Summer is quickly approaching, and soon the final school bells will sound, pool covers will be drawn back, sunglasses will go on and students everywhere will feel the overwhelming pressure of summer reading assignments. Long has required reading during summer vacation been a hallmark of the American education system. However, as many people know, most students are typically reluctant to read for class during the year, let alone during their breaks. Often, students protest to summer assignments in hopes of reducing the requirements or, more extremely, abolishing the summer reading program altogether. In an age where students are directing their attention more to the screen and less to the page, a question arises: Should schools require summer reading?
Many claim that yes, summer assignments should be required, even necessary, in order to prevent a phenomenon known as "summer slide." According to the National Summer Learning Association, a summer slide occurs when students, especially low-income students, lose academic skills over the summer. The association reports that students typically lose anywhere between two and three months of reading skills while on break. Requiring students to participate in a summer reading program will supposedly combat this slide, and help to improve students' reading ability.
Summer learning is important for the success of a student. However, summer reading is typically only enjoyable for one group of students: those who enjoy reading. All to often does a student say "I'm just not a book person," or "I hate reading books." Even those who enjoy reading often times are reluctant to dive into prescribed books. Requiring disinterested students to read anywhere from two to three books per summer is comparable to demanding that someone who passionately dislikes classical music to listen to two or three of Beethoven's symphonies. How, then, can summer language arts assignments effectively reach all students?
The aim of summer reading is ultimately to both prescribe a cultural confrontation through literature, and demand some form of analysis in response. In an article for Time magazine, Charlotte Alter reported that as children get older they read less and less for pleasure, following a steady decrease over the past 30 years. As attention has clearly shifted away from literature, interested educators can hope to turn to the new "center of attention" for ideas on how to re-vamp summer homework.
Television shows and movies, both broadcast and streamed, have most likely become the new center of attention for students. With more free time in the summer months, students are more inclined to kick back, relax and power through five seasons of "Breaking Bad." The rising binge-watching culture is not all bad, however, as one New York Times writer claims that watching a streamed series is "more like reading a book." Complete with culturally relevant themes, character development, plot, conflict, exposition, climax and resolution, analyzing a television series or film can yield the same kind of response teachers seek from current summer reading activities.
Summer vacation should be a time for students to unwind after a long year of school work and testing. Some students enjoy picking up a book that interests them, sitting in their favorite spot and reading for hours. Others prefer to curl up on the couch, turn on the TV and stream the next season of their favorite show. Regardless of how our students prefer to spend their summers, it is time for the definition of "summer reading" to be expanded to include their interests and strengths. Both turning the page, and turning the channel can keep students engaged and educated during the summer months.