Students assigned summer reading
It is finally summer vacation. You are ready to go to the beach and hang out with your friends. But wait: you remember your summer reading assignment.
This summer, students of all grades at Pascack Valley were assigned summer reading. Students going into grade nine read “Enrique’s Journey” by Sonia Nazario, grade ten was assigned “Funny in Farsi” by Firoozeh Dumas, and grades 11 and 12 read “Hillbilly Elegy” by J.D. Vance.
“Hillbilly Elegy” was agreed to be too heavy for the younger grades, so underclassmen read different books.
“We ultimately chose the books that we did to represent the different versions of the American dream,” said Ms. Virena Rossi, head of the Pascack Valley Regional English Department. “Unfortunately, the student only sees the book that he or she read so they don’t quite get the same global perspective that we were hoping for by choosing three different books.”
All three books assigned for summer reading are nonfiction.
“We tend to focus a lot on fiction and drama in English classes so this was a way to incorporate nonfiction into the curriculum,” Rossi said.
In addition to just reading the book, students were expected to annotate by highlighting or using sticky notes to comment on important words or phrases. Students also had to write at least one question per chapter. In class, each English teacher was supposed to run a Socratic seminar and assign a reading response. Aside from those required objectives, teachers had freedom to incorporate the summer reading into their classes in any way they saw fit.
“We wanted there to be a certain amount of flexibility but also continuity for the teachers,” Rossi added.
The assignment was officially due on Sept. 8th.
Summer reading has undergone a number of changes over the years. This was the first year that the junior class had summer reading, even though it is its third year in high school. There had been issues with summer reading in the past.
In the summer for 2013, summer reading novels were teacher chosen. A teacher could suggest a book that they read and when students returned to school, this teacher had to talk about it in class. However, if a large number of people read that book, the teacher would have to run a class with that many students. The next summer, it was not mandatory to read, but if students wanted to participate, teachers held discussions about the books during a Pascack period. No summer reading assignment was given to students for the past two summers.
“There are a lot of studies and articles out there about how you spend ten months learning in school and then your skills slip over summer break,” PV English teacher Mr. Matt Morone said. “One of the arguments for summer reading is it keeps kids’ brains active and I think for that reason it’s a great idea.”
The students, however, did not necessarily agree with Morone.
“I would be fine with summer reading even if they made us read three books, it is the assignment attached that is the issue,” junior Justin Choi said.
Junior Kassandra Mulholland suggested a change to the book selection.
“If we have to do summer reading, let the students pick the book,” she said.
Freshman Jordyn Puzzo expressed that this was a stressful assignment for her, especially because there was some confusion about “Enrique’s Journey.” A number of students got the wrong book because there are adaptations for both adults and younger students.
The English department has not yet determined the future of the summer reading program.
“I’m waiting to see what the teachers have to say and what the students have to say,” Rossi said. “I welcome student input on what they thought worked and didn’t work and suggestions on what they thought we could do better, I’m always open for that.”
Students and teachers are welcome to reach out to Ms. Rossi with any ideas or opinions on summer reading or any other concerns. Her email is [email protected].
Summer reading eliminates student choice
It is early August. You feel the cool ocean breeze as you splash through the waves. You head back to your towel and lift your sunglasses to look at the time, realizing it’s almost 5 p.m. You have been in the water all day.
For high school students, this is how summer should be spent.
This summer, PV introduced a summer reading book for each grade level, most likely in the hopes of inspiring students to read over the break and attempting to spark creative classroom discussions during the first week of school.
Assigned summer reading is limiting the opportunity to read the varieties of books students are passionate about.
Having the school assign what students must read over the summer is unfair. Reading should be an enjoyable experience, not a chore.
For some students, reading the book required for their grade level was not a time-consuming challenge. However, many teachers assigned books for their own classes in addition to the mandatory grade-level assignment. Depending on their class schedules, some students could have had as many as three or four assigned summer reading books.
In that case, it is hard to find time to read the books that do interest us.
Currently, I am taking AP English Language and Composition. Besides a short activity to ensure that we read the book, we have not discussed Hillbilly Elegy as a class at all. That leaves me to wonder: What was the point of reading this book if it will not be used for classroom discussions?
It was disappointing to learn that my time and effort had been focused on a book that was barely covered in class. That time could have been used to read history, fantasy, and mystery stories — books I am actually interested in — that are sitting on my desk, waiting to be dusted off and opened.
Harris Cooper, chairman of the department of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University, spoke about the amount of summer work students receive in an editorial for The New York Times.
“[Summer reading] also shouldn’t be so overwhelming it crowds out the other activities that make summer special,” Cooper said. “Resentment is not conducive to learning.”
Assigned summer books can cause students to resent reading and become uninterested in books, specifically course texts.
Students like me were more interested in the number of pages they had left than the book’s message.