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New take on Summer Reading Book Assignment Ignites Conversations

New take on Summer Reading Book Assignment Ignites Conversations


Hastings-on-Hudson, NY - The conversations were flowing around Hastings High School this past week as students across all grade levels gathered in small groups to discuss their “Summer Reading”. In every available classroom or seating area, small groups were intently conversing not only about the major characters and plot points but also about moral conflicts, thematic connections and whether or not certain selections are still relevant. Each conversation was facilitated by a member of the staff, faculty or administration, who had also read the same book as the students in their group.


Unlike in years past where one book title was chosen for every student in a specific grade, this past summer students self-selected a book from 25 titles regardless of their grade level. Also, upon returning to school, they would not have to write an essay or be given a test on the book. Instead, they would break off into small groups to have in-depth conversations.


According to 10th grader Lauren Margalit, who read the Upside of Unrequited, by Becky Albertalli, "This was a much better way of summer reading. Usually, one book per grade is chosen and that doesn't work. The complexity of the book can be either too easy or too hard for some of the students. Having an option made us more excited to read a book, especially since it was one we were interested in. Also, we were able to read for pleasure instead knowing we would have to write an essay or take a test on the book."


Kojo Sheng, a 12th grader, shared a similar view, "The autonomy in the book selection gave me more motivation to read. And, senior Felix Sprock said, "It allowed me to think about what I was reading and be an active reader because I was interested in the book."

Lauren also commented that friend groups didn’t stick together and pick the same book since their personal interests varied, and they engaged with other students across grade levels in the conversations.


The idea of English teacher Ms. Maria Rudolph and the High School English Department, the school’s objective was to take out the punitive aspect of reading over the summer and instead encourage student choice to read in a way that was authentic to them.


“In lieu of a traditional approach to summer reading, the English department hoped this program would allow students an avenue to enjoy reading for themselves and to see how we as a school value literacy and life-long learning,” explained Maria Rudolph, English teacher, who spearheaded the initiative. “The staff wanted to reignite interest in reading, and show that everyone reads; and by giving the students choice, it was like giving them a breath of fresh air.”  

The titles were generated by staff, faculty and students. Over 60 titles were recommended and then vetted. Final selection book titles included:


Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream by H.G. Bissinger

Lords of Discipline by Pat Conroy

How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking by Jordan Ellenberg  

Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen by Jose Antonio Vargas

Becoming: Michelle Obama by Michelle Obama   

The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan 


“The feedback I've received has been overwhelmingly positive; many students wished they had more time to discuss their book or that there would be a second time to meet to continue their conversations,” said Maria Rudolph. “And, several students told me they enjoyed meeting with kids from other grades. We created an environment that broke down the barriers of English class, allowing students to meet to discuss literature that was significant to them. There was a definite positive feeling in the building last Thursday.”


After the event, many faculty and staff members were abuzz about being a part of the interesting and thoughtful conversations. As a community, everyone felt it was an exciting way to spend time promoting values and bonding in a meaningful way.


Hastings High School is located at One Mount Hope Blvd., Hastings-on-Hudson, NY 10706


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