When I was in high school, I was expected to read a certain amount of books each summer. There were some required reading and then we were able to choose from a list of ten books some years, other years we had to read only the required reading. I remember spending the summer before my freshman year trying to get through Everyman, Morte d'Arthur, and Edith Hamilton's Mythology. It was pure agony. I didn't even understand Everyman. Out of the three, the one I enjoyed most was Mythology. Based on this, you might think I went to private school or catholic school. The reality is, I went to a Title 1 PUBLIC high school. In the years that followed, I read texts such as Canterbury Tales, Grendel, Lord of the Flies, The Things They Carried (my favorite summer text of all texts), Portrait of Dorian Grey, and many more. Generally, I hated reading these texts, apart from The Things They Carried. When I re-read them much later for my own pleasure, usually at the request of someone to give the text another chance, I liked it.
These days, it seems summer reading lists have faded away and reading during the summer is an elementary school thing. High school students don't seem to be eager to read. A part of me feels we should require summer reading list for students and have the textbooks relevant to their English courses, and in some cases, other courses as well, if possible. I asked several students this question. Whether they would be into summer reading requirement and they all said no. I asked whether they would read if the list had popular books such as Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games. They said no, because they like the series and being assigned the text would make them hate it.
This brings me to my next questions, do students oftentimes dislike texts they read in English simply because they are required to read it? Would they enjoy it more if they had the option to choose when to read it in the course? How can we make the stories more enjoyable when it's already painful trying to decipher the text, such as The Odyssey, any of Shakespeare's play, or Beowulf? I have noticed when students can understand the text, they are more inclined to both enjoy and understand it. It's the texts that are difficult to understand due to language differences that make students and teachers alike sometimes feel a root canal would be more enjoyable.
I welcome your thoughts and advice on teaching students novels, poetry, short stories, and plays with hard to understand language. How can we make it more enjoyable, make it more accessible, especially for those not on grade level?
I also welcome your opinion on summer reading lists.