By Reading Horizons Reading Specialist, Stacy Hurst
This is my first year as a full time employee for Reading Horizons. In truth, I love my new job but I do have a confession to make. I miss the energy-charged feeling that accompanies the end of the school year as teachers and students anticipate the change of pace that summer vacation provides. However, I also clearly remember the elevated concern that most teachers feel about the effect that the summer months will have on the progress of students they have worked so hard with throughout the school year.
Research validates their concerns showing that struggling readers in particular lose ground during the summer months compared to their non-struggling peers. This widening gap not only diminishes the instructional time invested by the previous years’ teacher, it adds to the instructional load of next years’ teacher. Many schools have implemented summer reading programs in the hope of narrowing the gap. Teachers at my previous school (Go Miners!) volunteered three hours weekly so students could have access to books on their level throughout the summer. We even included a story time so preschool students would be likely to check out books as well preparing them for literate futures. Overall, we didn’t see the effects we would have liked to see with the summer reading program. Now I know why.
Recently, I found this 2009 article from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. The study is fascinating and I recommend that you take the time to read it. Building on the evidence that access to books on a student’s level was not enough to bridge the gap, researchers designed an alternate program for 3rd through 5th grade students. It begins with teachers preparing students before the end of the school year (while they are still on contract time- bonus!). It continues with students receiving post cards throughout the summer reminding them of comprehension and fluency strategies that were introduced during the school year. Accountability included the students returning a different postcard (follow the previous link for a PDF) via ‘snail mail’ with a record of their performance. Results very much favored students who participated at this level of instruction compared with students involved at lower levels of instruction and accountability.
The study definitely spurred thoughts on how to improve summer reading programs aimed at struggling readers. My thoughts, however, were turned to ways that technology could improve upon this research. It seems that INSTRUCTION is necessary in addition to application of reading skills. Most school districts lack funding for such instruction and many teachers do not have the time to contribute to such instruction as they are typically involved in professional (and personal) development activities during summer months.
How can the needs of struggling readers be met effectively over the summer months? I suggest that the answer to that question involves technological resources (such as apps, online software, email, virtual classrooms, etc…) as well as teacher expertise. Classroom teachers would be able to monitor student progress and communicate, via email, with their students offering encouragement, accountability, and suggestions for improvement. This approach, combined with access to leveled books, sounds promising to me as an educator. I will definitely be discussing this with my teacher friends as they prepare for the end of this school year. What are some effective summer reading programs that you have seen? Feel free to share!