Thursday, May 27, 2010

Required Summer Reading in High Schools

There's always a lot of debate about required summer reading for high school students.

Should summer reading be required? The high school teachers who I know believe it's important to keep students reading during the summer—but many also tell me that a good percentage of students don't complete the assignment—even students who have enrolled in an Advanced Placement course! Some schools have resorted to asking parents and students to sign a contract stating that summer reading and assignments will be completed.

What to read? These lists can cause an uproar. Last year, parents at a suburban Chicago public high school wanted Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian pulled from the required reading list because “it uses foul, racist language and describes sexual acts”—but it remains on the school’s list for 2010.

In addition to classic literature such as Rebecca, Brave New World, and Their Eyes Were Watching God, high schools assign an array of contemporary titles. Barbara Kingsolver's The Bean Trees, The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom, The Things They Carried, Outliers, Fast Food Nation, The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, and Three Cups of Tea appear on many required reading lists. This year The Help by Kathyrn Stockett and William Kamkwamba's The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricty and Hope are making their first appearances on high school required summer reading lists.

Here's a sampling of high school summer reading lists from around the country:
You've probably noticed that Thomas C. Foster's How to Read Literature Like a Professor is a summer reading favorite as is Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. Here, they meet in our First Page video series: Thomas C. Foster, a professor at the University of Michigan, leads students through the first page of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. Professor Foster shows students how the first page of a novel holds the key to style, point of view, narrative identity—and other important clues to what is to come. We hope you'll share this video with your students before they start their summer reading assignment.

Find more videos like this on To Kill a Mockingbird 50th Anniversary

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