English department updates summer reading curriculum

Lyndsay Duato, Staff Writer

Update: 6/11/19 summer reading list has been finalized: https://sites.google.com/westfordk12.us/wa-summer-reading/home


Janet Keirstead, an English teacher and curriculum coordinator here at Westford Academy, is giving the summer reading an update. She, and many other teachers here at WA have noticed that the summer reading program is outdated. She wants the students to have more choice, so this summer, instead of one or two mandatory books, there will be a list of seven to ten books students can choose from.

“I think it’s important to remind students that books are fun, there are a lot of different books out there, and unfortunately during the course of the year we become somewhat limited in what we offer, and summer reading is a great place to open those offerings,” Keirstead said.

The CP English classes must read one book from the list for their specific grade. The Honors classes on the other hand still have to read two books, but one book is from the list and another is a mandatory book.

Keirstead hopes that these change will give students a better appreciation for books. By giving students an option they will hopefully enjoy reading more because the books are more tailored to their tastes.

“There’s a theory called mirrors and windows that some book should be mirrors, that you look and you see yourself in the books, but others are windows where you look and see other worlds,” Keirstead said.

This theory of mirrors and windows is something Keirstead hopes this new selection of books will bring to students. She also hopes this will help give students a better understanding of themselves and others, and may even help to develop better reading habits.

The beginning of the school year will also involve trial and error in figuring out how to manage the assessments on summer reading. Teachers use the summer reading as a starting point for the year so they will have to update their teaching methods. One solution to this problem is reading circles where students can discuss what books they read over the summer.

According to Keirstead, English teachers Emily Coates and Janet Fonden have been the most involved in the summer reading changes.

Fonden’s hope for the summer reading program is that students will want to read books, and they will be able to see themselves in the books they read. She hopes to bring fresh voices to the students through contemporary works. She’s also hoping to add graphic novels to the list in the future.

Fonden remembers last year’s Diversity Day when she witnessed former student Derek Lo talk about the lack of diversity in the books he read throughout his high school career. During one of the diversity sessions he raised his hand and said that he felt none of the books he read at WA embodied a character that was like him. This moment resonated with Fonden because she was already feeling that changes needed to be made, and it was through her conversation with Lo that she decided to begin the process.

Coates’ hope for the summer reading program is that students can see the value of reading and that reading can be fun. There are many books that focus on modern characters and modern language. She hopes more contemporary books will spark deeper conversations during class.

“We have a lot of opportunities to show kids that books are fun, and that reading can be really fun and enjoyable, and that there are books out there that pretty much anyone would like,” Coates said.

The reading list for the summer of 2019 is still not finalized but will be ready by the end of the school year. The teachers have been working with Kate Bennett, the young adult librarian at the J.V. Fletcher Library to help the teachers choose more diverse and modern titles that will be interesting to students today.