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jca's avatar

Summer reading lists for school: Should vacation be vacation, or if you think reading lists are a good thing, how much is reasonable for a teacher to require?

Asked by jca (29282 points ) July 26th, 2012

I have not so fond memories of being made to read certain books over summer vacation and write reports on them. I was an avid reader anyway, and disliked being made to read certain books, and especially disliked having to do reports on my summer vacation.

I have a friend whose daughter has to do 8 books with reports over vacation. That seems a lot to me, considering it is supposed to be vacation. Over an approximate 9 week vacation, almost one book per week. Others may feel it’s a reasonable amount. I remember having to do about 5 over vacation.

Do you think summer reading lists are a good thing? How many books would be too many, in your opinion? If you like the idea of reading lists, should the books be totally optional, any books of the kid’s choosing (let’s say, at or above their grade level, obviously not a baby book)? Or should they have to choose from a list of books the teacher feels are good candidates?

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41 Answers

MilkyWay's avatar

I have to do 3 big books over 4 weeks holiday…
I don;t think it’s very nice at all. It takes the fun out of reading, and reading is my favourite thing to do, ever!

tom_g's avatar

I feel that summer is a time to re-kindle your love for reading. My daughter (going into 5th grade) has read approximately 25 – 30 books (huge, age-appropriate or older novels) so far this summer. She picks them, we go to the library and get them or put a request in for them. Reading is her favorite activity. During the school year, she is tortured because she doesn’t get to read whatever she wants. Now she is just going wild with reading.

If she was given a list of books she had to read, we might just “lose” it.

gailcalled's avatar

How old is the girl; are the books all for English or are they spread over other subjects?

jca's avatar

@gailcalled: The girl is going into 7th grade. The books are all for English/lit.

Symbeline's avatar

I’m also an avid reader, and I always read. I’ve always read on Summer vacations as a kid, too. But that’s cuz I wanted to. Not everyone enjoys reading, certainly not every kid or teen does, anyway. There’s more than enough reading and book reporting to be done during the school year. I don’t like the idea, and I know it would have pissed me off if I were imposed a reading list during my Summer vacation, whether I like reading or not.
I say let the kids have their two months of vacation. I believe it is important for kids to just forget school for a while and have fun. The hell with obligatory Summer homework. Jeez.
Teachers, leave em kids alone! :D

gailcalled's avatar

@jca: That seems both excessive and counter-productive. Have you seen the list? Are the choices at least moderately appealing for a reader?

jca's avatar

@gailcalled: Yes, they were age appropriate and represented a variety of topics, both fiction and non-fiction, that would appeal to a young person. Still, it did seem excessive. I don’t think the reports had to be big, but still, it seemed like if it were me, it would kind of hang over my head the entire summer.

Aethelflaed's avatar

Not a fan. That is an excessive amount of books, and if you have to, at least go the route of getting the child to love to read, and simply say “you have to read x number of books, but I don’t care what they are”.

Plus, summer is a time to learn all that other stuff that’s important, like how to entertain yourself, how to play with kids who aren’t your own age, how to not kill your family members even though you’re spending so much time around them, how to run until you feel like you’re going to pass out because you just felt like it. It’s not a break off from learning, it’s just learning different things.

wundayatta's avatar

I think vacation should be vacation and the kids shouldn’t have homework. But my son had three big books to read, book reports and and some other assignment, not to mention 50 pages of math problems that are supposed to be review, but in fact are new material. What the homework means is that we have spend a lot of time helping him. so it takes away from vacation and family time and other, more important learning experiences.

They say they don’t want kids to lose capability over the summer. I don’t believe that a break of a couple months does that. I think you pick it up pretty quickly in the fall.

So I think summer homework has limited, if any value, and it tries to address a problem that doesn’t exist. I think it’s just schools trying to look like they are doing something, more than actually doing anything useful.

Nullo's avatar

Can’t say that I find the idea appealing. Vacation is vacation, folks; we don’t need you encroaching on it.

zenvelo's avatar

I am also opposed to such a chore. I loved reading and read tons of books in the summer because I got to choose what I’d read. And I read well above grade level and learned a lot more about life because of it. There weren’t any other kids I knew reading Nero Wolfe or Philip Marlowe mysteries in sixth grade. How else to learn what a doxy was or how evil LA was in the 30s?

bkcunningham's avatar

I always loved to read and write. But I thought summer vacation was summer vacation. You know? Is this what school teachers are doing now? Why? Why not petition for year round school if this is how things are moving in our educational system? I like year round school better anyway. It seems to work.

MilkyWay's avatar

I wonder why Schools give so much homework, as it seems neither students nor their parents are happy about it.

jordym84's avatar

I moved to the US right before starting the 10th grade and I had never before heard of summer reading lists, or any other summer school work for that matter. Prior to that, I used to love, love reading and summer was my favorite time to catch up on it. But when it became required of me, I lost my passion for books. It wasn’t until I started college that I began enjoying leisure reading again. I’m not completely against reading lists for the summer, but I do think teachers should be a little more flexible with what kids can read. For example, let them pick 1 or 2 age-appropriate books and have them write a short report once school starts (rather than making them do it over the summer, taking away from the whole purpose of being on vacation). Your friend’s daughter’s teacher(s) went way overboard with 8 books.

Aethelflaed's avatar

@MilkyWay Incidentally, homework has been proven to be pointless once the student has grasped the concept. So if you understood how to do that math problem while still in class, those 3 hours of problems tonight won’t really do anything to help you.

MilkyWay's avatar

@Aethelflaed Well then, the question arises, why don’t schools improve their education systems? I mean, if homework is proven to be of no use, then why give it out at all?

jca's avatar

@bkcunningham: I agree but the teachers’ union would probably squish that idea, or demand tons of money for working thru summer.

Aethelflaed's avatar

@MilkyWay Well, our education system is so totally screwed up that homework is really lower down on the list of things we should change. But, in short, because most people aren’t aware of the academic studies, and homework is so ingrained into everyone’s mind as the right thing to do that it becomes really hard for them to imagine that not assigning homework would be better and not much worse. Plus, there’s often a certain element of “I did this hardship growing up, so like hell is my kid going to have it easier.”

MilkyWay's avatar

@Aethelflaed LOL!
Why are we whispering?

Aethelflaed's avatar

@MilkyWay Because it’s a side convo to the main one.

SpatzieLover's avatar

This is just an example of the conundrum the system continues to perpetuate. It’s another reason I think the public school system needs an overhaul.

Either school is all year with smaller quarterly breaks, or there is a summer vacation. Summer break/vacation implies no curriculum, no homework, no continuation of schooling.

I don’t see the point of book lists or book reports in general. Either you read & understand the book you’ve read or you don’t. Homework isn’t going to improve one’s aptitude or comprehension.

IMO, all this does is add to the drudgery instead of create enthusiastic learners.

Kids that like to read will read endlessly. Kids that don’t, need to be encouraged to read things (books, comics, magazines, web pages…anything with words) that they find interesting.

Aethelflaed's avatar

@SpatzieLover I can actually see the point of book reports in small doses. Many people grow up to have jobs where they will have to read a larger document, and then write a memo for their boss about it; book reports teach people to do that. I think book reports aren’t improving comprehension but about improving skills.

SpatzieLover's avatar

I agree to a point @Aethelflaed, but there are other ways than reports to accomplish the same result.

Book reports start a bit too soon in the public system. 4th-7th graders, IMO, need to be focusing on actual reading to increase speed and comprehension.

jca's avatar

I can see the point of book reports, but not during summer vacation.

Aethelflaed's avatar

@SpatzieLover I would agree with that; they seem more appropriate in the later years of high school.

CWOTUS's avatar

I think reading more is a good idea, and encouraging reading, especially among young people, is better still. However, I generally oppose most of anything “mandatory”, and I think that tends to discourage the very people we want to encourage.

Since many students won’t perform the assignment anyway, I would suggest that the reading list be made “for extra credit”, and see where that takes the students.

Personally, I enjoyed all of the mandatory summer reading I had to do during high school, but I already know I’m not like most folks.

bkcunningham's avatar

Are they grading the book reports and incorporating what was read into a lesson plan or something? What is the point of the summer homework? Who gives it anyway, @jca? The prior grade teacher or the upcoming grade teacher? Do they work in unison? See what I mean? It doesn’t make sense unless you are learning something from the books and discussing it or making it into a lesson. Unless you just want them to read because they love words and a good story. If that is the case, encourage them to read without making it summer homework. Summer homework sucks, not only for children but for parents alike.

jca's avatar

@bkcunningham: The incoming teacher gave it.

SpatzieLover's avatar

@jca That seems like a way to make students not like the teacher or the class before it even actually begins.

jca's avatar

@SpatzieLover: I hear you on that one!

bkcunningham's avatar

Incoming. I didn’t know the right word. I should read more. And do more reports. Ahh, but ‘tis summer. I want to while away the hours and sip my cold drink and relax by the pool. What will the incoming teacher do to incorporate the books into a lesson plan? Do you know?

jca's avatar

@bkcunningham: I have no idea. Probably just grade them?

bkcunningham's avatar

You are damned if you do, and damned if you don’t on that one, @jca. Have fun.

SavoirFaire's avatar

It’s summer break, not summer vacation. School breaks originally revolved around the agricultural cycle (and thus lined up nicely with religious festivals, since religious holidays tend to be either agricultural holidays or attempts to supplant such holidays). Summer break only became summer vacation with the onset of industrialization. So the “it’s a vacation” argument doesn’t really work. It’s a break, and one that was originally meant to be filled with work (albeit of a different kind). While there’s nothing wrong with spending some time relaxing over the summer, that doesn’t have to mean being lazy.

That said, I think that eight books is too many and that making them required is probably not the most pedagogically sound way of going about summer reading. It makes sense to encourage continued academic work over the summer. This keeps students from succumbing to the well-documented “summer brain drain.” But there are other ways of preventing this sort of slide, and overwhelming students with more reading than they would do during normal classes is counterproductive. Forcing someone to read that many books seems more likely to inspire a hatred of reading than a love of it.

For my own part, I would severely reduce the number of books and make them optional rather than mandatory. If a school really wanted mandatory summer work—and many of the best private schools do assign such work—I would diversify it. The literary focus we see in English classes is already problematic. It’s why people know all about Shakespeare but cannot speak in front of an audience or remember when to use apostrophes. Extending this by making literature the whole of summer homework just exacerbates the problem. Why not encourage science or music just as much?

Ultimately, I believe that academic years in the US need some serious rethinking. That’s a whole other issue, though.

Symbeline's avatar

@SavoirFaire So the “it’s a vacation” argument doesn’t really work.

I think it does, because despite the origin of Summer Break/Vacation that you explain, I don’t think that’s taken into account anymore. You said it yourself, it’s turned into vacation now. Is that good or bad I don’t know, and we shouldn’t forget our history and where things begin and end, but for the time being, vacation is vacation damnit. XD
I’m not entirely sure though, why Summer vacation would automatically mean being ’‘lazy’’. A lot of people are productive and active during holidays, whether they’re working or not.

Mr_Paradox's avatar

I think it is a waste of time. If kids don’t want to read, they don’t have to. It’s a concept called sink or swim. those who read are going to do better than those who don’t read (on average). The kids should decide whether or not they want to read. Their choice will impact their future and the only person they have to blame is themself. It may seem cruel but it teaches kids that once you have made a choice you can’t go back and fix it. That’s also my opinion on homework. Kids should decide whether or not to do homework. If they chose not to then come test day they fail and they have to live with their choice. It would teach that going the extra mile rewards you and helps you advance in life.

Bellatrix's avatar

I can’t remember ever having a reading list imposed on my over the summer break. However, I do think it is a good way to voluntarily get ahead of the game. Managing the reading load at university is a major problem for many students. They feel swamped and tend to read superficially. Having a list of texts and readings so you can spend time, without pressure, getting through some of that material would have to help.

Even for young people at school, reading novels you will need to analyse the following study period is a good thing. You need time to read the book at least a couple of times and time to think about what the book says, the main themes etc. I certainly think better when I am not under pressure. When I can let my brain tick away in the background and mull over things.

A suggested summer reading list sounds great to me. If it is an imposed and compulsory list I suspect that would be counterproductive for some students.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@Symbeline The transformation from “break” to “vacation” is entirely in the heads of students. They’ve stopped thinking about it as a break from normal classes, but that doesn’t mean it has stopped being that. It’s really no different than winter break or spring break (both of which often come with homework). Summer homework is still a traditional part of many curricula, even if not every school practices it, and so I do not agree that the transformation is some complete cultural shift.

Furthermore, I noted quite explicitly that there are other ways of going about summer academic work than reading lists or ordinary homework. My contention is only this: regardless of how we think it should be done—and there are many ways to do it—it is not inappropriate for schools to encourage (or perhaps even require) some degree of educational upkeep over the summer. Indeed, it is a quite reasonable way for schools to fulfill their function.

I agree, then, that students should be allowed to have some summer fun and not be overwhelmed with reading. I said as much in my previous post. Eight book reports seems both unreasonable and counterproductive to me. But this doesn’t mean that summer is best understood as nothing but a vacation, even if part of it might be used to go on vacation. So I continue to think that the “it’s a vacation” argument doesn’t work because it isn’t a vacation. It’s just treated like one by some people.

bkcunningham's avatar

You could let them read @SavoirFaire‘s posts. They are like a book report. jk @SavoirFaire. lol ~

SavoirFaire's avatar

@Bellatrix “Even for young people at school, reading novels you will need to analyse the following study period is a good thing.”

Unfortunately, a lot of what schools do with literature—in American schools, at least—has little or nothing to do with analysis. Literature is used to teach vocabulary and the ability to summarize, leading to generations upon generations of passive readers who then have to be taught all sorts of basic skills in college. I think I have a few tirades on other threads about the dismal state of English class in America and the trouble it causes me as a teacher of college freshmen.

In fact, my university has even created an entire class to focus on the gap between what should have been learned in high school and what students are expected to know before coming to college. I will be teaching that course for the first time in the upcoming academic year (in addition to my normal philosophy course) and plan on making the most of it. Anything to get students out of the “read, remember, regurgitate” cycle that has been imposed upon them.

@bkcunningham Ha! But I would rather force teachers and principals to read some of my rants about the educational system than students. Maybe then we wouldn’t have to discuss this problem in the first place!

P.S. @Symbeline I forgot to address it in my previous post, but I don’t think that summer vacation automatically means being lazy. Quite the opposite, in fact. That’s why I sad that relaxing does not have to mean being lazy. What I am saying is that the two can be combined: we can let students have relaxing summers and encourage them to do a little bit of academic work as well. Whether it’s a break or a vacation, that shouldn’t be used as an excuse for laziness.

Symbeline's avatar

@SavoirFaire Nah, I get what you’re saying about your proposed idea for how Summer work should be done, and that it should be way less, and perhaps on a voluntary basis. I’d opt for that as well it became mandatory everywhere. As already mentioned, it would also be cool if the students could pick their own reading material, within reason I guess. I’d pick a buncha ’‘Where’s Waldo’’ books. XD

The transformation from “break” to “vacation” is entirely in the heads of students.
Well not really. For those academic organizations that require to do work on the Summer, you’re right, but for those which don’t, and there are many; the teachers suggest the whole idea and mentality of vacation just as much as the students do. So that makes vacation valid, at least for those places. (college and university is something else though) And as far as I’m concerned, it should be valid everywhere. I’m not, at all of the belief that Summer causes brain deadness, and in the cases that it does, learning disabilities, interest in the taught subject matter and whatnot should be looked at individually. but that’s also another subject, but one I think might be related to this entire braindead thing
However I certainly agree with you that academic training over the Summer can’t hurt; I just don’t think it should be imposed as it is in some places. And if parents or teachers have to kick some students in the ass a little, do it during the school year, damnit. You only get such little time to be a kid or a crazy teen.
I have to give you some points for letting me know that some places still keep in mind the origin of the Summer break. I thought the whole school Summer work was based on something else entirely. :/ Didn’t know that, except in your first post, it wasn’t that clear lol. :p (since you indeed said that break DID become vacation, instead of it being something people just think) Still, the origin doesn’t apply for everywhere, and therefore it’s not just that ’‘some people think it does’’.

I still dislike the idea though. I’m on vacation right now, (two weeks as opposed to two months, but still) and I don’t have to do any work. I don’t even have to think about it. I’m of the mind that school is training wheels for society, so schools should reflect the mold it’s putting us in, at the very damn least. Then again I don’t have a career, maybe it’s different if you do.

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