The Bonesetter's Daughter by Amy Tan has been added. At
least 18 summer reading books are by women. August Wilson is
on the summer reading list and is used by senior teachers
now. Things Fall Apart is on the summer list now as is
Alice Walker, Maya Angelou, and Ernst Gaines. The bottom
line is that in high school it is important to introduce
students to the classics: read attachment that deals with
this topic as well as summer reading. It was published on
the AP website in June. Pay particular attention to the
quotation from Flannery O'Connor near the end.
We also have state frameworks that list specifi authors that
should be covered. We make an effort to choose
well-respected writers of all ethnicities. We try to include
female writers. We do not make choices based in the sexual
preference of the author.
Read not to contradict, nor to believe, but to weigh and consider. Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some to be digested. That is, some books are to be read only in parts; others to be read but curiously, and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention. Reading maketh a full man, conference a ready man, and writing an exact man." -- Francis Bacon
Although there is debate between AP teachers who require summer reading and those who do not, I firmly believe in the value of assigned summer reading. Summer provides students with the opportunity to read when their schedules are not crowded with six or seven complex classes and crammed with activities. I find that summer reading improves my students' critical reading skills and increases their vocabulary. Even more important, it exposes them to new ideas and great writing. Those students who embrace summer reading return to school eager to talk about the assigned books and, in many cases, several that weren't assigned.
Since summer reading often serves as an introduction to the course, selected titles should be easy enough to read without a teacher's guidance, yet challenging enough to sustain the interest of the most dedicated scholar. Asking a student to struggle alone through a complex work can be counterproductive. As teachers, we want to make sure we don't inadvertently confirm Mark Twain's comic defamation of a classic: something everyone wants to have read but no one wants actually to read.
Present a Range of Selections
Providing students with an array of titles increases their motivation to read. You can share a list of award-winning titles or come up with your own list of interesting choices. At this time of year, the discussion groups on AP Central are often full of wonderful suggestions for summer reading. I recommend that you enlist the help of local librarians and local booksellers to select titles and publicize them. Displays of summer titles promote reading. This summer, I am asking my students to read Crime and Punishment, The Plague, Return of the Native, and a modern or classic work of their choosing.
Remember also that summer reading is not just for English courses. AP Calculus teacher Steve Olson, from Hingham High School in Hingham, Massachusetts, has his calculus students read Newton's methods. Mimi Parris, an AP German teacher at Bowie High School in Austin, Texas, invites her students to read a novel or a play such as Besuch der alten Dame by Duerrenmatt or the books Die Ilse ist Weg or Yildiz heisst Stern. Some science teachers ask their students to read texts by Stephen J. Gould, Carl Sagan, Stephen Hawking, or Alan Lightman.
Many teachers correspond or even meet with their students in the summer. Some instructors establish chat sessions to maintain online correspondence among students; others require students to submit worksheets or mail in postcards to report on their progress.
Incorporate Readings into Fall Curriculum
And how do you use summer reading when school starts again in the fall? Having students complete a timed writing assignment gives you a clear assessment of your students' skills as well as an instrument that is nearly plagiarism proof. Students can't download the assignment from the Internet, borrow it from a brother, or even buy it from a friend. The timed writing experience also provides a beneficial introduction to the course. If you use a former exam question, you'll have proven rubrics and actual samples.
Of course, there will be students who resist summer reading. When I am asked by bright students why they must be coerced to read over the summer, I think of an essay by American writer Flannery O'Connor entitled "Defense of the Classics in Eighth Grade" from Mystery and Manners. In it, O'Connor writes, "The high school English teacher will be fulfilling his responsibility if he furnishes the student a guided opportunity, through the best writing of the past, to come, in time, to an understanding of the best writing of the present.... And if the student finds that this is not to his taste? Well that is regrettable, Most regrettable. His taste should not be consulted; it is being formed."
by Nancy Potter who has been a teacher for 27 years. As a College Board® faculty consultant, she shares, studies, and relishes the splendor and strength of the English language.
Professional experience: Nancy has been recognized as a Washington State Technology Teacher of the Year. Currently she teaches both AP English Literature and AP English Language, as well as honors freshman English at Newport High School in Bellevue, Washington. Serving as a faculty consultant for the College Board® since 1992, Nancy leads workshops in AP English Literature and Language, English Vertical Teams, and Cornerstones throughout the United States and Canada. For the past five years, she has co-directed the largest Pacific Northwest AP Summer Institute, held in Bellevue. Former president of the Washington State Council Teachers of English, Nancy writes curriculum for Washington State, Spokane, Shoreline, and Bellevue School Districts and commercial publishers. She is also a reader for the AP English literature exam and Essay PREP, the College Board's online evaluation service.
Dear Ms. Brady,
Thank you so much for your prompt response.
As I said, I have looked at the high school summer reading list and am impressed by its ethnic/cultural diversity. I also certainly understand the importance of exposing students to the classics.
The article on summer reading you sent was quite interesting. I completely understand summer work for AP courses (such as I have done for Calculus, for example). My complaint is not with preparatory work for college level courses but rather required reading for a standardized test unrelated to the curriculum which reinforces the idea of reading as a chore.