Avoid the summer slide and encourage your students to read this summer. Summer reading is a time to read for fun. Students who read self-selected books are more apt to finish reading the books. So this year, instead of providing my incoming students with a summer reading list composed by teachers, I decided to go to the experts on motivating middle schoolers to read, my 6th grade students. Read on to view their list of books that are sure to hook even the most reluctant readers.
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What is the summer slide? Summer slide refers to the loss of reading skills that results when students slip out of the practice of reading over the summer (see "Three Ways to Prevent Summer Slide"). It is suggested that students who read at least six books will not regress over summer vacation. So, how do we prevent the summer slide? We engage them in summer reading programs.
Summer Reading Programs
Local public libraries often sponsor summer reading programs. You might also check out the Summer Challenge, a free summer reading program for students from Scholastic. Teens and preteens are captivated by shows like American Idol, The Amazing Race, Survivor, and America’s Next Top Model. Create a real-life challenge with prizes and rewards and teens or preteens will want to be a part of it. Scholastic has done just that. I registered my class, and in the process, I entered the sweepstakes for the $250 classroom library. The benefit of participating in this program is that all the summer reading activities, parent letters, booklists, and resources are already created for us. What teacher doesn’t want this type of support, given our hectic end-of-year schedules?
Encourage students to select books that interest them and that are at their independent reading levels. Scholastic’s Book Wizard allows them to find books similar to ones they like or additional books in a series. Over time, students should try to go beyond their comfort zone into other genres. The best way to get students to leave their comfort zone is to have their friends recommend books to them. So have students recommend books to each other before leaving for the summer. Try to guide students toward all genres.
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Most students, when asked to select a book, navigate toward fiction. My 6th graders had so many favorites that I divided the list into two categories: "Students Choices for Summer Reading" and "Best Books in a Series." You can download our "Student Choices for Summer Reading" on the Book Wizard List Exchange.
This year, I noticed a trend toward serial books. Once students became hooked on a book, they would read the entire series. Reading serial books is beneficial for students who struggle. Once students become familiar with the characters, vocabulary, and author’s writing style, they build fluency and comprehension in reading the rest of the series. Visit the Book Wizard List Exchange to download our “Best Books in a Series” list, a list of our favorite trilogies or series.
Don’t overlook nonfiction. The National Common Core State Standards (CCSS) push for an increased focus on nonfiction. Most students read one or two reading levels lower when navigating nonfiction. This is understandable as the majority of students have more experience reading fiction. Incorporating nonfiction into a reading program will help to maintain nonfiction reading skills over the summer. Encourage students to seek books of interest: sports, music, art, history, science, current events, etc. For some suggestions see “Nonfiction: 71 Top Books of the Century.” There are also many nonfiction resources other than books that student can read for 30 minutes per day, such as newspapers, magazines, Web pages, instructional manuals, and game directions.
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Scholastic has a Poetry Month Booklist, which lists poetry books by reading levels. This list is excellent if you are looking to add to a list you've already created. In addition to these poems, I would add contemporary poets such as Billy Collins, Nikki Giovanni, and Maya Angelou. Poets.org added a teen section to their Web site with a list “Poems for Teens.”
Folklore is not just for elementary classes. Background knowledge of fairy tales, nursery rhymes, and mythology is important for understanding secondary classroom literature. Many students miss the allusions to folklore when reading high school novels. Remind students of all reading levels that they can read folklore to their younger siblings. Or, better yet, they can read the tales written for adults. Entice them by reading some of the original fairy tales from Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm or other famous folklorists before leaving for the summer.
Mythology is a vast topic that often gets limited to the Greek culture. Encourage students to read the Roman, Norse, Egyptian, and Native American myths as well. These tales are engaging and help students to understand how writers of great series such as Harry Potter or Percy Jackson tap into their knowledge of myths to write best-selling books. This will inspire them to use mythological creatures or objects when writing their own stories.
Summer Reading Buddies and Community Service
Community service not only benefits the community, but it also builds self-confidence and a sense of identity in teens. Struggling middle school students benefit from reading to younger children. They are more motivated to engage in community service if you explain the benefits of reading aloud to children and stress how their efforts will be life-altering for siblings or neighbor kids. Many middle schoolers babysit during the summer. Teach them how to create a book bag, selecting picture books or novels that will interest the children. Model how to read picture books and engage younger students.
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Encourage higher level readers to read to the elderly or visit nursing homes. Perhaps they have a grandparent or an elderly neighbor whose eyesight is failing, and who would love to listen to a youth read aloud to them.
You will need student reading lists for all age groups if you want your students to engage in community service. Scholastic’s Summer Challenge booklists are perfect for this. Students can pick the list appropriate for their reading levels or their community service goals. Download the Scholastic’s 2011 Summer Challenge booklists for ages 3–5, ages 5–7, ages 8–10, ages 10–12, and for young adults. You might also see the 2009 Summer Challenge booklist, sorted by age, and “Choosing Books for a Middle Schooler.”
Social Networking Book Clubs
Rather than say good-bye to your students, tap into teens' passion for social networking and stay connected through a book blog. Start an online book club where students can blog about their favorite books. Dawn Sweredoski, the 6th grade reading teacher, created a wiki, "Read a Good Book Lately?" using PBWiki where students post about the books they are reading. Two popular and easy-to-use online blog-hosting sites are available to educators: Edublogs and 21Classes. WordPress is a downloaded program for designing a blog for those more proficient with Web design.
Dawn, a member of the Charlotte Award Committee, created a wiki for books that have been nominated for the Charlotte Award, which is sponsored by the New York State Reading Association. Students are motivated to read the books on the ballot because they play a role in selecting the award-winning books. After reading the nominated books, the students use a ballot to vote for their favorite books in each category. The book with the most student votes wins the Charlotte Award. Last year over 12,000 students voted. The award committee previewed over 700 books to create the ballot. There were many great books, so the committee created a suggested reading list of books for primary, intermediate, and middle school/high school that did not make the ballot, but are wonderful books. Below is a carousel of the middle school books on the 2010 ballot:
Summer Reading for Teachers
Summer is the perfect time for teachers to catch up on reading, too. For this summer, I am leaning toward resources for nonfiction text features in social studies and science. The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development offers high quality professional development books and online courses. Heinemann has a list of professional development resources listed by topic. Scholastic Professional also offers a library of resources. I am leaning toward Teaching Nonfiction Writing: A Practical Guide by Laura Robb. I bought it last fall and only got to pull bits and pieces from it. It will support my goal to align with the CCSS.
I will also spend some time over the summer catching up on what the kids are reading. Students love to share their favorite books with teachers, and I want to be able to hold my weight in their discussions. So, when I take off on vacation, I will be packing a bag of books to read at the beach.
Finally, don't forget to read adult books to feed your adult soul. One of my colleagues, Stacey Petzoldt, came up with a list of her top 10 books:
- Sing You Home by Jodi Picoult
- Room by Emma Donoghue
- Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
- Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah
- Save Me by Lisa Scottoline
- The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
- Heart of the Matter by Emily Giffin
- The Sixth Man by David Baldacci
- The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs
- Her Mother’s Hope by Francine Rivers