It’s that time of the summer again. July 4th celebrations are behind you. Likely, too, your summer beach vacation has come and gone. Although the weather is still boiling, you’re counting down the days until the kids head back to school and life returns to normal.
Ahh, the blessings of fall and football and routine. Back–to–school also means breaking out the notebooks, binders, and colored pencils. It means quizzes and tests and projects and Are you sure you’ve finished all of your homework? That familiar push and pull of the parent–child relationship.
It also means that time is running out on those summer reading books that may be collecting dust on the nightstand, their spines still bookstore fresh. Worse, still in the shopping bag on the kitchen counter. Maybe they’ve never even made it out of the car into the house.
Wherever you and your family typically find yourselves on that perennial summertime journey of best intentions sliding into last ditch effort, here are a few ideas to help you help your student get the most out of summer reading.
Disclaimer: the tips that follow are not an easy button for getting an A on summer reading. If your goal is that A or some other type of reward or prize for doing the reading, this probably isn’t the list of tips for you.
Don’t be offended, please! There’s nothing wrong with pushing for the A or that coveted Accelerated Reader prize. I just don’t happen to be writing about those goals and rewards today. There are a couple of reasons why.
I’m not a proponent of goals/rewards when it comes to reading. As with so many things in life, reading can be both difficult and rewarding in direct relation to the degree of difficulty in the activity. Translation: the more challenging the book, often the richer the experience of reading it. Material rewards do little to enhance and often work against a child’s appreciation for and felt experience of reading.
Rewards also impede the development of intrinsic motivation for reading. You know this by painful experience if you have or know a child who was a big reader in elementary school, reading for points in a required reading program at school, who completely abandoned reading in middle or high school when teachers no longer required those programs.
Students often read books for the points associated with them as long as the goal of getting points remains relevant. The minute those points become obsolete, the big reader never again darkens the door of the school library.
Same holds true for readers who are more interested in the grade than the story, its characters, or its scintillating social commentary. Many students pride themselves on top marks in school garnered without reading a single word on an actual page. Tragic but true. I’ve been taunted by my own students about this ugly but undeniable reality.
So, here’s my caution. Don’t confuse value with reward. Whether we’re talking about accelerated reader points or an A on the dreaded Summer Reading Test, we’re still talking about some form of extrinsic reward. The value of reading is a proverbial horse of a different color.
When I was in the classroom, I wanted my students to read the books I assigned because I believed there was great value in reading them: understanding of another time period or place; exposure to sophisticated characters, themes, and language; introduction to new ways of seeing and thinking about the world and human experience. The list goes on.
Many parents believe the same even if they aren’t great readers themselves. If you’re one of those parents, I’m speaking directly to the golden core of your golden intentions.
I’m about to offer you some tips not about what we can get if we read–points or grades–but about accessing the invaluable process of reading itself. This intrinsic value can’t be measured in points or letter grades.
So, back to getting the most for your students out of the experience. Keep in mind as you read on that these tips are geared toward parents of elementary to lower high school aged children. Think: not much older than 9th grade. (I’ve made an effort to offer ideas that can be scaled with relative ease to help older students, but assignments increase in both size and complexity as students get older.)
I start with a general suggestion rather than a tip, but I highly recommend that you take it seriously. Think of it as bedrock for the tips that follow.
Start early. Translation: if you haven’t started yet, start today! With both this summer’s reading assignment and the value you place on it every summer. Be intentional and communicate that intent to your children. Talk about summer reading as something important, something worth doing. Set aside time, each and every day, to do it. Follow up on progress! If you treat it as important, your children are much more likely to treat it as important, too.
Tip #1: Break it up. Find the sweet spot for your child and make that the daily goal. Some basic math on the front end will help your peace of mind, too. If Sally can easily read 20 pages a day and the book is only 240 pages, no sweat! Note that you need time to make this work, especially if Jimmy has three books to read. Again, start early! Take it one day at a time, and work at your child’s pace.
Tip #2: Chart progress. You can do this privately, one–on–one with your child, or publicly on a chalkboard in the kitchen for all family members to see. Let your knowledge of your child guide you in this. If family attention to success or slip–ups is likely to embarrass the reader, don’t do it. If, however, the attention is likely to spark a healthy bit of self–competition, go for it!
Create a ritual around marking each day’s reading. The ritual is sacred; it reinforces the importance of the reading itself, so don’t skip it. Daily progress toward the goal merits notice; slip–ups merit a frank discussion, a plan to avoid the same mistake tomorrow, and re-commitment to progress!
Tip #3: Talk about it. Include in your daily planning some time to talk about what your child has read that day. What characters were involved? What did they do? Why? How was it important to the story? No need for lengthy or labored discussion, just get your child talking for at least five minutes. Daily discussion helps you stay in tune with the story and ask specific questions about characters and situations.
Make it a shared experience. Your child will understand the reading on an increasingly deep level, making him or her a better reader, and you’ve just guaranteed yourself weeks of low–intensity, positive talk time for you and your child. If you’ve already experienced the wonder of parenting a preteen or early adolescent, you know this time for what it is: pure gold.
Tip #4: Make a movie date. I don’t actually recommend watching movie versions of assigned books. Movies aren’t likely to give your child an accurate experience of the book, at least not in the way the teacher intends. There will be gaps in character and plot development, and many screen plays leave out important characters and events entirely.
Think about it: ever watched a movie of a book you loved and walked away disappointed or confused? Exactly.
If you’re going to watch the movie, watch it together and talk about the things that are different. Go back to the book, and find some of them. Read the book’s version again together and talk about which version each of you prefers and why.
You’ll help your child consolidate what really happens in the book versus the movie and help him or her process why it happens that way and how it propels the plot and characters forward. The only way I know that watching the movie can actually help you become a better reader!
Tip #5: Pick an activity. Why not have fun along the way? It is summer, after all. Brainstorm some activities related to the book that you and your child would enjoy. Choose at least one and do it together.
Again, the pay–off here is two–fold: generate some great memories together and create an opportunity for more discussion of the reading. (If you haven’t guessed by now, talking about the book as basically the single, best way to deepen understanding and remember details.)
Tip #6: Put some skin in the game. If you really want to get serious, assign yourself a summer reading project. Commit to reading at the same time your child will be reading, and be transparent about it. Yes, this definitely means arming your child with a fail safe weapon to be pulled against you every time you think about flaking out on the day’s reading. Nothing says I value what I’m asking you to do like doing it yourself.
Tip #7: Celebrate. Plan something special for the end of the book. The celebration doesn’t need to be big, expensive, or time–consuming to plan, just something fun that can happen immediately after the last reading. It could be ice cream sundaes in the kitchen (although to be special, it should be something that doesn’t already happen regularly). The important thing is to mark your child’s success in both your minds.
Note: I don’t mean a reward like the X–box game he’s been asking you to buy for months. Carrots work well for basic task–completion: clean your room before the guests arrive, ride your bike for an hour tomorrow. Always keep in mind the reality that these carrots work against you when you’re trying to build your child’s intrinsic value for a task or activity.
If you’ve read through the tips above and you’re thinking there may be some real effort involved for you as a parent, my immediate and resounding response is You bet!
Just as there’s no quick and easy and honest method for making an A, there’s no short cut to maximizing this type of experience. The pay–off requires some heavy–lifting now, but we’re building a lifetime love of reading, right? Definitely worth it!
Did I leave something out? Leave a comment to share your favorite strategy for helping students get the most out of their reading.