Summer reading in January


Students have long held qualms about summer reading assignments, but the semester schedule at DHS makes summer reading into winter reading for many second semester students. The English Department requires students to read at least one title from the provided school-wide list and be prepared to discuss or answer questions upon their return. Additionally, those who take AP classes must complete the assignment designed by their teacher, and those who take Honors courses are required to read another title that is assigned by grade level.  It is expected that these students come with notes and completed work within the first week of the semester.

The English Department created a unified summer assignment that required students to take notes and track a given theme throughout their book. The students were then asked to write a reflective essay on the purpose of the book within the first few weeks of class.

English teacher Jessica Pacheco uses the essay as a tool to gauge her students’ writing and ability to track a theme. She feels that students should have a chance to learn the process for a week or two in class instead of being let loose over the summer. At the same time, the curriculum does not provide teachers with enough time to teach an extra lesson on annotating and tracking themes. “It’s hard, but I feel if we didn’t assign it, kids would lose what they learned in English class,” she said.

AP Human Geography teacher Elizabeth True requires that her students watch and respond to a TED Talk, discuss current events, reflect on an article, and do basic vocabulary. The majority of the summer work centers on the first unit, globalization, and provides students with an understanding of basic vocabulary and current events that are essential to human geography. “Basically, it prepares them for the course,” said Ms. True. “If they don’t do it, they are going to be behind.”

Each teacher approaches how they review the summer reading assignment differently. English teacher Marek Kulig takes a day or two to review the summer reading book and discuss events that align with the purpose of the text. His approach for teaching second semester students is no different. No extra time for review or extra time for writing the essay that the English Department requires as their unified assignment. “That wouldn’t be fair,” he said.

Ms. Pacheco, on the other hand, typically gives the second semester students a couple extra days to get situated and to recall the book they were meant to take notes on throughout the summer. This semester she is giving her students one week to read the book if they have neglected to do so, reviewing the book each day. “If it [the book] were more interesting, student’s would do a better job,” she said. Ms. Pacheco would rather be able to teach her students the skills of searching for a purpose than having them learn through their summer assignment.

Since the summer work for AP classes tends to focus on the first unit of the class, the teachers spend their own time on their respective units, assuming students already have a basic understanding from their summer work. Ms. True required that the Human Geography summer work be handed in sometime within the first week of class, and she begins the lesson right away.

Most who have had an AP or English class second semester find it difficult to recall their summer assignment. Junior Lexie Viveiros said, “It [second semester English class] was awful. I didn’t remember anything.” Putting the assignment away for around five months to pick it up again, as if no time has passed, is seen, by some, as unreasonable.

AP student and senior Abbey Branco finds that having an AP class first semester is an advantage over second semester when it comes to the summer assignment. “First semester AP kids have a greater advantage by far. They remember it [the assignment] better, and it’s easier to get around to do,” she said.

Others find that second semester kids should have an easier time with the summer assignment. “Second semester kids have the advantage because they are able to read the book over the summer and the entire first semester,” said senior Austin Couto. Other advantages include knowing what your teacher will expect in advance from friends who had the class first semester.

Since the English Department requires every student to write an essay based on her summer reading book, and AP teachers base their summer work on the first unit of their course, little variation occurs in the assignment itself. Some teachers allow students more time than others and the difficulty of the assignment changes from student to student. It is debatable as to which semester class has the advantage, and it becomes more of a matter of personal preference.