How To Make Summer Reading A Collaborative Learning Experience

This is a post that I co-authored with Beth Holland that was recently published on the Edudemic Website.

This post was co-authored by EdTechTeacher’s Beth Holland and Vincent Day – Director of Technology Engagement & Professional Learning Coordinator at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy in Philadelphia, PA.

Like many great conversations in education these days, this one began via Twitter several weeks ago. Through a series of Tweets, Direct Messages, an eventual email, and collaboration via Google Doc, we had the conversation below about the value of summer reading, and the two essentials to making it a success for an entire faculty.


I love to read. Given the opportunity, I will consume books like candy – both on paper as well as eReader. However, when teaching, I hated Summer Reading. In fact, abhorred may be a better description.

One year, the administration forced a horrid tween-novel down our throats to read with advisees in the fall – they didn’t like it either. Another year, we (actually, I never picked it up, so they) read something about blessings. The only time I felt as though the admin team had chosen something relevant to my teaching, we read A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink. It was at that moment, as I sat prepared to engage in conversation during our back-to-school faculty meeting, that I realized few others had ever done the reading either!

Why is it that we, as educators, require our students to do Summer Reading, lauding the benefits for extending their learning, and then often run away from it ourselves? On the flip side, how can a single summer reading program reach the diverse interests of an entire faculty given their interests, viewpoints, and curricula?

A few weeks ago, Vincent and I both picked up on tweets from Jill Gough describing her faculty summer reading initiative at Trinity School in Atlanta. From her writing, we both realize that it all comes down to a balance of choice and guidance.


I love to read as well. Given our similar learning goals, Jill has been one of my most relied on colleagues for inspiration, questions related to education, and collaborative efforts. In a few short months, we’ve discussed a number of ways of thinking about teaching and learning—connected learners, digital citizenship, and professional development, to name a few.

With the close of the 2012-2013 school year looming, I questioned how my colleagues at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy and I would sustain a growth mindset. Summer break is a well deserved time of year when teachers have a chance to stand back from their work, freeing their minds to enjoy a period of rejuvenation. While I hope the summer forecast includes plenty of relaxation and family fun, I’m a proponent of continued learning during downtime.

As educators, we aspire to be lifelong learners—should we get a summer vacation from those aspirations? I’m a proponent of finding the best ways to combine rejuvenation with the chance to stretch learning in a new direction during the summer months.

Already at the beginning of May, being the planner that I am, I imagined my own personal goals for the summer…Create a blog? Read that Grant Litchman book that’s been on my iBooks shelf for two months? Continue to write—and did I mention, read? While June continued to creep closer, I came across Jill Gough’s blog post Summer Reading 2013 – Flyer and Choices, and I had one of those aha moments as an educator.

We often talk about individualized learning experiences, passion-based learning, influencing students to find what inspires them—Jill, in her blog, described the possibility of that same shared experience for teachers. This is exactly why I was drawn to connect SCH with Trinity’s summer faculty reading. Just as the Trinity teachers would choose a book that appealed to them, we would do the same—thus, increasing the likelihood of a genuinely gratifying learning experience. Jill had taken the time to carefully research books coinciding with Trinity’s mission, while at the same time, selecting books with a broad range of interests to all teachers grappling with classroom pedagogy in so many new and divergent ways. Another important facet of the program provides an emphasis for SCH faculty members to connect with teachers both inside outside of the school.


Essential #1 – Learner Choice

“How do we model learner choice? We know student-learners need and deserve differentiated learning opportunities. Don’t all learners?…

In 2013, we believe in learner choice, differentiation, leveraging technology, and so much more to help every learner grow. In a learning community, do we all need to read (or do) the same thing to learn?”

In May, Jill wrote these sentences to preface the email that she sent to the faculty regarding the summer reading choices. She created a flyer to showcase the books that the faculty could choose as their summer reading selection. Teachers could also select the medium through which they would consume their book – paper, Kindle, or iTunes audio, whatever fit their learning style for the summer.

At Trinity, the theme for 2013 is “the art of questioning.” Faculty members are encouraged to blog about their reading, as well as ask questions, and to Tweet with #Trinitylearns. Given all of these choices, the response from the faculty via Google form regarding their books was really interesting.

Had I been given more choice, as well as a theme that I felt was more universally applicable to my position within the school community, I’m certain that I would have been a more willing participant in our summer reading.

Essential #2 – Guided Output

Another critical component of summer reading that Jill’s plan addresses is a recommended framework for reflection and discussion. Rather than just the hanging notion that a discussion may be forthcoming during opening of school faculty meetings, or a single mandated output – such as the year I tried to force collaboration via Google Site with our faculty – the teachers at Trinity know that they can Tweet, blog, and question within the agreed upon 4As framework displayed.

Recently, I attended a meeting at my former school. While Summer Reading was not the topic, as they are already on break, I thought about these two essentials throughout the discussion. By providing a choice as well as a structure, not only might faculty participation in summer reading improve, but it would also model the environment of differentiation, choice, creativity, and risk-taking that the administration hopes to encourage for the next school year.


Learner Choice. There isn’t a single goal or outcome for any summer reading initiative—for students or for teachers. So here are a few of the titles that I may not get to in two months, but some of my colleagues will—and share what they’ve learned within and beyond our school walls as a participant in the summer reading program.

Introduce yourself to The Falconer as Grant Litchman guides us on a journey of inquiry, helping us to understand that students need opportunities to be more creative, better problem solvers, while realizing failure can often guide them towards true learning and discovery. Help your students become more curious by teaching them how to formulate their own questions, rather than simply researching answers easily found in a Google search in Make Just One Change: Teaching Students to Ask Their Own Questions by Dan Rothstein and Luz Santana. If you’re in a leadership role (which all teachers are), don’t pass up a chance to delve into the psychology of sales to motivate students and colleagues in To Sell is Human: The Truth About Motivating Others by Daniel Pink. Ensure that your institution has the right people on the proverbial school bus to create and perpetuate and intentional culture in Good to Great by Jim Collins.

Take the Challenge

The most important thing of all is that readers have choices—both with the books as well as with sharing thoughts, ideas, and questions. Participants will cooperate in genuine learning adventures by choosing topics that are both appealing to them and important to their practice, while learning from friends and colleagues via blogs, social media, or over a cup of coffee.

Both of us look forward to a collaborative reading experience during the coming months—as we, too, need to follow in the path that we lay out for our students towards enriching our minds during summer leisure. In fact, as a result, maybe we will even meet in person or have an offline conversation sometime soon!

For more summer learning opportunities, there are still spaces available in EdTechTeacher’s Summer Workshops in Boston, MA.

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