Each day, I begin my ELA class with Reading Time. This is a time for students to access a range of texts. I use this time to conference with students, collect data on class patterns and trends with independent reading and to provide individualized support.
There is a wealth of information out there regarding summer reading and also assessments. We all agree that summer is supposed to be relaxing, but I do agree that students should be something during the summer to keep their minds active. The tricky part for me has been the assessments. I didn't want to create an assessment that turned out to be a "got you", but I wanted something that would engage the students, but also show their abilities. The assessments in the lesson focus on students determining characterization in the novels they have read through a paper bag book project and a test. This is great for differentiating instruction.
I've designed a summer reading list that covers many genres, levels, and interests. This list has been revised and updated multiple times and I do update it every year to keep on top of certain trends in what my students are reading. This allows students flexibility and what they can choose. When students are able to choose their novel, they are much more engaged. Students receive the list at the end of seventh grade and hopefully come to eighth grade prepared to share their understanding of at least one book.
The Summer Reading Essay Test gives students the choice between two questions. They will have an entire class period to write an essay from one of the following questions:
This test shows me a lot of a students abilities. It shows me their critical thinking skills, ability to analyze a character, and use of evidence to support a claim. These are skills the Common Core asks for in some capacity.
I usually give the summer reading test after the project that is discussed in this lesson. The summer reading project helps students to activate their thinking about the book.
Since one of the Common Core objectives specifically references characterization, I think the summer reading assessments and work we will be doing during this unit is a great way to expose students to ways to get deeper in the character of a novel. When students can look at and analyze specific lines from a novel that show aspects of a character, the can begin to make claims about that character.
I begin this work on characterization by reading a picture book called The Sissy Duckling (page 1 and 2) to the class. Pictures books are a great way to work with any literary concept as they are short enough to use in an entire class period and many of them are done in a way that really engage students, even eighth graders. I read the picture book first before explaining the project or discussing characterization in depth as I want students to not only enjoy the picture book, but I use also the book to introduce the topic, not as a focus. I pass out copies of the typed up text of the novel so students can follow along as I read and also so they can refer back to the text for the next part of the lesson.
After we read the novel, we then begin to discuss Elmer, the main character, as a character. I ask students to look back at the text in front of them and read the text for a second time. The first time was merely to gain an understanding of the story as a whole and a second reading offers further insight into it. This time I ask them to look at what Elmer does, says, or thinks and begin to describe him as a character.
As a class we then list the different qualities of Elmer on the board using the Elmer Qualities and Craft Techniques. We create a list of all the different qualities. As students are giving their ideas, I make sure students are able to support their claims with evidence from the story. We then discuss what some of the most prevalent qualities are throughout the entire story, and not qualities from one or two scenes.
Since students have been exposed to this idea of characterization and determining qualities of a character, I can then move on to explaining the summer reading project. I want them to have some idea of the concepts for the project first so then have a conceptual understanding of what they will be doing first. This is important as it alleviates some of the questions students have of why are we doing this and also helps them to see the importance of understanding character. If I were to jump into explaining the project first, students would be a little lost.
After doing work with The Sissy Duckling, I then pass out the Summer Reading Project Assessment. I explain each step of the project and answer any questions during the process. Since there can be logistical questions about the project, it's important to answer questions after each step is explained. Students need to understand each step of the project before they move on to the next step so they can understand the project as a whole.
There are five major steps to the project and some of the steps will be doing in another lesson as we work on the project in class.