Combining Reading, Discussion, and Technology as Summer Homework

One of my favorite parts of being a teacher is the reflection that’s involved. This past school year was different and challenging since I was on maternity leave at the beginning and wasn’t able to create the same community that I could have had I been there all year. My long-term sub did a fantastic job setting the tone and getting my students excited about reading, but I personally still felt like something was lacking on my end. I didn’t have as much time to make an impact on my students as readers. Thankfully I discovered through my students’  reading reflection essays at the end of the year that I did help some of my students discover a love of reading. Below are two excerpts from those reading reflection essays.

Margaret's response

Renae's response

On top of being on maternity leave for part of the school year, I returned to school  and encountered new technology. Through a millage, our school district has acquired many Chromebooks and is now using Google Apps for Education. I stepped out of my comfort zone and started using Google Classroom with great success. My students and I utilized Docs, Slides, Forms and more this year, but I hadn’t yet tried Groups. After reflecting over the success of Google Classroom and wishing I had more time to build my community of readers, I knew I had to explore ways to bring those elements together in my summer homework assignment for my incoming honors freshmen. I want more of my students to have experiences like the students who wrote the letters pictured above.

I took over the honors freshmen course (Literature and Composition I Honors) this past year, so this was my first opportunity to design the summer homework assignment. In the past, the students were required to read various short stories and write paragraphs analyzing those stories. That’s not my style. I wanted them to have choice in their reading and I knew I wanted them to be familiar with Google Classroom since we’ll be using it this coming school year. I also wanted to find a way to build our reading community before we even met one another on the first day of class.

After reflecting and conferring with my peers, I came up with this (there are two other parts to my summer homework assignment outside of the reading):

Part III–Reading:

Reading throughout the summer will help you avoid “summer setback” and keep you in better academic preparedness for the 2015-2016 school year. Instead of requiring one book for all of us to read I’m expecting you to read widely and read often this summer. Like I noted at the beginning of this assignment, I work diligently to create a community of readers; we’re going to start building that community this summer.

Summer is the perfect time to introduce yourself to new genres and authors. Read a graphic novel like Page by Paige by Laura Lee Gulledge or El Deafo by Cece Bell. Open yourself up to a dystopian series like Legend by Marie Lu or The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness. Travel back in time with some great historical fiction novels like The Book Thief by Markus Zusak and Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys. If you have younger siblings or babysit young children read aloud a wonderful picture book like You Will Be My Friend! by Peter Brown and The Snatchabook by Helen Docherty. Ask your parents to read the novels with you to share the experience and open up discussions. Share books with your friends who are enrolled in the class as well. The opportunities for reading this summer are endless.

To help build our classroom community, I’m requiring you to post about your reading experiences via Google Groups. This summer you will post at least twice about what you’ve been reading and also comment on other students’ posts as well. Your individual posts may be book recommendations, questions about books or what to read, great quotes/passages from a book, etc. The comments you make on other posts should be thoughtful in nature and may also consist of questions, comments, recommendations, etc. I will also be reading widely this summer, so you’ll see my posts, comments, and recommendations as well.

After that, I included the guidelines and the dates that I would like them to post by. Their first post on Google Groups isn’t due until July 16th, but we’ve already had a conversation going about The Book Thief.  The picture below is a screenshot of that discussion (student names have been removed).

The Book Thief Convo

Sure, there are some writing rules we’ll need to address at the beginning of the school year, but this type of discussion excites me. This is what I see/hear happening in my classroom after I establish what a reading community is and get them excited about reading. If this sort of dialogue continues over the summer then I know we’ll have an even more successful school year. I want them to feel comfortable talking about books on the first day of school. Too many students enter my room intimidated by reading; it’s my hope that this will erase that intimidation factor.

In my assignment letter I also included the following resources to help them find books to read:

If you need help finding great books to read this summer consider using the following resources:

The first part of their summer homework assignment is to send me an introductory email. Many of them have mentioned books they enjoy and have asked for book suggestions. I love this part of the assignment because I get to see how well they write formal emails and–more importantly–I can start getting to know them. A few students have asked if it’s required that they read a certain number of books or if they are expected to read the books I specifically mentioned in the assignment. Their replies to those emails are full of relief at knowing they have the freedom to read what they want and as much as they want.

I’m looking forward to what the remainder of the summer brings.

My Summer 2013 TBR List

toptentuesday-New

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and The Bookish

I haven’t written a Top Ten Tuesday post since April!  I’m glad it’s finally summer so I can make more time to blog and read.  Today’s Top Ten Tuesday post is all about the summer reads at the top of our list.  There are more books that I want to read this summer than I can possibly list, so I’m going to break this down into a few different categories and include more than ten books.

Backlist Titles (Released in 2012 or earlier):

Jumping Off Swings by Jo Knowles (Goodreads)–I’ve had this on to-read lists like this before, but I still haven’t read it.  There’s really no excuse, especially since it’s so popular in my classroom.

The Gray Wolf Throne & The Crimson Crown by Cinda Williams Chima (Goodreads)–I’m cheating and making two books count as one since I need to finish this series.

Fingerprints of You by Kristen-Paige Madonia (Goodreads)–I haven’t read many reviews for this one, but I remember seeing it at Barnes & Noble last summer, being drawn to the cover, and reading the first chapter in the store.  I knew I was going to like it, but I didn’t buy it (so stupid).  After that I didn’t see it at the store again.  One way or another I was chatting with Kelly @ Stacked about this title and she offered to give me her copy 🙂  I’m confident that my students and I will like this debut.

Jumping Off SwingsThe Gray Wolf ThroneThe Crimson CrownFingerprints of You

Recent Releases (Released in 2013):

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey (Goodreads): Before the release of The 5th Wave, I posted the book trailers made to advertise it.  My students were hooked; I had to create a waiting list.  I ordered a copy and when it arrived I read the first couple chapters.  I’m hooked as well.

Over You by Amy Reed (Goodreads): I have a couple of Amy Reed’s books in my classroom, but I’ve never had the chance to read them since they’re always checked out.  I’ve read the first forty pages of Over You, and even though I’m still getting used to the writing style for it, I really like the story.  I’m looking forward to finishing this over the summer.

Rules of Summer by Joanna Philbin (Goodreads): It’s summertime, so I should read a summery book, right? 🙂

The 5th WaveStyle: "Porcelain vivid"Rules of Summer

Upcoming Releases (2013 ARCs):

Wild Cards by Simone Elkeles (Goodreads): Jillian @ Heise Reads and Recommends is a wonderful friend.  She’s even more wonderful for sending me her ARC to read 🙂

Where the Stars Still Shine by Trish Doller (Goodreads): If you know how much I LOVE Trish’s debut, Something Like Normal, then you can understand why I’m excited to read her sophomore release.

The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater (Goodreads): Did I mention how wonderful Jillian is? 😉  I’ve been wanting to read this since that crazy last page of The Raven Boys.  I love it when friends share!

Wild CardsWhere the Stars Still ShineThe Dream Thieves

NetGalley Titles:

If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan (Goodreads): This August release has so many aspects to it that make it intriguing. It’s LGBT, it has Iranian characters, and so much more. I hope it’s as good as it sounds!

Living with Jackie Chan by Jo Knowles (Goodreads): Jo Knowles makes my list twice and it’s because she’s a great author!  It’s told from a guy’s point of view, it deals with teen pregnancy, and I’ve already heard awesome things about it. This releases in September.

New Money by Lorraine Zago Rosenthal (Goodreads): I loved Lorraine’s debut, Other Words for Love, so I jumped at the opportunity to read her New Adult release, New Money.

If You Could Be MineLiving with Jackie ChanNew Money

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