Assigning summer reading for students is commonplace in most schools. All research supports the need for students to remain active in learning over the summer in order to continue to make intellectual gains and move forward in skill building. Students are assigned a book or two to read during summer break providing the opportunity to continue to build critical reading and thinking skills.
But what about writing? Other than a possible essay on the assigned reading during summer break, most students do not have regular writing practice over the summer and miss out on the benefits of continued writing skill building. Fortunately for me, the AP Lit teacher who preceded me recognized this and had students keep a summer journal. I loved this idea and decided to keep it when I began teaching AP Lit and morphed it into my own assignment by asking students to explore the city and experience some different activities. Here is a copy of the assignment my students will receive before the end of the year:
Summer Activities – Journal
Having a broad range of experiences upon which one can draw is important to understanding the resonance of many of the works we read. In preparation, I would like for you to broaden your experiences this summer. As part of your summer activities, keep a journal. The following items should be in your journal when you turn it in on August 8, 2016.
- Entries for at least three days per week beginning with the week of May 30, 2016. (10 weeks, 30 entries). Write about the experiences you have, the things you are reading both for summer reading and in addition to it, your thoughts on important philosophical ideas, etc.
- You should find two poems that you find particularly enjoyable and/or meaningful and write about them in your journal.
- During the summer, you must also choose at least five of the following activities to complete. Document your experience in your journal by writing a reflection of not less than one page for each activity. You may include pictures or drawings if you choose.
- Each journal entry about the five activities you select should include an item number and the date you completed the activity.
- Attend a summer festival. Try the Atlanta Jazz Festival (free) during Memorial Day weekend, Atlanta Ice Cream Festival, Summer Film Festival at the Fox, or any others you can find.
- Go to a museum or a historic attraction. Try the High Museum, Carter Presidential Library, or the Stone Mountain Laser Show if you’ve never been.
- Spend a day without electronics (no cell phones, ipods, TVs, etc). I would love for everyone to try this. You can survive without electronics.
- Explore a neighborhood in Atlanta. Eat at the Krog Street Market. Walk the Belt Line. Explore the Westside Provisions or Ponce City Market.
- Do some gardening. If you need a place to work, try the 180 Degree Farm.
- Hike at least 5 miles in a national or state park such as Sweetwater Creek, Providence Canyon, Amicalola Falls, or the Appalachian Trail in Georgia.
- Talk with a grandparent or older adult (40 + years older) about life in their younger years. Count this as two entries if you record it on StoryCorps.
- Go tent camping at least 10 miles from home (or anyone’s home).
- Go to the theater (not the movie theater) to see a live production. Try the Shakespeare Tavern, plays in Piedmont Park, or the Center for Puppetry Arts. Buy half-price tickets at AtlanTIX.
- Work on a farm (at least a couple of hours).
- Eat a different meal from a foreign culture.
- Work a shelter or a food pantry (i.e. Bridging the Gap) preparing or delivering food for the elderly or disadvantaged.
- Visit with the patients at a nursing home.
- Go fishing or horseback riding. (Nature = Thoreau)
- Prepare a meal for your family and then enjoy it with them.
- Pick berries and make a cobbler or pie.
- Attend a service of a different religion or interview a person of a different religion.
- Repair or build something or do some kind of maintenance (changing oil, rotating tires).
- Plan a trip – map out the route, find places to stay, and located points of interest to visit.
- Spend an evening playing board games or cards with your family and friends.
- Visit a cemetery and read the headstones. Consider the history of the family, community, state, and nation embodied in these headstones. Reflect on your experiences. Creepy but fun. Try Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta then go to Six Feet Under or Tin Lizzies for dinner.
- Visit a quiet spot on a beach, by a stream, or by a lake. Spend an hour in thought and record your thoughts in a journal or notebook.
Why keep a journal? Writing is born out of experience. A large part of this class is about helping you find your writing voice. Finding your voice takes time. Writing throughout the summer will give you time to begin to figure out your voice. Be yourself when you write. Don’t try to be too serious or academic. Be funny. Be sarcastic. Be vulnerable. Be real.
What is a journal? A journal is what you make of it — the more you put into it, the more benefit you will see. It is your journal and, as long as you are serious about it (and yourself), you will receive full credit for it (see specific instructions below for what I expect of your journal). Hopefully, your journal will be much more (and a little less) than a diary. I am not interested in your daily routine or what you had for lunch. If, on the other hand, you wish to record your dreams last night or a rough draft of a poem or an interesting quote from a friend, please utilize your journal. I hope that you will consider buying a bound journal — something costing between $5 and $20, a cheap spiral notebook is often another way of saying, “My thoughts aren’t really valuable.” If you wish, you might even try constructing your own journal, but you should remember that what you put in the interior of your journal is most important.
Will I read your journal? I will only read with your permission. I will, of course, want to read a page or so about each of your summer activities and readings, but you are free to photocopy or transcribe these or designate sections of your journals as personal.
Remember, writing more in your journal will benefit YOU. There will be a reward later for being diligent in your journaling efforts. Writing improves your skill at writing. Remember to write at least three days per week. Waiting until the end of the summer and then trying to go back and “recapture” the days you missed may fill up the pages and give you a certain number of entries. It does not fulfill the intent of the assignment, however, nor does it provide you with the kind of writing practice that will be beneficial to you during the school year. Additionally, academic integrity is important. As you approach the end of your high school experience, think about what is right and ethical. Therefore, keep up with your work rather than trying to recreate it in a hurried manner at the end of the summer. Will I know if you wait and then write all at one time? Maybe I will, and maybe I will not. You, however, will know, and that it what is most important.
In addition to the journal I ask my students to read two books over the summer – no annotations, no papers on them – simply read and be ready to unpack when we start school. These low-pressure reading and writing activities allow students to continue to build skills over the summer but don’t overwhelm them with a heavy academic focus.