When it came to summer reading (or at least one part of it), the administration heard you.
Last year, I sent out a survey asking about students’ opinions on summer reading. The results were to be expected. Few students enjoy having summer reading because it takes time away from the new summer TV show, the chance to hang out with friends, and even to make their own choices on what to read. Also, since most students wait until the last week of summer to get started, it results in a lot of stress.
Along with the required summer reading for classes, for many years we also had to read a book that we chose from a list and discuss it in groups on the first day of school. The groups were always horribly awkward, and in order to prove you read the book, you had to participate in the discussion and submit a response. If the response was not submitted or they suspected that you did not read, you were given a detention.
Last year’s survey collected information on summer reading in general, and then differentiated between the “free choice” and class-specific (mostly English) books. Some of the more eye-opening statistics: students reported that on a scale of one-to-five (one being summer reading was least valuable) 35% voted that it was a level one. And when it came to doing the choice book, almost 30% said they read some or none of their book. About 83.3% of those who did not read the book still wrote the required reflection. The story of the choice book was pretty bleak.
Because of the survey and the article I wrote, the required choice book was removed from everyone’s summer reading. Instead, Lovett sent out a booklet with suggested books under a variety of genres. Students could read books from that list, or pick ones they found on their own. But none of that was required.
One of the fears that some faculty had about eliminating the extra required book was that students wouldn’t read on their own. In fact, one of the purposes of summer reading all along has been to get students to make reading more of a habit.
Based on the results of the follow-up summer reading survey I sent out, it turns out that many Lovett teens don’t need to be forced. Sixty out of 146 people (41.1%) read a book that was not required. In last year’s survey, 61.2% of students said that if summer reading wasn’t required, they would read at least one book.
Freshman Mary Grace Samp says she read at least 30 books. “I really enjoy reading. I don’t watch much T.V. I hurt my knee over the summer, so I couldn’t move around much. That’s when I read the most, but besides that whenever I got the chance. My favorite was probably the Maze Runner series.”
Of course, just because Lovett didn’t require it, doesn’t mean other adults don’t. The most common response to the question “If you did read over the summer, why did you?” was “because my mom told me to.” So, even if the school doesn’t have us read extra books, parents are still having us “keep our minds sharp.”
Others read out of necessity, or desperation. One student wrote about how they read “because there is no service or wifi in Greece.”
But there were many students who said they read beyond the mandatory books because they enjoy reading.
Even though the extra book wasn’t required, Lovett still advised us to keep reading. This year, Lovett sent out a pamphlet with a large list of books from different genres. Each family received a copy of the pamphlet in the mail. Although students did read this summer, unfortunately, out of 103 responses, 88 students (85.4%) said they did not choose a book from the pamphlet sent out.
The other 14.6% of the survey did read from the pamphlet. Though not having that extra reading book was much appreciated, Lovett might have to find another way to give us a list of books.
According to Lovett librarian Robyn Martin, the pamphlet idea was formed because they “already had a long list of books from the Faculty Summer Reading committee, so Mr. Alig thought that ‘we won’t tell you what you have to read, but here are some ideas,’” says Ms. Martin. “It was kind of old-school to make a list and send it to you, so we tried it. It looked good and colorful.”
The pamphlet was arranged by genre, there was an icon to know if the book had been turned into a movie, and the rating of the book was provided in order to help the students, who wanted to read, choose their books.
Ms. Martin also tried to get kids to take “shelfies,” where students take selfies with the book they read. There were a couple “shelfies” scattered around the library, so be sure to take a look for them.
Overall, students seemed to appreciate the policy change. Students said they were able to have more free time, and that their parents didn’t have to force them to finish it. Out of 146 responses, 139 students (95.2%) enjoyed not having the extra reading.
As for the students who did not read anything except for their subject-specific books, the most common reasons were “I was busy” and “because it’s summer and reading is boring and too much work.” Others said they wanted to watch Netflix or hang out with friends.
Lindsay Pugh explains why she couldn’t do any other reading, “I was working most of the summer, and I was out of the country. So, I was really busy and when I was ‘home’, I was doing college tours.”
Robert Strickland can relate. “I wasn’t required to, so I didn’t. I didn’t have much time over the summer anyways.”
Others managed to get fired up about the required reading they still had to do. “We have plenty of reading and projects to begin with despite the fact that it is supposed to be a break,” one student wrote. “The idea that we need to read over the summer is unreasonable as after the first 2 days, I already am prepared enough to continue learning in other classes, such as math, that don’t give summer work.”
Ms. Martin has mixed feelings about the change. While she understands students don’t like being required to do things over the summers, she thinks there’s a great value to having conversations about books.
“I wish we could find a way for the students to talk about what they read,” she says. “I’d love to know what they read, and if there are things we need to add to the library. Even if the discussion element of what we were doing before was forced, at least there was something, and now, I feel like I lost that connection.”
Still, she doesn’t know if the policy next year will change or stay the same. For now, she plans to stick to her mission of getting kids to love reading. “I just ordered new books to the library,” she said. “So be sure to check them out.”