It’s summer, the Fourth of July is behind us, the days are hot here, and everyone is talking about Summer Reading. I hope that you are taking advantage of the lists, finding some enjoyable books to read (http://www.wbur.org/hereandnow/2017/07/03/books-of-summer) and doing some relaxing reading for YOU this summer!

In the meantime, I cannot help but recall what my summers were like when I was teaching and raising my family. There was always some summer activity on my part around getting ready for the next school year, but I intentionally protected my vacation relaxation time too. Maybe some of my ideas in this blog about how to do both, will appeal to you.

Since we are talking about summer reading, let’s expand that discussion into next year’s read-alouds. We know that the read-aloud has many benefits, improving listening comprehension and familiarity with how text works being two of them. We know that the read-aloud does not teach our student how to read, that requires you the teacher and the explicit and systematic teaching you provide. But the read-aloud does build language skill and knowledge, both pretty important contributors to the development of reading ability.

Building knowledge about a topic happens over time with lots of experience and through the connections we make within the topic and to other topics. It is amazing how often time appears as one of the variables in support of learning, and it has a contribution to learning from read alouds too.

We know that reading many books each about different topics, spending little time on one topic before moving on, does not provide deep knowledge. When we devote time to read several books about the same topic, knowledge about that topic grows deeper, connected, varied, and richer. One author might describe the physical environment in which penguins live, another might use different vocabulary to describe the environment and add information about predators who also live in the environment. One author might discuss care of the young from the parents’ point of view and another from the young penguin’s point of view.

Your Summer Reading

Include a few of the texts that you will read to students next school year in your summer reading. Follow these steps to develop a plan for building deep student knowledge.

Nonfiction/Informational Text:

  • Choose a topic of interest, one that supports a unit of study from your basal reader, science or social studies units.
  • Find several, at least five books, articles, or chapters on the topic.
  • Prepare – your summer reading! Read through the texts and note differences in how authors discuss the same topic: the vocabulary they use, how descriptions and content vary, how shallow or deeply the topic exploration develops, note how broadly students’ knowledge will be enhanced through exposure to multiple and varied readings on the same topic.
  • Decide on the order in which you will read the texts. Start with the simpler text and build to the texts with more complex information and ideas.
  • Develop questions that will get your students thinking about their learning and using the vocabulary they are learning: Did the author share any different information about _______ in this book? What do you know now about ____ that you did not know before? Try to stay away from questions that ask, “What do you want to know about ___?” Students need to know a lot about a topic in order to formulate these kinds of questions. If you want student to create questions, which is a great activity, guide them to ask who, what, where, why, and how questions about the content they know.
  • Use a two-column format and lead students to gather information they learn from your read-alouds. One idea is to create this two-column format on a bulletin board. Place the main ideas in the left column (Habitat, Eating Habits, Unique Behaviors, etc) and then after each reading, work with students to determine the details that relate to each heading. Students can be paired or placed in small groups to have conversations around the main ideas and details. They may even decide they need a new main idea! They will learn quickly that each book or article tells some of the same information, but each contributes a little or a lot of some new information.

Fiction

You probably have your favorite stories you read to your class year after year, or if you are in the early years of teaching, just establishing a list of favorites. Make it a priority to branch out a little this next year. Study the award lists (http://www.omnivoracious.com/2017/01/2017-childrens-book-award-winners-amazon-book-review.html) of children’s books and young adult fiction and reviews (https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-industry-news/article/72928-2017-children-s-and-teen-choice-book-awards-finalists-announced.html) to find a new book that interests you and ones you suspect your students will love. Once you find the book, add it to your summer reading! While you read it keep a packet of post-it notes and these teaching and learning ideas in mind to help you plan to make your fiction read-aloud a teaching tool too.

  • Reading fiction can be goal oriented too. What is the theme of the story that you will guide your students to discover? What do you want your students to put into words when talking about the story, the characters feelings and actions?
  • As you read the story, be tuned into when inferences need to be made. Plop a post-it note in the book to remind you to stop and model your inference thinking aloud for your students. Or, if your students are older, what questions can you pose that will lead your students to access their background knowledge to make the necessary inference.
  • As you read, note any complex text and potentially confusing sentence structure. Plop a post-it in the book to remind you to paraphrase the sentence, or stop and discuss what the author is saying. Maybe you want to ask a question in this instance to leads students to restate the meaning being presented in their own words.
  • As you read, note where you will ask your students to partner up and share answers to questions, or discuss the plot, and characters’ actions. Build in narrative terminology – setting, problem and solution.

Read for YOU!

So, please read this summer – for you and for your students. I am reading Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders – (https://www.amazon.com/Lincoln-Bardo-Novel-George-Saunders/dp/0812995341/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1499313728&sr=1-1&keywords=lincoln+in+the+bardo+george+saunders) love it. And I think you will also truly enjoy, The Last Painting of Sara de Vos, by Dominic Smith (https://www.amazon.com/Last-Painting-Sara-Vos-Novel/dp/1250118328/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1499313787&sr=1-1&keywords=the+last+painting+of+sara+de+vos).

Happy productive reading, my friends, for you and your students!