Monday, May 13, 2013

Summer Reading: Changing It Up

Summer reading is more important than ever - at this time, for struggling readers, for disadvantaged children.

As we gear up for the increased challenges of complex text and writing from sources, summer is the perfect time to provide the added practice that many researchers are telling us that our students may need. Summer has the possibility to build stamina and increase fluency, or not.

We all agree that any student who is struggling with fluency or requisite knowledge for grade level learning will benefit from reading over the summer. Without that reading, students will actually lose ground that they simply cannot afford.

Allington and McGill-Franzen, in a 2010 study have identified the striking relationship between low income and summer setback. They indicate in a recent Reading Today article that "80% of the rich/poor achievement gap comes from summer setback". This is a call to action!

In the same article they outline a plan to provide students with books for summer reading. They estimate the cost to be about $50 for each student and suggest that younger students (grades 1-4) will need from 12 to 15 books and older students will need 5-6 books. They identify some key elements that seem to make sense. The key elements include students choosing their own books and adults setting up some sort of activities with the individual children for following up on the book reading. Choice and collaboration are two very important ingredients in motivation and engagement. They have written a book that is available from Teachers College Press at

When I worked as a Principal, I provided a book for every student at every grade level based on teacher recommendation. Clearly that is not enough. If I were a school leader now, I would enlist help through the businesses in the community and parent organizations to provide the suggested number of book choices for disadvantaged students. To that end, our local reading council is hoping to set up a scholarship fund to allow teachers to follow this plan.

In our family, the kids read all the time and sometimes the required summer reading is still a chore, saved until the last minute and completed under duress. Clearly, if even avid readers are put off by required summer reading, our summer reading programs need an overhaul. I think that some amount of choice in the materials and an engaging follow up that could include lively facilitated discussion could be a start.

Here are some suggestions and resources that may help.

Once a week, for nine weeks, over the summer, students read the New York Times online and write a short (350 words or fewer) response to an article of their choice. They enter the response in the contest once a week (nine times) and they also save their responses in a Word document that they submit on the first day of school. They could also post their responses to a local blog.

2. Each faculty member (not just English teachers) picks a book. The students are provided with a list of books from which to choose. On “summer reading day,” students go to the room selected for the book they chose. The teacher selects the assessment for their book—essay, m-c, poster, PP, discussion with rubric, etc.

3. Have the whole school read one book and have the author come in to speak at an assembly early in the year (or Skype with him/her). Assignments could include writing questions for the author.

4. Malden provides a list of books with a similar theme (mostly YA lit.) and has students write about whatever book they chose and how it relates to their own lives.

· Brookline Public Schools Summer Reading List, 2012.

This is an extensive annotated list of titles compiled by librarians in the Brookline (MA) Public Schools and arranged by grade levels (Pk-8) and genres.

· International Reading Association: Children’s Choices and Teachers’ Choices. :

Every fall, IRA publishes an annotated list of favorite books voted on by children and by teachers. This website contains the published book lists from 1998-2013. Books are arranged by grade levels.

· Children’s Book Council:

This site includes several different book lists published by various organizations, such as IRA, National Science Teachers Association, and National Council for the Social Studies. It is especially helpful to locate books for students who prefer nonfiction.

This site contains a variety of book lists for children, including a list of classics from the Horn Book. -- multiple lists, including from IRA, Boston P.S. and more.
Later, I plan to post the article at  If anyone has any additional creative ideas for summer reading, we would love to hear about them and share them with others who are interested. Send ideas to

Allington, R. L. & McGill-Franzen, A. (2013). Eliminating summer reading setback: How can we close the rich/poor reading achievement gap. Reading Today, 30(5), 10-11.