Your soon-to-be college student may have received her first homework assignment well before she showed up on campus. For many incoming freshman, their first assignment is a bit of summer reading. Your student may be asked to read an assigned book prior to Orientation, or she may be given the assignment at a Summer Orientation and asked to read the book before school begins in September. At some schools students are given a copy of the book, while at other schools students are asked to purchase their own copy.
If your student was not expecting a summer assignment, he may be surprised – and even annoyed at having to do work over the summer. As a parent, you may also be wondering why your student needs to get this “head start” before the first semester even begins. Colleges have many different reasons for assigning summer reading and different approaches for dealing with the book once the students arrive on campus.
Many summer reading programs for incoming freshmen have come about as an outgrowth of the One Book One Community program which was first piloted in Seattle in 1998. One Book One Community programs suggest that an entire town or community read a particular book and then schedule events around the book and/or the theme. Often the author of the book will make an appearance and speak or read. The idea behind the One Book One Community programs is to foster a love of reading, but also to foster a greater sense of community through the shared experiences surrounding the book.
Many colleges adopt summer reading programs for the same two reasons that made One Book One Community programs popular. By assigning a shared reading experience for all incoming students, the college may hope to foster a greater sense of community as well as to set an appropriate “academic” tone for the beginning of the school year. When students arrive on campus – either for Orientation or for September classes – students will have a common experience around which they might begin conversations. Students may even find that there are on-line discussions over the summer.
Different schools may choose the summer reading book in different ways. Sometimes the choice may be made by the librarians, by faculty members, by first-year committees, by student activities personnel, or even by a committee of students. Most often the choice of book will be something topical and current, rather than a classic. However, there are no true rules or generalizations.
Colleges differ in how they handle the common reading once students arrive on campus. At some schools the book may be the basis of discussion in one course or several courses. The author may be invited to campus. There may be related events or book club type gatherings. Students may discuss shared ideas or values presented in the book. Students may learn critical reading skills by hearing what others have to say about the same book. Faculty and students may find common topics to discuss because they have read the same book.
Assigned summer reading for incoming students is increasing in popularity. One source of national educational statistics has suggested that over 200 colleges may now require summer reading. The program may not always be popular with students. Some students have suggested that it may create a sense of community because students have something in common to complain about!
As a parent, you can encourage your student to do his summer reading assignment. Try to help him understand the possible benefits of a shared reading experience. Remind him that he will want to start his college career off on a good foot by arriving with his homework done. There may be specific assignments based on the book, but even if there aren’t, he will not want to feel left out of some of the first discussions and/or events that may be based around the book.
As a parent, you may want to borrow your student’s copy of her summer reading and read it yourself. It may give you both something to talk about, and you’ll have a better sense of your student’s first experiences on campus. You and your student can enjoy some beach reading – and some good conversation – as you both prepare for the college experience.