Summer Reading: The Big Prize

Ah, summer is upon us.  Who’s excited?!  For many of us (okay, it’s probably the majority) who exist inside the world of education, summer is an extraordinarily wonderful- and necessary- time of the year.  It is a time to decompress, recharge, and gear up for the next school year.  Sunny vacations, fascinating camp experiences, trips to see the relatives– there is so much to love about summer.

Oh, and then there’s that reading we are supposed to be doing, too.  Yeah, that.

Research has show time and time again that students that read during the summer do themselves an enormous favor.  Many students do themselves the favor of participating in summer reading programs, such as the Connecticut Governor’s Reading Challenge or programs sponsored by local public libraries.  But I sometimes wonder, do we truly understand what is at stake when it comes to summer reading?  Since this blog is dedicated to supporting middle school readers and writers, allow me to share some somewhat shocking information:

1.  Summer slide is real.  When students do not read over the summer, they experience what some term, “Summer Slide.”  This is real and has been documented several times in several places– like here and here and here (if you prefer more academic writing, check this or this out).  The gist of the problem is simple: kids who do not read adequately, that is to say at least 4-6 books over the summer break, lose ground academically.  This contributes to a growing achievement gap.  For students living in economically disadvantaged circumstances, the effect is significant.  According to researchers Allington and McGill-Franzen (2013), the summer break (and lack of reading and/or access to books) widens the achievement gap between economically advantaged and disadvantaged by around three months.  Three months?!

2.  Literacy saves lives.  A few years ago, I had the pleasure of attending a workshop led by Dr. Noah Borrero, an associate professor of Urban Education and Social Justice at the University of San Francisco.  At that workshop, Dr. Borrero shared some shocking statistics.  Here are just a few:

  • 43% of adults at Level 1 literacy skills (the lowest) live in poverty compared to only 4% of those at Level 5 (the highest).
  • 3 out of 4 food stamp recipients’ literacy skills are Level 2 or below; 90% of welfare recipients are high school dropouts.
  • Teenage girls living at the poverty level with “below average” literacy skills are six times more likely to have out-of-wedlock children than female teenage counterparts (also at the poverty level) who read “at or above basic proficiency”.
So yes, reading achievement matters.  It really, really does.
3.  Be careful! Reading incentive programs can have detrimental effects.  According to researcher and writer Alfie Kohn, studies conducted on the effects of incentive programs on long-term reading affinity have revealed startlingly negative results.  In this excerpt entitled, “A Closer Look at Reading Incentive Programs”, Kohn discusses how reading incentive programs, when used as a replacement for grades as just a way to get kids to read, produce less than positive effects.  It is therefore vital that summer reading expectations set at home are coupled with authentic modeling of real reading behaviors (I wrote about this here).  We do not want kids reading just to earn a prize.  Rather, we want to foster and nurture a genuine lifelong love of reading! The authors at Nerdy Book Club make some great suggestions; here are a few: 
(1) Share your summer reading plans.  Readers need to know that planning helps– show them a stack of books you intend to read this summer. Be inspirational by showing your excitement about reading! 
(2)  Show kids how to plan.  Using a calendar that illustrates when they will be home, not at home, with relatives, etc. can work to set up a supportive structure for realistic reading plans.
(3)  Plan Summer Book Clubs.  Book clubs can even be virtual!  Consider using/trying Google hangouts or virtual chats.
4.  Summer Reading offers a way out of summer slide.  Award-winning author Kate DiCamillo was recently featured as a “Summer Reading Champion” by the publication, American Libraries.  Kate feels strongly that connecting students with the joy of reading is truly a way to counteract the detrimental effects of summer reading loss. According to Ms. DiCamillo, “There’s nothing that you have to read.  It’s what you want to read.  If we could get that freedom of choice cemented into a kid’s head and connect it with the library and books, I think the world just opens up.”  Incidentally, I have written about this incredibly important choice factor before.

So besides the public library, where might we find some high-quality resources that might help connect kids with great books?  Allow me to suggest just a few (note: suggested lists are my own ideas):

  • Nutmeg Award Winners Sponsored by the Connecticut Library Association, the Nutmeg Award encourages children to read high quality literature.  The list is here.
  • Nerdy Book Club Our friends at the aforementioned Nerdy Book Club have a robust list for all levels of readers.  Check it out here!
  • Lee & Low Personally, I am a great believer in the ability of books to be both mirrors and windows into the human condition.  Books can be windows into the condition of those different than ourselves, and they can be mirrors that show us who we are as humans.  Lee & Low is a high quality site dedicated to sharing the rich diversity of our world through literature.  Check out their recommendations here.
  • Reading is Fundamental Here are some great resources for younger children.
So here’s to summer!  I wish everyone a terrific blast of relaxation, reconnection, and fun.  While we know how important our educational endeavors are, let’s face it– it wears us down.  So go enjoy the pool, the beach, your family…and don’t forget the books.  A lot depends on it!

    Author: Lanny Ball

    For more than 23 years, Lanny has taught, coached, presented, staff developed, and consulted within the exciting and enigmatic world of literacy. With unyielding passion and belief in the possibility of workshop teaching, Lanny has worked to support students, teachers, and school administrators around the country in outgrowing themselves as both writers and readers. Working first as a classroom teacher, then as a coach and TCRWP Staff Developer, Lanny is now a literacy and reading consultant in Northwestern Connecticut. Outside of literacy, he enjoys raising his three ambitious young daughters with his wife, and playing the piano. Find him on Twitter @LannyBall, as well as his literacy blog: lannyball.com or lannyball.blog.

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