Today we discussed whether or not to continue requiring students to complete summer homework in order to enroll in the English honors programs. Originally, we asked students to read a biography (and compose a 1-2 page summary), to read a Newbery/Pulitzer winner, and to read three consecutive periodicals.
My beef was always that we received book reports on the biography, and we had no real way to know if the students actually did the other work. Besides this, the writing did not feel authentic while the reading did not connect to anything in the class.
However, today I think we made some progress. We’re keeping the readings but directing the writing much more; plus, we’re eliminating the periodical readings. The students will have to connect personally to the biography, and we’re going to have the students use the Newbery/Pulitzer reading as part of a presentation in the first week of school. We still need to finalize the writing prompts we will use, but I think we’re heading in the right direction if we’re going to assign summer work.
I try to have my students relate to the readings in their writing, and I believe we leave out the students’ experiences and connections to the literature much too often. How do students relate to the readings? Do the authors’ or subjects’ beliefs match those of our students? Why should students read these types of texts? What is learned from the texts? These are the types of questions I want my students to answer, and I think they become better writers for it.