Summer Homework

In order to be in our honors program in the English Department, we first require the students to submit a letter of application and then require the students, prior to the 9th and 10th grade years, to complete summer homework. These assignments are due on the first day of school.

If a student does not complete this work, they are denied entrance into the honors classes.

I’m not a huge fan of assigned summer work, but if we are to continue the practice I’d like to see us make a couple changes. First, I would have the students write to a specific prompt rather than use the vague summary assignment we currently use. Along with the prompt, I would provide a detailed rubric for the students to use while composing. After reading the summer work, not only do I get a definite sense of the skills the students are lacking, but I also see that the students do not understand the level of excellence expected of them.

Secondly, I think I would require a written response to each of the 2-3 readings we assign. Right now we only require that the students read some of the material without having any way of assessing whether or not the students actually did the work. I’m going to suggest to the department that we either eliminate the extra readings or have a short reaction assignment for each.

Do you use summer readings for classes? How do you feel about them?

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4 thoughts on “Summer Homework

  1. Jim Van Pelt

    I’ve been opposed to required summer reading for my honors students for years (and managed to convince the rest of the department not to go for it). My major objection is that reading is supposed to be, and should be, fun. Unfortunately, I don’t think most of our required reading is fun. It’s not that it’s not great literature, and if you discovered it on your own, it would be a joy to read, but that we require it. The word, “require,” is the problem.

    So, I know that we have to require some reading–sometimes a lot of reading–but only the oddest of kids (who sometimes become English teachers) really enjoy it.

    I want the kids reading, but I want them to love it. If during the summer they’re reading the latest beach read, great! If they’re gobbling up Stephanie Meyers, Stephen King or Tom Clancey, great. If they’re resting because they’ve been reading so much for the previous nine months, then I’m okay with that too.

    What I’m not okay with is the feeling that the honors classes are the literary equivalent of boot camp, and that the courses are only good if they are more “rigorous,” where rigor just means do more and do it faster.

    I don’t remember if I shared with you my essay, “Making Kids Hate Kissing: an Addendum to ‘What’s Happening to Reading’,” at http://jimvanpelt.livejournal.com/127139.html

    It sums up some of my ambivalence about what we do with reading.

    Reply
  2. mrschili

    I don’t assign summer reading – I don’t teach in an environment where that would be feasible – but I DO think it’s a good idea and I encourage my own children to do grade-level readings over the summer. I like it for two reasons: one, it gets (keeps?) kids thinking. I feel that a lot of practice in critical thinking and reading skills is lost over the summer months, and keeping up with it would make getting back INTO it during the first few weeks of school a little easier. Two, I like it when a group comes together with a common experience and vocabulary. Having the students read the same pieces – and encouraging them, through prompts, to think about them in similar ways – will do a lot toward building a community in the classroom. Students will have a shared knowledge of something – and the means with which to talk about it. That takes care of the first week of lessons right there.

    Reply
  3. Betty

    My son-in-law assigns summer reading to his girls, and they seem to enjoy it. They discuss the books and their viewpoints. I think that summer reading for honors classes is a good idea because most of these kids are up for the challenge and like to feel prepared for the new year.

    Reply
  4. AwayWeGo!

    I like both of your suggestions.

    The only thing about the rubric is that once you give it to them then you don’t know where they are truly starting at because you’ve given them guidelines to follow. Like you said, “After reading the summer work, not only do I get a definite sense of the skills the students are lacking, but I also see that the students do not understand the level of excellence expected of them.” This is your first real assessment of who they are as writers for better or worse. A rubric might ruin your authentic assessment opportunity.

    As for the summer readings, I agree with Betty I think most of the students in honors level courses are up for the challenge. Summer is the perfect opportunity to enrich their minds with great works!

    Reply

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