Monday, May 14, 2012

A New Look at Summer Reading

Above is the link to an article entitled, Summer Reading Loss, written by Maryann Mraz and Timothy Rasinski. This article and another available at IRA Inspire, April, 2012, a monthly production of the International Reading Association, were two of the four read by my colleagues (Regional Literacy Specialists and Office of Literacy Staff) and me for our last, bimonthly conversation.

Last Friday we had a lively discussion of summer reading loss experienced by many students and what may be done to ameliorate it.  The Mraz and Rasinski article reminds us of the staggering statistics related to summer loss particularly as it relates to disadvantaged students. Reviewing empirical studies that involved 40,000 students, results were concerning. "in a single academic year, this (summer loss) decline resulted in an estimated three-month achievement gap between more advantaged and less advantaged students. Between grades 1 and 6, the potential cumulative impact of this achievement gap could compound to 1.5 years' worth of reading development lost in the summer months alone (Cooper, Nye, Charlton,Lindsay, & Greathouse, 1996)." These data and those revealed by several other studies are 26 or more years old. This is not news. Teachers have been talking about this problem as long as I have been a student!

Yet, the suggestions and activities provided for summer reading for students are the same old tried but unsuccessful activities that have never made a difference. The suggestions in these articles don't go quite far enough. They hint at some of the right directions but I think they fall short of interesting a critical mass of people in reading and supporting the reading of young students. Let's put aside the idea of a longer school year for now. Even if philosophically disposed to do so, in the current economic climate, it seems impossible.

This is the 21st Century, a great time for some new ideas. What do you do when reading? Do you ever tell someone about the ideas you encounter? Do you join people who are reading the same things to exchange ideas and broaden your viewpoint and that of your colleagues? Why not set up opportunities for students to do so as well.

During the summer, perhaps students could be part of a blog to exchange thoughts on books or topics that they are reading in common. Perhaps next year's teacher would enjoy reading the blog entries and certainly the students would be excited by the opportunity to impress and get to know the new teacher. By putting informational books or topics on a list, we could address the knowledge deficit that we all agree that our students experience. This could involve providing students with sites where they could read the information; maybe even become involved in some activities related to the reading.

Our community reads the same book in the fall every year. Perhaps it would be more helpful to do so in the summer. Students could be given choices (always associated with motivation because motivation is intrinsic not generated by carrots or sticks) of what to read and when they got back to school could be given the chance to join a group of students and adults who had read the same texts (books, magazines, Web sites etc.) to enjoy a discussion. The Inspire piece talks about a Literacy Day to start the year complete with invitations to authors of the suggested books. I would eliminate the required presentations by students and just enjoy the chance to hear from authors and ask them questions. This would make the reading-writing connection in the best way possible.

One very important element is making the books, magazines, Web links etc. available to the students. Many families don't have access to book stores or libraries. It isn't always as easy as we think it is. However, we have lots of resources to draw on - parent organizations, community businesses (particularly banks), community organizations - Rotary, your local reading council, your own district's partnerships. With donations, we could put texts into the hands of every young reader.

We have known about this problem for a long time. Time to use our creativity and famous determination and solve this problem with 21st Century solutions. After all this is an investment in our own work as well. How much time would we save in the fall if we started the year with all students ready with skills in tact and imagination revved up to speed with new knowledge and wonderings in their heads? We have time if we start to plan now. How about it?