Michael Haggen explains how summer reading is an integral and achievable part of every district’s comprehensive literacy plan
With the end of another school year nearing, we must remember to keep the imperative message of reading over the summer top of mind, even as we look forward to end-of-year activities. Because the summer slide—the common loss of academic skills while students are not in school—is responsible for as much as 85% of the reading achievement gap between higher- and lower-income students (Allington and McGill-Franzen, 2009), we cannot risk entering summer without a plan to make the home-to-school connection around literacy.
I have been re-energized around summer learning thanks to the incredible work I have seen in districts across the country, and also because I have been reminded there is still much work to be done. The Scholastic Kids & Family Reading Report™: 6th Edition, a national survey of children ages six to 17 and their parents, revealed that only 48% of parents have heard of the summer slide. There is also an inequity of information: only 38% of low-income parents are aware of the summer slide, and one in five kids from low-income families told us they did not read any books over the summer. This is a problem that we need to address.
Overall, we found that for parents who have heard of the summer slide, teachers and schools are their number-one source of information about it. This is a strong call to action for educators to ensure all families in our communities have access to the information and resources they need to make summer count and turn the summer slide into a summer leap.
An excellent model for this can be found in Greenville County Schools in South Carolina. Last year, local nonprofit Public Education Partners (PEP) released results of a new research study examining the effects of Make Summer Count 2016, a reading initiative supporting summer learning for 18,000 students in grades K–5 across 29 higher-needs elementary schools. PEP and Scholastic provided participating students with the opportunity to select eleven books of their choice to take home for summer reading and hosted 23 Family Reading Night events to foster family engagement.
The research findings indicate that with increased access to books and family engagement, a majority of students maintained or increased their reading levels over the summer of 2016, and also that the program had an overall positive impact on students’ reading habits and attitudes. In October 2017, Make Summer Count was awarded the Dick and Tunky Riley WhatWorksSC Award for Excellence for demonstrating successful strategies to help prevent summer learning loss, in large part due to the research around the program displaying an overwhelmingly positive impact. You can find the full results in the report “Addressing Summer Reading Loss: A Public Education Partners and Greenville County Schools Initiative,” but here are a few incredible highlights:
Among students in grades 3–5, 78% maintained or increased their reading levels from spring to fall 2016.
Students read an average of 14.7 books, compared to the national average of twelve books—a statistic reported in the Kids & Family Reading Report: 6th Edition.
The percentage of students who read for one hour or more without stopping grew from 13% to 26%.
Eighty-two percent of students agreed that they were better readers after the summer.
Ninety-eight percent of families agreed that their children were better readers because of summer reading.
Ninety-nine percent of families agreed that the program contributed to their children reading more books over the summer.
One hundred percent of families found Family Reading Nights valuable for learning about how to support their children’s reading.
While reflecting on the powerful results of the work done in Greenville, I want to call attention to four essential factors that I believe significantly contribute to the success of programs such as Make Summer Count, which can be replicated across the country.
Families Are Great Supporters for Their Children’s Success
Literacy can be a focus throughout the year when caregivers make time for reading at home. According to the Kids & Family Reading Report, kids ages six to eleven and their parents agree that they enjoy read-aloud time, with the top reasons being it is a special time together (72% and 77%, respectively) and reading together is fun (66% and 67%). Also, according to the report, 82% of kids agree that parents are their number-one source of encouragement to read books for fun.
The process of learning to read is different for every student, and striving readers—students who are reading six to 24 months below grade level, as well as young children who have arrived in kindergarten or first grade without preschool or the learning of pre-K literacy concepts—can especially benefit from incremental support from their families when school is out of session.
Engaging families is hard, but sharing information about the summer slide and highlighting the importance of making time for reading at home is a great place to start in making literacy a year-round priority. It is important that we also give families the tools and resources that they need to feel comfortable and confident reading with their children.
Family engagement events and increasing access to books are great opportunities for sharing information and providing practical tips for utilizing it. The events can be facilitated by members of the school community or by trained literacy ambassadors from various community groups. Giving families, school leaders, and local organizations opportunities to interact in literacy-rich environments is an important part of growing a strong community of readers.
Provide Professional Learning
Opportunities for Educators over the Summer
An important part of being a summer learning advocate is creating a school culture of year-round learning, and that includes faculty and staff. The Teacher & Principal School Report: Equity in Education revealed that 98% of teachers and principals agree that they want effective, ongoing, relevant professional development. Summer is an ideal time to provide educators with the high-quality professional development that they deserve. Sessions around literacy and family engagement can strengthen the entire school community, enhancing the effectiveness of instructional strategies and emphasizing the importance of building those partnerships with families that will lead to year-round success for students.
Developing a strategic multiyear plan for professional learning is key in delivering what educators need in order to build upon their expertise in a sustainable way that stays with the district. As part of this plan, districts can invite education experts to host summer workshops that foster a collaborative environment for educators while school is out of session. Once the school year begins, coaches can continue to work with educators to help implement the techniques that they need to master in order to more effectively reach all students and their families.
Book Selection and Pleasure Reading Are Key
Year after year, kids tell us through the Kids & Family Reading Report that their favorite books and the ones they are most likely to finish are the ones they pick out themselves. From the same report, 62% of kids ages six to 17 shared that they love or like summer reading a lot. This may be contrary to what many of us have believed to be true. Kids like reading, even over the summer! Academic research displays that the opportunity to practice independent reading every day leads to higher test scores on measurements of reading comprehension (OECD, 2009). There could be no better time to support this idea than summer.
With multilayered support from the educators, families, and community members, students will be able to explore and discover their interests through books and independent reading time while building their reading skills. And for all kids, choice is critical. We want our kids to be reading books that they are interested in because this will help engage them in reading. One study from 2010 found that providing children from lower-income families with self-selected books for summer reading eliminates the summer slide and creates reading gains comparable to advancements experienced by children from middle-income families (Allington, McGill-Franzen, Camilli, et al., 2010). All kids should be able to read whenever they want, and whatever they want, especially over the summer.
Access to Books Must Be Increased
We know that access to books is essential for helping kids become lifelong readers, and there are a number of places where kids can get their hands on reading material. Ninety-one percent of teachers and principals surveyed in the Teacher & Principal School Report: Equity in Education agree that schools play an important role in expanding access to books at home, but we find that educators also do not have the access to books they need to better support students. Thirty-one percent of teachers have fewer than 50 books in their classroom libraries. Kids should be able to pick up a book that they are interested in and read it whenever they want to, but this is not a reality for all children. According to the Kids & Family Reading Report, the average U.S. household has 104 children’s books for the entire family. This dips to fewer than 70 books in the homes of lower-income families. Work needs to be done to increase access to books in children’s lives altogether.
Planning a take-home book initiative such as the one implemented in Greenville is a research-based tactic that the entire community can get behind to expand access to books beyond what is currently available in schools, particularly for lower-income families. In addition to building home libraries, let us make books plentiful and abundant throughout our communities. Tell your students where they can find books outside of the classroom, whether that is at the public library or in various community centers around town. Let’s talk about books and where to find them. Reaching out to community and business partners has been a great resource for schools and districts with limited funds. They are working together to deplete book deserts and help build home libraries.
Students can then challenge themselves to seek out books at any level of difficulty on the topics about which they are most passionate, grabbing those books that are above reading level. We want our students to be reading whole books, working through authentic text, and becoming engrossed in stories. Continually introducing students to authentic text is essential for helping them learn how to find books that they will enjoy over and over again. Successful reading experiences will inspire a journey of discovery and ultimately, a lifelong love of reading.
Schools, families, and community partners have tremendous strength when they come together to work toward stemming the summer slide and empowering students to discover a love of reading.
Providing families with the tools and resources that they need to help their children succeed, providing educators with professional learning opportunities, offering access to books throughout the year, and giving students agency to choose the books they want to read can help all of our kids leap in learning over the summer. We should also be sure to communicate with families about the summer slide and provide kids with the encouragement to stay motivated. Together, we can pledge to strengthen our communities by making literacy and independent reading a year-round priority.
Michael Haggen, chief academic officer of Scholastic Education, brings more than 20 years of academic experience, having served as a teacher, principal, chief academic officer, and direct report to superintendents in three school districts. Michael ensures that Scholastic Education is best able to support educators in improving student learning through its focus on instructional materials, professional learning programs, and family and community engagement initiatives. For more information about Scholastic Education, visit www.scholastic.com/education.