Summer Reading is behind us. For some it had been lingering since June; for others, it was finished in June. This article looks at the students’ perspective on the summer reading program here at MSJ. Many students answered survey questions, and the results were split fifty-fifty between the students who enjoyed their summer reading experience and the students who disliked it.

A sample of the books used for the St. Joe Summer Reading Program. Students had a variety of responses related to the program and the books chosen.

Some students said they think summer reading is good because it keeps their brains from sleeping all summer. Many students said simply, “I enjoyed my summer reading.” Multiple kids pointed out that they like the wide variety of books to read saying, “It’s good because we are able to choose our own book.”  One student specifically said how he liked the open discussion format over writing a book report or answering questions. People even pointed out that the assignment is very manageable and gives the students plenty of time to read and prepare for discussion. In the discussion students wrote about the role of the student leaders, and one student said he would prefer more student leaders so there would be more questions and engagement. Out of the positive reviews, however, no students said the program was perfect and they all had ideas for change.

For the negative reviews many students were very frank and honest. A few kids used words like “useless” and “ineffective” with two kids calling it a “waste of time.” Multiple reviews stated that most kids just read the summary of their books and that even the teachers are aware of this and still pass students. Students claimed this creates the opposite effect of the goal of summer reading. “If a student can read a five paragraph summary and maybe a few bulleted special events and pass, why would he read a five hundred page book,” was a message that came out of the survey results.

One thing that came up over and over again while reading these reviews was that seemingly for every positive thing someone had to say, someone else thought that same reason was negative. For example some people said they liked the wide variety of books to choose from, but then others said they wished we had fewer books to choose from. Someone else even said he wished students could just choose any book at all. Another situation was a student saying they are “given plenty of time to read it during summer.” Two other students, however, claimed that they struggled to find time and read the books because they were busy with work or other events. Some students liked the format of open discussion and wouldn’t enjoy questions to answer or quizzes, but another contradicted and said, “I would change it by possibly having your English teacher testing you on it or having to do work on it.”

I interviewed Mr. Clay Bonham, Director of Campus Ministry, about his experience with leading summer reading sessions. “I’ve had some very good experiences and I’ve had some bad experiences,” said Mr. Bonham. He continued by saying that he thinks we as a school community need to continue to do the summer reading program, and while there are always students who don’t read the book, the benefits outweigh the negatives. He thinks that students need to take a more proactive approach to choosing books and suggesting alternatives as the student books are typically bigger draws.

A St. Joe junior, Ethan Hall, reading “The Canterbury Tales.”

One of the issues that Mr. Bonham discussed, that was echoed by student feedback, was the size of the group and the group dynamics. “I would say in groups with more than 20 it gets more difficult for everybody in the room…15-20 is probably the ideal size.” For Mr. Bonham it is very simple: “The sessions that have been good, I would estimate that 90% or so of the students read the book. The sessions that have been bad, not many of the guys read the book.” But he is unsure how to enforce the reading or methods to deal with students that haven’t read the book.

Both Mr. Bonham and the students in their responses made mention of the use of seniors as leaders. Mr. Bonham said that the senior leaders that he has had over the years were not exceptionally passionate about their book. “I’m sure there are senior leaders that are passionate about it and are great in the room, but that hasn’t been my experience,” stated Mr. Bonham. One student wished there were senior leaders in the room to help facilitate questions and discussions: “I felt we didn’t have enough questions so more than 1 senior leader would be good.” Another student wished that there was more interaction between the senior leader and the members of the group, while still other students stated that they enjoyed having a student leader that had previously read the book.

I don’t think there is any possible way to please everyone when it comes to summer reading. What one person sees as positive another will see as negative. One change in format suggested by a teacher was to allow every student to choose his own book and then randomly group kids together in groups, each student would tell the group about the book they read. Again I’m sure some people would  love this type of format and others will hate it. One thing you have to know in this world is that you can’t please everyone.

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