Poems, collage, dioramas, and scale models are just a few of the ways that 7th and 8th graders represented the complex themes they discovered in their summer reading books. The assignment gave students a lot of choice and that was deliberate. “When we give them the opportunity to explore something with fewer parameters,” says Kim, “it can allow for more growth because there is no adult mandate that it should look a certain way.”
What emerged from the 7th and 8th grade summer reading assignment is a gallery of creative methodologies. “When you let them decide how to interpret it, there’s more possibility,” explains Kim. Each project explores a particular theme within a book, but through the distinctly individual eyes of each student. One haiku distills the pain and injustice of the civil rights era. One diorama draws you into the claustrophobia of Anne Frank’s hiding.
During the first week of school students shared their work in small groups. This peer sharing sparked new curiosity about different books. Students learned about other books on the summer reading list that they had not chosen. Kim observes that this peer academic inspiration “helps students to think critically but also to care.” Students respond differently to material presented by peers and Kim encourages this peer-to-peer learning. Working with rather than against the peer dynamics of this unique age, we allow peer influence to support academic exploration, as well as social identity.