assigning summer reading – carefully chosen books with content that will be infused into class discussions and assignments throughout the following school year.
On the east coast Miss Porter’s School, an all-girls boarding school, requires reading that includes Liz Murray’s Breaking Night for English students and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot for AP Biology students, and other specific selections across the curriculum.
In San Francisco, the Balboa High School Buccaneers have been assigned to read two books and to write essays on what they’ve read. Depending on grade level, students can choose from Cry the Beloved Country from Paton, The Aeneid by Virgil, and The Sea Wolf by London, among others. The school’s website warns that “your teachers will expect that you have finished the reading by the first day of school.”
In Omaha, freshmen English honor students at Omaha North High Magnet were assigned The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury and at Brownell-Talbot School, required summer reading for Upper School students includes Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse, The Jungle by Upton Sinclair, The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde, and more depending on the grade.
These are just a few examples. There are many reasons to assign summer reading, and a growing number of proponents for the practice. For example, Harris Cooper, chairman of the department of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University reports that research confirms that long summer vacations disrupt the rhythm of instruction, leads to forgetting, and requires time in the fall to review and bring children up to speed. Cooper and colleagues conducted 39 studies that “confirmed that achievement test scores declined between spring and fall.” Another insight revealed through Cooper’s research is that summer break can have an even greater negative effect on low-wealth children, children with special needs, and children who do not speak English at home. He states, “not only might they have to relearn academic material, they also must reacquaint themselves with the language of instruction.”
To me, this last phrase helps give an overarching rationale for required summer reading. Given the state of education in our nation today, we cannot afford any gaps that impede learning – or worse, the love of learning. While one can argue that required summer reading can dampen spirits and take away from that hot, fun school-time hiatus, I believe that the camaraderie established by assigning whole grade levels the same titles to read over the same time period, then weaving in cross-discipline activities around the book in the fall, can stimulate common ground and excitement among the student body and importantly, keep the neurons firing, too.
What if that required reading becomes the first book a child really loves…the one that shows her how characters and settings can come alive and drive deep meaning to life? What if the required reading drives a bit of added discipline to a day? What if the required reading helps improve reading speed and importantly, enhance comprehension? I think it’s all good and that it bridges more than one gap.
What do you think? Share your thoughts here.