So it seems like everyone is thinking about summer reading lists now that June is upon us. This Washington Post article about having students choose the books they read over the summer seems like part of the answer to the problems associated with the summer slide. As a librarian it seems obvious to me that kids are going to be more interested in reading if they are choosing the books, but as a parent, I know that often schools assign books they want kids to read over the summer. I was only ever asked to read specific books once I got to high school, but this article makes it sound like sometimes even elementary school kids are given lists of books they should read. At the middle school where I work, students are asked to read three to five books over the summer and come back to school in the fall prepared to talk about them. No reports. No reading logs. All in all, a reading program that I can get along with. Then my librarian talked to me about how she wanted to put together the lists for the different classes.
First, a bit about the librarian I work for. She is the best school librarian I have ever met. She is a leader in the school, and collaborates beautifully with the other teachers. She clearly knows and likes the kids at the school, and enjoys working with them. The library is sometimes quiet, sometimes loud and boisterous, but always a place where students, staff and parents feel welcome. Working with her has been the highlight of this semester, and I have learned a ton from working with her. I hope that I can take what she has taught me to whatever school I end up working in. One of the things that she does particularly well is she always brings the children into the decision-making process for everything. Which brings me back to the reading lists...
To begin, we watched some book trailers to get the kids thinking about what kinds of books they want to read and what genres they like. In small groups the kids rated the books on lasts year's list as definitely keep on the list or not so much, and then added books they thought might make good additions to the lists. Throughout the process, every kid was engaged. They were shouting out books as they thought of them, agreeing with classmates when someone mentioned a book they forgot about, and argued good-naturedly over which genre certain books should go in. There was even a moment in one class where every single kid joined in exclaiming the greatness of Curious George.
As I left the sixth graders, they wanted to know when the seventh graders would have their list ready for them. I am pretty sure there will be a bit more excitement about poring over that list than one made by even the best librarian. I know that I now have a list of books that I want to read after the enthusiastic recommendations the students gave. So, while I may not have all of the answers to how to create the best summer reading program, I know that student input, and student-generated lists should be a central part of the process. Any other tips for ways to get kids engaged in the process? I would love to see them in the comments.