Thursday, May 30, 2019

Summer "school," or how I got my kids to read Dostoevsky

What to do with students in the summer? When they were younger, it was fairly easy. Take them to the pool. Get together with friends. Go to summer camps and amusement parks. Take them on trips. Wear them out, somehow. For school? If you wanted, you could do the summer "bridge" activities books, but of course they usually hated those. (Yeah, I would have been the exception if they had them back in the day.) I think for our best year we made it a third of the way through one of those books.

As they get older, parts of keeping them active during the summer gets easier with interest-related camps. Scout camp. Tear-a-computer-down-and-rebuild-it-each-day camp. Get a lifeguarding job. Etc. For my boys, especially the oldest, I'm worried about them forgetting everything they learned in math during the year. When that's someone else's problem (public or private school), you may or may not worry less. When *you're* the teacher, though, things become a little more personal. A few years ago we initiated summer math, which was 2-3 times a week with problems that would take 10-15 minutes for them to solve and then review with me. When we started the new school year and the first chapters were a review, we could fly through those and get to the new concepts quicker.

We had a few summers where we read a couple of books together, but that never seemed to quite connect with them...guess I never picked the "right" books. So this summer we're trying something different. I'm picking a dozen books that I like, which I don't think they're quite ready to read the whole work and appreciate, and we're going to read a passage or two and discuss it.

For example, today we read most of "The Grand Inquisitor" chapter (Book 5, Chapter 5) from Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov as well as some pre-reading (Jesus' temptations in Matthew 4:1-11 and some info on the Spanish inquisition, which nobody seems to expect even today). While that isn't my favorite part of the book now, I remember the impression it made on me when I first heard about it from a teacher my senior year in high school and decided to read it for myself. I guess my goals include making the boys aware and conversant on certain topics in literature, giving them a good grounding that they can use for English papers in upcoming years, and (hopefully) prod them into reading something that strikes their fancy. A major goal, hopefully without becoming "that teacher," is to have them read beyond "what happens" or whodunit.

I know it's an approach that isn't original, but I thought since they were open to doing bite-sized math lessons over the summer why not try the same thing with reading? There are so many resources available online that can help with popular books, and I'm going to rely on some of my notes for books I've posted on. So I pass this on in case you're looking for ideas to get the kids engaged with something...anything...over the summer. I was surprised how much the oldest took to this today. He made notes, wanted to discuss things that interested him, etc. For a literature geek, it warms the heart. I think I'm learning as much (probably more) from them as they are from me.

A few of the sections I have ready or I'm working on for them to go over, if you're interested in doing something similar:
  • "Time Passes" from Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse (always helpful that there's a movie we can watch, too). One approach to the question of how do you skip a decade in a book?
  • Thucydides—the introduction (with his alleged reason for the war), Pericles' funeral oration, and the Melian dialogue. It truly is a work for all time.
  • Chapters from Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman. Continuing with some the topics we covered in this year's history classes.
And there's plenty more books I've started, such as Book 4 of The Aeneid and Milton's Satan. We'll see where else it leads and if their interest stays at this level. If you're found something that works for older students and reading over the summer, I'd love to hear about it.


citronyella said...

Maybe try the "Tom Outland's Story" section of Willa Cather's The Professor's House as well? Similar to the "Time Passes" segment of TTL, it is inserted between two sections of (somewhat) linear narrative (like the keystone in an arch). It has an adventure narrative theme (discovery of ancient Native American ruins), your sons might like it.

Dwight said...

Thanks for the suggestion! I'm not familiar with the book, but I love Cather, so I'll definitely give it a try.