Our English department always required some summer reading.
…and historically, nobody did it.
…Well, OK. Some students did it. Some LOVED it! and many, many more didn’t bother.
Then we got really good: we required students to ANNOTATE the summer reading.
…and again, nobody read the books… except for those few who loved it previously. For them, we managed to suck whatever pleasure they got from the books from their experience.
For everyone else… well, I saw them sitting in the hallways. They were flipping through pages, making random marks and writing sporadic, yet convincing notes, like “wow!” and “hmmmmm.” Once I saw a student copiously flipping through a friend’s book, copying his peer’s pointless marks.
Hmmmmm… Note to self:
Required reading, for students who don’t like to read, is likely to be torture. Required annotation, when done without direction or purpose, may be the worst assignment ever invented.
At this point I extend heartfelt apologies to my students from this dark and misguided period of my teaching career.
And then…A better idea!
A couple of years ago the English department got together with the librarians to compose lists of works that would be engaging and interesting for students to read. We learned an important lesson: LIBRARIANS KNOW STUFF. They particularly know about the hundreds of books that are published every year with a young audience in mind. So this year’s book selection contained many Young Adult titles. To be honest, I wasn’t sold on the idea at first… but then, I red the summer reading titles with my daughter, and it all made sense to me.
I left our summer reading titles lying around, and one day, my daughter picked up Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline. For an entire July day, her eyes were glued to the text. Since she liked it so much, I read it the next day. It was fantastic! I haven’t been so absorbed in a book since I sailing through The Odyssey on a Labor Day weekend back in the ’90’s. I found Cline’s story so compelling — and so much fun — that I absolutely couldn’t put it down. At 2:30 a.m. my dad came down to the kitchen and found me wide awake, reading the final chapter.
“What are you doing up”
“Just have to finish this book.”
I wouldn’t say that my daughter and I conducted a book club meeting, or that I led a literary discussion of the text, or even that I explained all of the wonderful references to ’80’s pop culture. But we did share the real joy of having entered the world of this book, explored it for ourselves, interpreted it, and shared in the lives of Cline’s characters. For a summer reading assignment, who could ask for anything more?
And we got rid of the annotation requirement.