Engaging Students with Summer Reading: An Assessment of a Collaborative High School Summer Reading Program

Article excerpt

This study examines the impact of students' active involvement in a collaborative project to reform a high school summer reading program. It takes place in an American high school, grades nine through twelve. A stratified random sample of 288 students and eleven teachers ensured representation of students from each of three ability groupings. Data were collected through student surveys and teacher interviews. Findings show that students attributed different types of cognitive, psychological, and social learning to this collaborative summer reading program. The method of student self-assessment revealed some personal attributes of reading that otherwise could not have been identified. This study also confirmed that students have to be actively involved and participate in the collaborative efforts to make their reading and learning meaningful.

Keywords: Summer reading, student collaboration, reading achievement, student self-assessment, stratified random sampling

Introduction: The Context for the Study

Summer reading in the United States has received increasing attention in the past 30 years. One of the major reasons is the strong research evidence about "summer learning and reading loss," which reveals students' achievement losses during the long summer vacation. This phenomenon raises a red flag in United States public education when reading scores of many American students are decreasing (National Endowment for the Arts, 2007), and students do not seem to be prepared for the informational, technological and scientific challenges of the 21st century (National Center on Education and the Economy, 2006). Therefore, the current practice of summer reading in American schools deserves further investigation.

Traditionally, summer reading in American high schools consists of static, grade-specific lists of book titles com- bined with a required written assessment. Summer reading lists in U.S. high schools do not reflect student input for ti- tle choices. The teacher librarian or school media specialist usually com- poses annotated lists of book titles, mostly classics, in coordination with the English teachers. Students will read at least three books from an approved list during the summer vacation months of July and August. In a typical scenario teacher librarians purchase books to sup- port the reading lists and offer motiva- tional activities, such as book talks, prior to summer vacation. Since the focus of summer reading is also on writing and as- sessment, the design of summer reading programs in American schools is heavily influenced by English teachers who re- quire that each student read a specified number of books (usually three) from their designated grade-level reading list. They also require that students submit written reports or take quick reading tests. The messages conveyed in this mandated type of summer reading are that students are not capable of making the right choices, and that they are not independent learners.

On the other hand, fostering an independent "lifelong learner and reader" has been an important goal in education and library communities. In 1994, the U.S. government passed GOALS 2000: Educate America Act, which set a goal "[to promote] lifelong learning" (National Education Goals). The American Association of School Librarians' (AASL) Standards for the 21st-century Learner (2007), which offer a vision for teaching and learning to guide school media specialists in instructing young people, underscore the necessity of equipping "independent learners" with the ability to read, gain information, and use information in a complex information environment.

Can a mandated school summer reading program help foster an independent lifelong reader? Or, from a reverse viewpoint, can students help build a summer reading program that may better motivate them as lifelong readers? Barnstable High School (BHS), in Hyannis, Massachusetts, stake their ground in an initiative to test the later. …