I know students have countdowns to summer break. I promise you that teachers do too! Summer should be a time for sleeping in, spending time with loved ones, sports conditioning and band camp, traveling and mission trips, and summer jobs to save for a car or college. I know my students have busy summers. So why, Mrs. Hoham, they ask, do you make us do summer reading homework on top of all that?
Many of the honors courses at Concordia require summer work, with the hardest loads assigned for the Advanced Placement (AP) classes, where students can earn college credit if they score high enough on the May AP exams. Students complain that college classes don’t require summer work, so why do the AP classes? Excellent question, my dear students!
I can’t speak for the other AP teachers at CLHS, but I have three primary goals for my summer reading project and my reasoning:
- To expose the students to the variety and difficulty of reading we will do in AP English.
- To give me a diagnostic of where each of my students is as I plan for the year.
- To make sure each student REALLY wants to be in AP.
Sometimes I have asked students to read books that are particularly dense, and are better suited to less-structured summer than homework-filled school nights (for example, the senior AP Lit students are reading Tess of the d’Urbervilles and A Prayer for Owen Meany right now at 1,000+ pages).
Other years, I give students a book list to choose a text. I’ve tested out online discussion boards using Edmodo, Google Docs, and Google Classroom. Students always do some writing either during the summer or the first weeks of school related to the project.
In any case, I try to expose my students to the variety and depth of reading they will do in AP English. If the summer reading is too easy, student get blindsided by the workload first quarter, and see their grades drop without the ability to drop the course. If it’s too hard, then I risk killing confidence before they ever hit my classroom. I spend weeks tweaking my assignment to get it just right.
SECOND: WHERE THEY ARE
This year I asked students to submit a cover letter to me by June 15, introducing themselves and explaining their goals of AP English. There was no word count, but they had to be written in letter format. By June 16, I learned:
- which students prefer to turn in work early
- which students generally don’t read directions (sooo many omitted the Dear Mrs. Hoham and the Sincerely parts of a letter)
- which students are perennially tardy on work (Dear Mrs. Hoham, I am so sorry to submit this late, but…)
- which students are particularly verbose and thorough
- who prefers the bare minimum to accomplish a task
I also can attach details to a name, which makes it much easier to learn names that first week of school. The synthesis essays my students will turn in August 11 give me a baseline for their writing, an artifact for me and them to keep and see how their writing develops throughout the year. This is extraordinarily valuable information to me.
THIRD: WEEDING OUT
For many of my students, my class is their first AP or honors class they are taking at Concordia. I want my students in AP to be successful, but I also expect a higher level of work and engagement both in and outside the classroom. Willingness to complete summer work is an indicator for a student’s future work ethic in AP.
I collect fewer assignments during the year than the English 11 course, but I assign a lot of ungraded work (often 50-100 pages of reading a week), and completion is needed for success in the class. If a student can’t or won’t do work over the summer, he or she will probably see lower grades and is more likely to drop once the year begins.
Dear students, notice that NONE of my rationale includes “Because I hate students” — and I promise none of your other teachers plan work for that reason either. I hope you also find some time to read for you too. I’m happy to suggest some titles if you need them!
CLHS English Teacher