Teachers at Work

A column about teaching

How to Encourage Summer Reading

To encourage summer reading, the school librarians went around to the English classes and talked up reading. For the first hour, they pushed around a cart filled with popular books, including current favorites Divergent and The Fault in Our Stars.

They checked out a total of three books.

The next hour they came around without the cart, which had a wobbly wheel anyway, and talked about reading, including telling students about the school's own summer reading club and how it would fit in with the county library's reading club (which would be on campus the next day). By the end of the day, they forgot to come around at all.

While I'm a fan of reading clubs, and while I'm a voracious reader, I'm one of those who never signs up. I admit that once, long ago, I tried. I signed up. I kept a log. And then, after about the first week, I failed. I forgot. Filling out the form simply became an extra effort that I didn't feel like making. While I can easily read a 50,000-word book in a night, and I'm a rabid consumer of the short contemporary romance novel, the idea of reading for prizes simply didn't matter. So a lot of our kids simply didn't bother.

However, the next day in the cafeteria, when the county library rep was here, they did have a much better response.

Even though a lot of students suffer from end-of-the-year fatigue, we need to keep those programs for those kids for whom motivation and incentives do matter. Many schools try to encourage reading by making students complete a book report over the summer—my daughter would always do her required reading in June and then simply cross that item off—done! However, she read. She liked to read and we were constant visitors to the library. A few years we tried to do the book clubs, and then that idea lost luster after the first few prizes. So my kids were reading, they just weren't stopping by the summer reading reward table.  Yet others were, and we must find ways to keep all readers excited.

The key to growing readers is to help them find books they like and want to read. We have to do this by infusing reading into everything we do, not making it a one-time deal. My students rediscover books throughout the year because I require them to read the first five to ten minutes of every class period. Through choosing their own books, they rediscover that books are fun and enjoyable, and that they like to read. My journalism students watched me consume two books on a plane to San Diego. They were impressed, and I suggested that rather than just playing games on their phones, perhaps they should find a book.

Books also need to become topics of conversation. Have students pair-and-share what they are reading. One person loving a book and talking about it often leads to another trying that book—just look at the success of Goodreads. Our librarians hold book discussion groups with pizza and soda, and these have grown to upwards of 50 kids. As the kids can't attend without having read the book first, this program has expanded the readers in our school. Kids like to talk about what they've read, and this not only aids in comprehension, but it also teaches social and conversational skills. The libraries in our district are no longer buying paper-versions of non-fiction books, preferring to use databases for this type of content. They are using the savings to purchase more fiction books and to purchase e-books. The libraries are being rearranged by genre, rather than by author last name. This way, students can easily find books in a genre that interests them. It's a concept that I'm excited to see fully implemented.

Reading should be lifelong; it's a pleasure that needs nurturing and developing. No longer the soul entertainment on car rides, reading of novels has competition with handheld devices that allow for internet surfing and games. We need to help students rediscover that worlds that reading opens, and hook them on the joy reading brings. So I'd love to hear you share what you do in the comments, and happy summer reading.

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Michele Dunaway is an award-winning English and journalism teacher who, in addition to teaching English III, advises the student newspaper, yearbook and news website at Francis Howell High School in St. Charles, MO. In 2009, the Journalism Education Association awarded Michele with its Medal of Merit. She has received recognition as a Distinguished Yearbook Adviser in the H.L. Hall Yearbook Adviser of the Year competition and was named a Special Recognition Newspaper Adviser by the Dow Jones News Fund. She also practices what she teaches by authoring professional journal articles and writing novels. Click here to read more articles by Michele Dunaway.