Summer reading projects are required in some schools, and they can become very onerous on the students and teachers. Today’s blog post is written by Rebecca Gettelman who is a middle and high school teacher from the Midwest. She has been teaching for over eleven years.
A number of years ago I started teaching at a new school. My job offer came in the first part of June, and along with my contract, I was handed a stack of books and an assignment sheet and was told that all of my students would arrive on day one with a completed summer reading project to hand in. I was quite surprised as I had never had summer work until AP courses in high school, but not in middle school. I was allowed to design the project as I saw fit, but a summer reading project was a required part of the curriculum. After several years of rethinking, rewriting, and tweaking, I came up with a project that is pretty effective.
Let’s think about how to design and create a project that fits the needs of your students and curriculum.
What Do You Want Your Students To Do?
Do you want your students to read a least one book over the summer? Do you want them to do more than just read—something along the lines of analyzing, reviewing, and thoughtfully considering messages? Would you rather your students focus on writing? Do you want them to write a little bit every day or to just write one big paper?
By starting with this you make sure that you don’t just end up with the same stale summer book report that has been assigned for decades and instead come up with a project that truly fits your class’s needs and flows smoothly into the new school year.
Include Elements of Fun and Creativity
Remember, it is summer vacation. Keep in mind how much you, the teacher, are ready for a break by the time you hit those final days of school and remember that your students (and their parents) need some of that downtime too. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t assign a summer project, it just means that something that has elements of fun and inspires a student’s creative side is so much more enjoyable than something that doesn’t. If you are going to assign homework over the summer, you will get much better results if it isn’t something your students detest from start to finish.
Choice Is Important
I love to read. But hand me a book (even one that I love) and tell me I have to read thirty pages and suddenly it becomes work that I will put off for days on end. Remember this when you are putting together your summer project—choice makes all the difference.
Now, the students can’t have the choice to just not do the project, but you can offer them other choices.
- Offer three vastly different books and they have to read one.
- Offer a four-part assignment and only two need to be completed.
- Offer a summer writing assignment, but they get one week off each month of summer.
- Give students the end goal and let them design their project. Read more on student-designed assessments here.
A Few More Suggestions
- A major downfall when assigning summer work to students is that you start day one of the new school year with a huge pile of grading to do. Why not consider offering optional due dates over the summer. You could even offer extra credit to students who turn in work early.
- Make the project something that students can’t just download. There are a million book reports available on the internet for anyone who wants to download them. By creating a project that is unique, you avoid the curse of plagiarism.
- If you are assigning summer reading, give your local library a heads-up on book titles that you will be using. The librarians will appreciate it. This allows them to make sure they have at least a couple of each title on hand.
Summer projects are a long-standing tradition in many schools and districts, but that doesn’t mean that the assignment has to be old or boring. By designing a great summer project, you can help yourself and your students get something positive and even enjoyable out of this tradition.