SCHOOL’S OUT FOR SUMMER! That’s right, kids, it’s time for family vacations, chasing fireflies and going to summer camp — swimming, riding bikes, building lemonade stands and . . .

Summer reading.

(Did I hear a collective groan?)

I have some major issues with summer reading in the elementary grades. What is the point of assigning specific books to read, when we know we have 20+ students with a wide range of reading levels and interests? From what I have seen, one of these two NOT GREAT scenarios is likely:

  1. Students dread it, and procrastinate until they are trying to cram the three required books into the three weeks before school starts.
  2.  Parents are worried about fitting it in to a summer filled with outdoor activities and family travel, and they try to get their kids to get it “out of the way” as soon as possible.

It’s awful. Every year I struggle to find appropriate books for our school’s required summer reading. I don’t want anything too long or too difficult. I don’t want anything to “girly” for my reluctant boy readers. No matter how hard I try, I have never been able to come up with books that everyone likes. Why? BECAUSE EVERYONE IS DIFFERENT!

Oh dear.

Now I’m shouting.

Before last year, I taught 3rd grade the old-fashioned way. You have ’em for a year and just as you really get to know them, you move them on out. But in 2010-11, I found out I’d be looping up to 4th grade with my class. And I was amazed at how much more difficult it was to select books for summer reading when I knew the kids! Every time I considered a book, I could think of students who would struggle with it,  or kids who’d already read it, and still others who just would not like the genre. Of course, that’s true for any group of students, but I happen to KNOW this group! (There I go again.)

I went to my boss . . .

…and I asked him if I could do something different. Since I wanted to keep in touch with the class over the summer, I suggested that I allow them to choose three books of interest to them (crazy, right?!) and have them email me a letter after reading each book that told me about the book and answered a short list of questions. The guidelines would be simple: each book had to be at 3rd grade level or above, and it had to have a minimum of 100 pages. There would be be accountability — a writing assignment.

Well, I got the nod and I enjoyed each email letter as it arrived. I responded, asking personal questions and providing encouragement. This assignment actually had a chance at fostering a love of reading! No struggling through a book that was too difficult. No forcing themselves to read a book they didn’t enjoy. No assignments in September asking them to remember a book they read two months before.

The kids loved it. Even after their third letter, I would occasionally get an email that said something like: “Mrs. Grayson, I know I already sent you my three letters, but I just read this really cool book and wanted to tell you about it!”

Isn’t THAT what it’s all about?

This summer: Desperate measures

The last few weeks of school arrived this year, and we were asked to turn in our summer reading assignments for next year. I sighed. I’m staying in 4th grade next year, and will have a new group of students. In addition, we are adding another section of 4th grade, and there will be a new teacher. No telling which kids will be in my class, and which will be in hers. I started looking at book lists…

I couldn’t do it. I went back to my boss and asked if I could keep my summer reading assignment. I even offered to have all of the rising 4th graders write to me! He agreed, but then suggested I email the new teacher and ask her if she would also like to receive and respond to the letters. She was thrilled. Both of us plan to respond to the emails, and we’re looking forward to interacting with our new students before the year begins.

So here’s what’s GREAT about summer reading:

  1. Our students will be reading books that interest them.
  2. We’ll be developing relationships with our students, and helping them feel more comfortable about the new year.
  3. The writing samples will be valuable information for us, and will help to identify strengths and weaknesses.
  4. The student’s choices will give us insight about their interests and reading levels!

There is nothing more important than fostering an excitement about books in a child. Summer reading should support that goal, not undermine it. We want to be chasing those fireflies, not learning to not love reading.


First image: Big Stock
Second image courtesy of

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Patti Grayson

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