Summer Reading Club

Donalyn Miller teaches English and Social Studies at a Texas public middle school. Caring more about developing life-long readers than merely ticking off objectives on a list, Mrs. Miller doesn't follow the typical path of assigning a few books and requiring her students to plow through work pages or possibly fun, but largely irrelevant, literature related activities. But read her students do! She asks each of her 6th graders to dig into at least 40 books of their own choosing during the course of a school year, reading across ten different genres. And it works. Even the kids who enter her class as non-readers leave with a very different outlook, and since her students excel at the state-mandated English exams, she's allowed to follow her non-traditional path.

Mrs. Miller tells the story of how she began teaching in this way in The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child. This is probably the most intriguing book on teaching that I have read in quite a while. This is true even though Mrs. Miller and I have decidedly different opinions on many specific books that young adults ought to read. (I am just not a fan of much of the realistic fiction marketed for young teens these day, though there are occasional diamonds out there in new fiction.)

My approach to teaching reading and instilling a love for the printed word already shares a fair bit of common ground with Mrs. Miller's. But as I read The Book Whisperer I found some great new ideas I wanted to try out. And when better than during the summer, when the kids have loads of free time for reading? Thus was born our Summer Reading Club.

I have two basic goals for our reading club:
1. That everyone will keep reading enthusiastically during the summer.
2. That each of us, myself included, will read broadly across various genres.

So here's what we're doing. 

1. We have a weekly Book Club meeting. During this time I spend about 10-20 minutes teaching a mini-lesson on some topic. Some of the time this will be on the various genres that we are tackling or how to find good books. In our first week  I discussed characteristics common to enthusiastic readers. Next, everyone has a time to give a brief book-fomercial. This can be as short as 30 seconds and they must not give plot spoilers! In our first session even though none of the kids knew ahead of time I would be asking them to do this, we had a rather long appeal for us to read about William Carey, a dramatic and altogether silly review of a historical fiction work, and a "Guess what book I'm describing without me using any names." Very good fun!

2. Book Club Journals
These notebooks include a tally list with the ten genres we are aiming for this summer, a book log (title, author, genre, and a rating from 1-5 stars), a "Books to Read" section, and a Response section. The latter is a place for each child to write a short letter to me giving feedback on what they are reading. I'll write back in letter format, probing about themes, characters, etc. depending on the age of the reader. (And since this is summer - I've told them that this last section is optional, though I would make it required if we were in school.) I'm keeping my our book journal as well. Yes, keeping up with our journals is the hardest part of this whole thing for every one of us!

3. Frequent trips to the library. We make weekly trips to the bookmobile year round, but the library offers more exciting fare, so we'll try to hit it weekly during the summer.

4. We have a couple of rules about the books we read. First, it is OK to re-read something we've enjoyed before. Second, if you begin a book but don't like it or find something objectionable, it is just fine (necessary at times) to drop it. Just make a note about it in your notebook. And third, books greater than 350 pages count as two books.

How's it working? Well, we've only had two club meetings so far, but they've been a blast. And since I'd been talking about the idea for a while before we began, the kids really hit the ground running. Manda, my once avid reader who has decided she disdains all fiction, read ten missionary biographies (full length adult books) in the first week and a half. She's working on Pilgrim's Progress and Augustine's City of God as well. I'm hoping to find some fiction that she might think is worth dipping into. And even my son with some form of dyslexia, for whom reading is enjoyable but slow, has been seriously reading daily, something he would not necessarily do in the summer without some motivation. I'm being stretched to think beyond the few categories of books that I typically turn to. So - yay! I think we're going to have some fun with both books and one another in our Summer Book Club. Maybe you would like to try one in your house this summer, too!
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