As students across the country enjoy their summer vacations, parents, teachers, and librarians are putting measures in place to keep those lazy, hazy days from becoming a “summer slide,” or “summer learning loss” as it is also known.
The “summer slide” has garnered much attention recently, with First Lady Michelle Obama delivering a message to young people about the importance of reading during the summer, and author James Patterson announcing that he would give a book to every sixth-grade student in the New York City public schools to help them keep reading.
Meanwhile, new research by Reading Is Fundamental (RIF) has revealed a disturbing trend: children in poverty and from low-income families lose reading skill at a faster rate than children of middle income and above. The RIF survey showed that “every summer, low-income kids lose more than two months of reading skills, while higher-income kids make gains.”
The Library Solution
As parents and educators grapple with creative ways to keep children engaged during summer, the big challenge is to present learning in a fun way and not detract from the opportunity to recharge in the off months. Engaging students is a creative balance, especially in the summer, and one of the best ways to achieve this balance is to utilize the services of trained librarians and to take full advantage of library resources.
In north Idaho, one inventive pilot this year is a program by the Idaho Commission for Libraries. It will keep elementary school libraries open two days a week during the summer. And working with a Boise State University literacy professor, Roger Stewart, research is being conducted to ascertain if opening school libraries over the summer can boost youth literacy skills.
The public library, of course, is a strong existing option to keep children reading. Historically, public libraries have been a haven and a cool place for students to gather during those hot days. And many libraries are expanding their offerings to draw larger crowds during the summer, with programs including Summer Reading Clubs, library scavenger hunts, poetry slams, and digital book clubs.
Parents looking to help their children learn new skills and get a jump-start on learning for the next year can take advantage of the popular Spectrum workbooks provided by Carson-Dellosa Publishing. Many public libraries have these workbooks in their professional or P.C. (parent collection) for check out.
For more information and tips on how to reverse the summer reading slide, DayByDayNY.org’s family literacy website is an excellent resource.
As you might expect, summer reading assignments have been revised and “freshened up” since introduction of the Common Core. For example, the Times in Gainesville, Ga., reported that “educators in Gainesville are incorporating more ‘informational’ texts into summer reading lists to meet the nonfiction reading requirements standards.”
This shift is increasingly seen across the country. Christin Corwin, in her role as community relations manager for the Barnes & Noble bookstore in Carle Place, N.Y., receives summer reading lists from surrounding school districts and works with local PTA chapters to organize summer reading book fairs. Corwin reports an increase in nonfiction titles and biographies on summer reading lists for grades two and up. Many schools are now asking their students to read one fiction title and one nonfiction title over the summer. Corwin also reports an increase in assignments—meaning that students may have to write a report on their summer reading, or face a test once school begins.
Some schools are getting even more creative, incorporating primary documents into summer reading assignments. For example, students may now be asked to complete a current events project over the summer, such as clipping or downloading newspaper articles on a chosen topic, or do writing exercises for extra credit when the school year resumes.
Another change to the summer reading lists created by school districts is the inclusion of titles available in print and digital format, ensuring that students can download reading material onto digital devices. Notably, despite the rise of tablets and digital, an overwhelming number of students still use print books.
Of course, summer will always represent a break for students, a time for them to exercise their freedom to read what they want. Indeed, Appendix A of the Common Core standards stresses the importance of learning to read for pleasure. While it is important to stem the summer slide, let’s also hope efforts to insert rigor into summer reading don’t detract from that vital goal.