Thursday, August 9, 2012

Random Ramble: Why Summer Reading is Terrible (Megan)

So ever since sometime in Middle School my teachers have decided that summer reading assignments were a thing that needed to happen. At first it was simple stuff like "Read one book over the summer and bring it in on the first day of school" (which is what my brother had to do this year. He read The Hunger Games. GO BRENDAN). But now we actually get assigned books. And have to read them. And get tested on them. And I'm going to explain why I think this completely sucks. I will try to keep this from turning into a rant, but it still might. So this is your CAUTION TEEN ANGST WARNING.

Usually if you walk into a high school English class, there are two or three groups of people. The people who actually like reading (ie: Rachel and I sitting in the back of the room whispering back and forth about various books and giggling), the people who completely hate reading, and the people who don't really like it or hate it, but do it because they have to. Now at least the way it has always been explained to me, summer reading is supposed to encourage kids to read over the summer. Which seems like a perfectly fine idea on the outside, but take a closer look.

If you walk down the hallway and ask the same kids that were sitting in that English classroom if they actually did their summer reading, you will get answers that sound something like this.

Kids who like to read: "Yeah. I did it. But it was such a pain reading something assigned to me! I would have rather read one of my books instead!"

Kids who hate reading: "Of course I didn't do it! Why would I waste my time reading?" And then the kids who don't really care will probably be spread out somewhere in the middle.

So how is summer reading actually accomplishing anything? If the goal is to get kids who normally wouldn't read to read, news flash: it's kind of failing. They aren't going to read just because you tell them they have to. They'll use Spark Notes, or make someone else tell them what the book was about, or just decide they don't care at all and fail whatever assignment/test you give them. Then there are the kids who usually like to read, stuck reading something they don't want to.

Personally, reading a book that is assigned to me at school takes the fun out of it. Last year, our summer reading book was 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher. I'd been wanting to read it forever because I had heard amazing things about it, and I couldn't wait to get started! I think I ended up finishing it a week before school started. I just couldn't bring myself to sit down and read it! It definitely wasn't the book (because the book was AMAZING and if you haven't read it you really should) so I asked myself why. The answer? I didn't want to read it because some teacher had told me I had to. So even though the book was amazing and wonderful and I loved it, the experience was a bit ruined for me because it was associated with school.

The situation is only worse when the book is something I completely don't want to read. This year's book was The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien which is about the Vietnam War. It's totally out of my comfort zone reading wise and I wasn't thrilled about the book choice. At all. I just finished it recently and the book was completely not my thing. I felt like there was supposed to be this big message that I just completely didn't get at all. If I love reading, I don't think I should really have to force myself to read a book. (No offense at all to Tim O'Brien. I've read really great reviews of his book. It just wasn't for me)

So how is summer reading accomplishing anything? I love to read! I read all the time! I read instead of spending time with actual living, breathing people! I would most certainly read over the summer without a teacher making me do it. And the kids who don't ever read over the summer because they don't like reading anyway? They still don't do it. They might not ever read. After all, they're people who make their own decisions and there isn't really anything you can do to literally FORCE them to read a book other than giving them bad grades on the assignments when they don't.

Basically, if I could, I would get rid of summer reading. I don't see how it does anything to help anyone and it just hurts the kids who are already reading. I think teachers just need to accept the fact that some people just aren't readers. By all means, attempt to encourage them to read during the school year, but leave it there. Don't extend it into our summers.

I know the examples given in this post aren't true for everyone and there might be places where this doesn't apply at all. Everything I have mentioned here is simply what I have noticed in my own experiences both talking to my friends and other high school students. Everything in here is just my opinion based on what I have noticed over the years.

And.... end rantish post.

Sorry if I got a bit out of control up there.

If you kept with me throughout this whole big long thing, then thanks! Here are a few books I've finished recently that I highly recommend. (And even if you just skipped down to the bottom of this post, I don't blame you. Here are some book recs anyway. Thanks for stopping by.)

The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han
The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart
A Midsummer's Nightmare by Kody Keplinger
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Steven Chbosky

All of these were amazing, fairly quick reads that I recommend to everyone!



  1. I always hated my summer reading, too--largely because I was assigned books I wasn't ready for, and then had to read them with no support! Now I love Wuthering Heights and The Great Gatsby, but the summer before tenth grade I LITERALLY could not read more than two pages of Wuthering Heights without falling asleep. (We also didn't have air conditioning, which didn't help, but I didn't know what anyone was ever talking about!) So as a teacher, I really can't see the value in assigning specific books, except MAYBE for AP English where it's to your advantage to have as many books as possible under your belt. The exception would be an assignment like your brother's--is he going to get to talk about his book with his classmates? Because I could see that being a cool way to find out about books students actually enjoy, and I know a lot of my students trust recs from peers way more than recs from teachers.

    1. I can't remember how we did it when I was in his grade, but I think we might have said what book we read, what it was about, and whether or not we liked it? Something like that.

      Thanks so much for commenting! It's really interesting to get a teacher's honest take on summer reading!