A New Approach to Summer Reading

For many students, assigned reading over the summer is a chore. To help change that, Charlotte Country Day School (NC) reimagined its summer reading program to better engage students and help the school build community at the start of the school year.

As a result of student feedback, the school made some changes to the “All-School Read,” which is the project students and faculty undertake to come together around specific themes each year. Past themes have included boundaries, global America, and problem-solving. This summer’s theme is science and science fiction, which dovetails nicely with the groundbreaking on a new math and science building.

Rather than assess their comprehension of the readings in English class, students write reflectively on the broad themes of the books and submit those reflections to a massive Google doc, which is shared with advisors. In addition, the school now holds an assembly each year based on the summer’s theme.

For example, to facilitate building school culture through books about boundaries, the student body was divided into small, diverse groups of students from each grade level to discuss this theme as it pertained to the books and the lives of the students. To celebrate the theme of problem-solving highlighted in books like Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See and Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, the school built a mystery game for students that included code breaking, collaboration, and black lights.

The list of approved titles was also expanded. A large group of faculty, in addition to some student and parent readers, now vet roughly 30 titles per year to land on the chosen 10. Students choose one but are encouraged to read all 10. The group also recommends films that can be studied alongside the theme.

To build school culture through summer reading, Charlotte Country Day recommends that schools:
1. Involve a diverse group of readers when making book selections.
2. Offer students many book choices that fulfill the requirement.
3. Replace classroom assessment with online discussion/reflection.
4. Hold a unique assembly at the beginning of the school year.
5. Emphasize literacy and community, and not assessment or performance, in all summer reading discussions.