Summer Reading: Beneficial or Superficial?

Alison Jackson, Senior Staff Writer

After nine months of persistent dedication to their schoolwork, the diligent students of MacDuffie look forward to closing up their textbooks and leaving their brains academically dormant until September rolls around. However, the existence of MacDuffie’s summer reading assignments prevents this.

According to MacDuffie faculty, this source of dread for many students has its benefits. Head of the English Department Meaghan Quinn says one of the main reasons why summer reading is assigned is “to keep the mind engaged.”

“Summer reading allows you to get back into the academic mindset and serves as a segue, or an opener to what to expect,” Quinn says. “It’s almost like a little transition into the school year,” she adds, explaining that summer reading provides students with the opportunity to become acquainted with texts that will ultimately serve as the topics for essays during the first quarter.

English teacher Carol Tomkiel concurs with Quinn’s opinion on summer reading benefits, stating, “It’s not busywork, it’s meaningful work.” She believes that MacDuffie’s objective in implementing the assignments is to familiarize students with reading habits they can utilize throughout their adult lives. “We want to foster a lifelong love of reading, we want students as adults to be readers, and so it’s about starting that habit early . . . cultivating a love for reading,” Tomkiel expresses.

A freshman student—who did, in fact, enjoy the reading—echoes the English teachers’ sentiments, stating that, “it’s helpful to stay in an academic sense, so that you’re ready when you come back.”

Quinn also believes that summer reading can serve as a tool in charting the progress of a student, expressing that, “As the years go on, we [the MacDuffie staff] want to see you practicing skills in the ability to reach a higher level of critical thinking and reading comprehension skills, and summer work is a great indicator of that.”

Nonetheless, Quinn has her own grievances about the program’s response questions, as she feels the ambiguity of its directions can often be a source of stress for students. “A lot of our students….go above and beyond because that’s simply the type of student that we attract at MacDuffie,” Quinn says. “The only way to fix this frustration is to provide….explicit instructions stating the maximum and the minimum requirements.”

Tomkiel does not require the completion of thought questions in her curriculum as she believes they are “designed to be what they are; thought questions.” On the other hand, she emphasizes the necessity of completing the novels assigned in preparation for the upcoming school year. “The most important thing someone can do if they want to score well on the SAT….is to become a reader. If they want to become a good writer, a good reader, a good thinker, learn how to be a reader,” Tomkiel explains.

In terms of student satisfaction, Quinn has gathered that students tend to prefer reading the choice books to those assigned because they are granted the ability to choose based on their own preferences. In terms of the program as a whole, Quinn believes that student reception is “always mixed.”

One student at the opposing end of this “mixed” spectrum is Junior Gabby Keiser, who feels the response questions accompanying the novels are “a little unfair to students.”

“There’s kids that don’t have time to do it because they’re busy during the summer with jobs,” she explains, citing a realistic inconvenience. Another student in opposition, Junior Craig Judicki, believes “summer is supposed to be a time when you don’t have to stress about school.”

Whether they enjoy the program or not, MacDuffie students seem to recognize the reasons why the summer reading programs exists. Though not fond of the program, Judicki is aware of the purpose of the assignments “to keep our minds busy over the summer” and “ to get a head start on school.”

Yet students that dislike certain aspects of the program, such as the specific books that are assigned, should not fret, as Quinn explains that the English Department is constantly making changes to the current curriculum. According to Quinn, the book selection and the format in which the thought questions are composed has been modified innumerable times in recent years. “We basically review and work on our curriculum and try to make major or minor updates to the curriculum as a whole. We….work on it all year,” explains Quinn. Tomkiel adds that the English Department has altered assigned novels in the past due to recommendations of teachers from other departments and even students. Such alterations may provide a way in which MacDuffie students can find more enjoyment in their future summer reading endeavors.