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Most high school English classes require students to complete reading assignments over the summer, despite the fact that they are widely unpopular. Not many students enjoy homework in general but understand its importance during the school year. However, many students feel that their personal vacation time is invaded upon by lengthy summer reading assignments.

Advanced Placement English Literature required that students complete two books, totaling more than 1,000 pages of reading, which is a hefty assignment for most students to say the least. Senior Scott MacDonald said,“Assigning two books is a lot of work for most students, and while it is within our capabilities, summer is supposed to be a break from school.”

Another common criticism against assigning so much reading is that by the time that school rolls around, it is hard for students to remember all that they have read.

Finn Bjerknes explained: “Teachers have good knowledge about the books they teach and can make reading a book more pleasurable and meaningful if they walk the students through and analyze it section by section instead of just blowing through it in the first couple of weeks [of the school year].”

Many teachers review the summer reading briefly at the beginning of the year and move on, without really allowing students enough time to thoroughly learn it.

Another reason summer reading assignments are so unpopular is that many students do not find the texts interesting or digestible enough. Senior Julian Commissaris believes that summer reading should be assigned, but recommends improvements. Teachers “should try to make the books interesting for the students and if possible, allow for some choice in what the students can read,” he said.

Instead of reading the book, many students read online summaries to save time. Credit: Jake Foster/M-A Chronicle.

If provided with options, perhaps students could choose a book they are interested in and would become more engaged in the assignment.

Bjerknes agrees that forcing students to read difficult books is problematic. Not only is the reading difficult to follow, but it prevents students from engaging in casual reading. Reading becomes associated with lengthy and strenuous assignments, and in turn, students only read when they are forced to.

Senior Jean Claverie believes that summer reading is just something students are forced to deal with. “It should be assigned, if the course is that kind of [difficulty] level obviously, but also only if it does not trump a students’ ability to enjoy summer. If the teacher only wants to spend a couple of weeks on a book, maybe the book shouldn’t take more than [a couple of weeks] to read.”

Claverie and Bjerknes shared the perspective that only spending a week or two on in-class review seldom justifies the amount of time required to complete the reading in the first place. This realization often causes students not to read the books at all, but instead to read Cliffs Notes summaries online instead of reading the entire book. If the student does not feel like the time they must dedicate to complete the reading will be valued, many simply will not do it.

While summer reading is a pretty commonly accepted requirement for most English classes, changes should be made to ensure not only that students actually complete the assignment, but learn from it. If the class is forced to read a full book, then that book should be fully discussed and valued in that class. The assignment should also be manageable enough that students have the ability to make other productive use of their vacation and have enough time to read leisurely if they please.

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