Educators and researchers have long recognized what has come to be known as the “summer slide,” the loss of learning that can take place during the summer months if students do not engage in educational activities. Experts say much of the reading achievement gap seen in 9th grade students nationwide can be traced back to unequal access to summer learning opportunities during the elementary school years. Reversing the summer slide, however, can be as simple as reading more books. In a recent study, Professor Richard Allington of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville and his colleagues found that “giving kids 12 books to read over the summer was as effective as summer school in raising the students’ reading scores."
Teachers play an important role in helping to create a culture where reading is valued and given priority, even in the summer months. As educators, we can start with six simple action steps to encourage reading over the break:
Read, read, read. Simple as it might sound, making reading a priority in our own lives establishes the credibility necessary to inspire our students to be life-long readers. Some of my favorite reads in 2014 – 2015 include All the Light We Cannot See (Doerr), A Man Called Ove (Backman), The Book Whisperer (Miller), Unbroken (Hillenbrand), The Maze Runner (Dashner), Stranger in a Strange Land (Heinlein), and Dracula (Stoker). A fun way to stay accountable to your students is to have an ongoing policy or a sign in your classroom that states: Ask me what I’m reading right now.
Partner with your local public library. Libraries are wonderful resources for summer reading programs. Chances are a quick look at your local library’s website will yield strong results. Ensuring all students have a registered library card, promoting opportunities for students to visit the local library during the school year through field trips, after school programs, or evenings “meet-ups”, and partnering with your local library teen liaison can help build momentum moving into summer. Dominican University’s Graduate School of Library and Information Studies completed a study confirming “what many librarians have long suspected: students who take part in their local library’s summer reading program significantly improve their reading skills.”
Check out Scholastic.com. Scholastic is leading the way in helping to build literacy by inspiring kids to embrace reading with the same excitement they show for video games, social media, and sports. Programs like Book Trust are helping students make gains by providing students living in poverty access to quality books at no cost. Getting involved is as easy as donating $1. Learn more about Scholastic’s Book Trust program.
Give books as gifts. I wrote an article last year about giving pencils out to students, no strings attached, any time they ask or need one, no matter how many pencils it may cost. It created quite a stir and broke some records at Teaching Tolerance for blog hits. The same idea applies to books. As resourceful teachers, we can find ways to gather books throughout the school year. As an end-of-the-year gift, why not give a kid a book to read over the summer? Even better, get students involved in book clubs that agree to read one book during summer break. Especially for students returning to the same campus, book clubs can help maintain momentum and provide positive accountability for summer reading. Positive peer pressure works even better than teacher encouragement. Students can also get involved in classroom book exchanges, where they swap used books with each other.
Set aside time at school for sustained silent reading. Consider the obvious: Kids do what they enjoy doing. The more kids read self-selected books, the more they will develop a fondness for – and take ownership of – reading. School is one place we can set aside time for kids to read. Demands on teachers are higher than ever; however, we still have some control over what kids do in our classrooms. Simple policies like making sure students always have a book on hand and requiring them to read in class whenever they finish early can drastically increase the minutes kids spend reading each week.
Author Donalyn Miller writes extensively about “stealing minutes” in her book The Book Whisperer. Even in small stints, time set aside for reading can make a difference in kids’ attitudes and affinity. Stealing minutes is as much a life skill as an opportunity. (Miller’s test scores are always high despite her unwillingness to engage in test prep madness.) Teaching kids to look for opportunities to read will benefit them long after their time as students.
Create an email contact list and send encouraging emails once or twice during the summer. A summer email can remind and motivate busy families to add reading to the weekly schedule. Consider sending a couple of emails sharing with families what you are reading and encouraging/reminding them to get that library card, visit a used book store, hit garage sales, etc. for inexpensive books. You can recommend titles, provide reviews of what you are reading, and even plan a date to meet up with families at the local public library for a “check-in/check-out” (check in with each other to check out books) session. Simply communicating with families can make a big difference in how much kids read over the summer.
Chad Donohue teaches English, writing, and social studies at Park Place Middle School in Monroe, Washington. He also teaches composition and public speaking at Northwest University in Kirkland and blogs regularly for Teaching Tolerance.