- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 20, 2007

With hundreds of classics and contemporary books to choose from summer reading lists, secondary school students are encouraged to sit down and escape, at least for a while.

They could travel the oceans with “The Sea Wolf” or go back in time with Huckleberry Finn or Oliver Twist, relate to Holden Caulfield’s coming-of-age story in “The Catcher in the Rye,” try on New York high society with Edith Wharton in “The Age of Innocence” or explore Paris with Ernest Hemingway in “The Sun Also Rises.”

However, classics are not the be-all of summer reading, which is required or encouraged in the metro area to help prevent students from experiencing the “summer slide.”

According to a number of studies from the past two decades, summer slide occurs when students forget some of what they learned in school and fall behind by two to three months during the summer break, says Timothy Shanahan, president of the International Reading Association in Newark, Del. He is a professor of urban education at the University of Illinois at Chicago and director of the UIC Center for Literacy.

“Those months have to be regained again the following fall,” Mr. Shanahan says. “Summer reading prevents some of that forgetting.”

Summer reading choices may be specified or left up to students to select, possibly from a provided list or from lists available at book-related Web sites (such as Bartleby.com, Bookbrowse.com and Bookspot.com), libraries and bookstores, according to Mr. Shanahan and other literacy educators. The lists often include classics, nonfiction, children’s and young adult literature, award winners, books from different genres and contemporary books, they say.

“This is not the time for assigning ‘Moby Dick.’ One, it’s too long, and two, it’s challenging. You need guidance for a book like that because it has so much depth,” Mr. Shanahan says.

The trick, Mr. Shanahan says, is to suggest books that are engaging for young readers and avoid requiring one particular book, opting instead to have students choose from a list of recommendations.

“Our hope is that reading becomes a choice children choose to make,” says Gabrielle Miller, vice president of education and literacy programs for Reading Is Fundamental, a literacy organization based in Northwest that distributes books to children and works to motivate them to read.

“Our focus really is the joy of reading,” says Ms. Miller, who holds a doctorate in education.

Generally, schools that require summer reading or offer it as bonus credit require that an assignment be completed along with the reading, such as answering a list of questions or writing a brief paper, Mr. Shanahan says.

“I’ve seen schools give heavy reading lists, sometimes aimed at honors students. My sense of that is, while it is OK to have those recommended reading lists, I would give kids space on this,” Mr. Shanahan says.

Individual stores in Borders Group, a bookseller headquartered in Ann Arbor, Mich., work with schools in their areas to obtain summer reading lists or opt to use a template provided by the corporate office, says Diane Mangan, category director for the children’s department at Borders Group. The lists or template are used to provide enough in-store copies of summer reading suggestions and to develop summer reading display tables and racks, she says.

“There’s a lot of ways to keep kids busy over the summer, and we would like to see that reading is one of the best ones. This is a great way for us to do that,” Ms. Mangan says.

The Fairfax County Public Schools district requires secondary school students to read one book during the summer, asking that rising ninth-graders read a book from a list of genres, rising 10th-graders a nonfiction book, rising 11th-graders a book by an American author and rising 12th-graders a novel or memoir from another country.

“You want students to learn that reading is a pleasure. It’s a way to open up your life and to open up your mind,” says Janice Leslie, director of the Fairfax County schools’ office of high school instruction and curriculum services for kindergarten through 12th grade.

The Prince William County Public Schools district encourages students to read two to five books, the number depending on grade level, from a suggested reading list provided by individual schools. Students can earn extra credit in their English classes for each book they read, along with forms they fill out answering questions about the books.

“The main thing is to encourage them to read and to help keep that skill going through the summer,” says Sarah Hopwood, supervisor of library media programs and research for Prince William County schools.

Students in the Howard County Public School System are not required to do any summer reading, but the school district and individual schools provide reading lists, including titles that may be assigned during the upcoming school year, says Zeleana Morris, supervisor for secondary language arts for county schools.

“Students may choose to read if they want to concentrate on lengthy selections,” Ms. Morris says.

Alexandria City Public Schools and Loudoun County Public Schools also do not require summer reading, but they do encourage it.

The Loudoun County school district, for instance, provides optional summer reading suggestions of nonfiction, classics and young adult fiction for bonus credit in secondary-level English classes, says Carrie Perry, supervisor of English language arts for Loudoun County schools.

“The goal of the program is to help students to think critically and independently by continuing to read over the summer,” Ms. Perry says.

For students in grades six through eight, the bonus assignment asks for a plot summary, why the student picked the book and answers to two of four questions about the book. For students in grades nine through 12, the assignment asks them to divide the book into thirds and for each section to find an interesting quote and explain its significance to the story, describe an interesting character or event, and find a connection between the book and their own lives.

“We know good readers make connections between themselves and what they read,” Ms. Perry says.

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