Approximately two (2) years ago LaSalle Academy in Providence, Rhode Island, integrated a Student Discussion Blog as their summer reading requirement. Our English Department identified that our students were more likely to be enthusiastic and develop “ownership” to their “Summer Reading” requirement if they selected a book of interest and one that they could easily relate to. Our current faculty also has many different and diverse interests, therefore, we all were asked to select a book of personal interest to add to the student Summer Reading selections. Here our students were offered the opportunity to identify a common interest with their teacher.
Since I am a horse owner, an avid horseback rider, and thoroughly enjoy reading books on this topic; I decided to investigate, explore, and read several books that would be appropriate for our students to read—and at the same time—inspire them. The book that inspired me the most was The Eighty-Dollar Champion: Snowman, The Horse that Inspired a Nation, written by Elizabeth Letts. After reading Elizabeth’s book and without hesitation, I immediately requested the approval of our English Department Chair, Mr. Steve White. Mr. White delightfully approved the book. Elizabeth’s book was selected by several LaSalle Academy students for their summer reading. Now it was time to discus/blog detailed components of the book. Having much knowledge on the topic, I was confident that I could easily develop and formulate meaningful questions for my students to respond. However, I also sensed that there was a missing element to the Blog. Here is where I recommended that it would be so much more meaningful if my students could formulate questions for the author, Elizabeth Letts. We moved ahead and added the author component to our Summer Reading Discussion/Blog and it proved to be “magical.” Our students immediately became embedded in the story. Clearly, Elizabeth agreed to blog and answer personally formulated questions from our students. In evaluating the outcome, it was a huge success. Indeed, The Eighty-Dollar Champion will be on our Summer Book selection list for many years and hopefully Elizabeth will agree to blog with our students again next year. Other faculty members are looking to integrate the author component to the Discussion/Blog next year. A special “Thank You” to Elizabeth Letts, the amazing Mr. Harry de Leyer and Snowman.
—Elise Maggiacomo, LaSalle Academy