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Summer Reading Requirements Aren't Inclusive


As the weather warms and I pile books on my laughably long summer reading list, I recall the l
ooks of dismay and dread, as well as the eye-rolling that seems almost involuntary from 13-year-olds, whenever I mentioned summer reading during my time as a middle-school English teacher. Even the most avid readers looked at Kafka’s Metamorphosis with apparent disgust.  

Looking back, I see that the
process as much as the titles may have spurred students’ reactions. Students faced the next year’s English class filled with reading texts they had no agency in choosing, writing essays in response to prompts they didn’t choose and participating in conversations determined by someone else. I cringe at the memory of the frustration, sadness, discouragement and angst written on students’ faces as we spent the first week of the school year processing their summer reading tasks 

Summer reading is a worrisome norm for AP English classes; a barrier blocking too many kids. For avid readers who have their own summer reading lists, for those who must work or help care for family members, and for others with unique situations, required summer reading signals that they are not the “right kind” of student for AP English. Discouraging these and other students is heartbreaking and raises the question of how we might be more inclusive. 

One idea is to ask students to come ready to reflect on their summers.  AP Literature students could reflect on and write how an event changed them as a person. This lays the groundwork for critical understandings of how authors convey complex characterizations, while also making clear this space validates diverse experiences.  

AP Language students could identify a strength or an issue in their community and write an argument for why others can learn from or solve this issue. Workshop these argumentative pieces for rhetorical choices and impact. Using this method, students become advocates for their communities and build foundational AP Language skills. Teachers learn about the topics and issues students are passionate about and use those to inform units and select texts that will resonate with students.

These are two of likely thousands of ways we can embrace all kids in our AP English classrooms, so let's think about this together. Add a comment to share with us so we might learn from one another. 

How do you avoid gatekeeping and ensure all students feel welcomed and affirmed by AP English?