2009 Summer Reading Survey

One of the most important skills you will develop in school is the ability to read. Without this ability, functioning at any level in society will be difficult.

With reading comes the ability to communicate. You will find, if you talk with just a few married couples, one of the most important elements in a good relationship is communication. Reading and talking about great literature can certainly help develop important communication skills you will call upon in life.

The state of required reading in Illinois

For the past few decades, high schools have given out summer reading lists. In some cases, they are given out with the idea that although students might want to infuse their summers with at least a little literacy, there won’t be a test at the end. So I guess you know what that means.

The wide diversity of summer reading plans for Illinois high schools can be discovered online. Just to find a few (hundred), search on Google. Some schools, like Fremd High School in Palatine, create different lists for incoming freshmen and for sophomores, juniors, and seniors.

In order to encourage students to actually read a book on the list, rather than throw the list away, most schools, like Fremd, will make the book part of a class assignment or discussion when students return to school in August. Some lists even link the books to specific classes.

Sometimes, the assignments get pretty specific. For example, on the reading lists for Downers Grove North High School, students are told what notes they need to take on the books they choose, such as

  • While reading the chosen text, … look for evidence that can answer the following essential question: How does an individual establish a sense of identity within a community?
  • Eustace Conway sees many problems with American culture. Over the course of the text, take notes about what he sees as America’s problems. You will turn in your notes. Write a 1-page letter to Conway in which you agree, disagree, or both agree and disagree with his ideas.

Illinois is not unusual, as assignments can be just as demanding across the country. Watkins Mills High School in Maryland chose to have every teacher select a book. The list includes not just fiction but books about science, music, and so on. Each book comes with a clear assignment that highlights a unique characteristic of the book. Students and faculty then plan to break out into discussion groups in September, one book per group.

But some educators, afraid of turning reading into work, are assigning lighter books to read over the summer, the Boston Globe reports. Books in some schools include such titles as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Our Dumb World.

Pick a book, any book

In every case we found, students can choose books that interest them from a list of several books. And with younger students, educators find that any reading, including books, websites, or comic books, can serve the purpose of keeping students reading over the summer, as this article in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel points out.

Except high school is a little different: teachers modify this strategy in order to cultivate a love for reading that started with purely recreational reading in the younger years, where students want to delve into books on a deeper level.

Teacher and author of Readicide, Kelly Gallagher (his site) will speak in Illinois about school literacy a few times this year. He declined our request for an interview but told EdNews.org he was a “strong advocate for required reading.” He explained a difference between this sort of academic reading and recreational reading, using a play that should be familiar to everyone:

“If my students could read Hamlet on their own, I would hand it to them and meet them in three weeks,” he wrote. “The reason I am in the classroom is because they need my guidance if they are to discover the beauty and the value that great books have to offer.”

It’s not that teachers pick books students won’t enjoy: by all means, read books like Twilight or Harry Potter if they interest you as well. But at the same time, schools put books on required reading lists that will help teachers guide students to an appreciation of great literature.

That guidance goes hand-in-hand with the development of strong communication skills all-around. Summer’s the perfect time to sharpen those skills, without the structure of term paper due dates and such.

Your opinion about reading during the summer

So please register for our system here (it will require a working email address) and post a comment to this post in response to the following questions.

What book or books are you reading this summer? Please identify which books are part of academic reading and which are part of recreational reading.

And second, What do you or don’t you like about this book or these books? And why?

Thank you for taking part in our (informal) summer reading survey.

About the Author

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.