Launching Summer Reading

By Donalyn Miller, sixth-grade teacher at Trinity Meadows Intermediate School in Keller, TX

Reading research indicates that many childrenís reading ability declines between the end of one school year and the beginning of the next because they do not read over the summer. You can counteract this summer reading slump by reading as few as four or five books over the summer, according to researcher Jimmy Kim. I, of course, would love for kids to read more than this small number of books! The summer break is a marvelous time for readers to explore topics and books of their own interest free from the mandates of school reading. Although it is challenging to require or monitor studentsí summer reading, here are some suggestions for launching a schoolwide summer reading initiative.

Provide lots of opportunities for students to recommend books. Hang recommendations on the walls in the hallways and in the library. Present book commercials over the announcements and in school newsletters. Provide student-created lists or podcasts on the school website. Discussing books students may read over the summer sends a message that you expect them to read and gives students titles to consider.

Encourage children to make lists of at least four or five books they would like to read over the break. Explicitly setting the goal to read at least a few books sends students off for the summer with a reading plan and some specific titles they have self-selected to read.

Hold a book swap. Invite students to donate old books in exchange for a ticket. During the book swap, students may select another book for every ticket they hold. We have held a book swap for many years at my school on the last Saturday before school ends. Our teachers and the librarian cull personal and classroom collections too, and they often donate their tickets to kids who donít have books. If you have extra books after the swap,, find a local charity, hospital, or childrenís organization that could use the books.

Open the school library for a few days a week all summer. Talking with my students, I discovered that their primary sources of books were the school and classroom libraries. When school closes for the summer, many students lose access to reading material. Consider opening your school library for a few hours two days a week. Invite parents and staff to volunteer for at least one shift over the summer, and talk with your librarian about how to monitor the books over the break. We opened our school library for two hours one afternoon and two hours one morning every week for most of the summer.

Host a library card sign-up event. Librarians are a wonderful resource for children who need book recommendations. Many libraries offer summer reading programs, author visits, and other events to entice children to read more over the summer. Invite librarians or volunteers from the local library to attend a PTA meeting or open house and explain the libraryís summer programs. Encourage families to sign up for library cards.

Promote Scholasticís website and online bookstore. Scholasticís website and book store provide parents with low-cost books and free resources for supporting their childrenís summer reading plans.

Advise parents to set the expectations for their child to read every day. Reading for 15 to 30 minutes a day keeps studentsí vocabulary and reading ability growing during the summer and can be a wonderful activity for rainy days, household errand running, and long waits in the car or at the airport.

I discourage you from creating required reading lists and offering incentives over the summer. Research shows that such programs demotivate most children to read and only benefit children who have already strong home support for reading. Look for ways to include parents and children in your summer reading initiatives, and you will have more buy-in and motivation to participate.

Donalyn Miller is the author of "The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child" (Jossey-Bass, 2009) and writes The Book Whisperer blog for Education Week Teacher. Her articles about teaching reading and education policy have appeared in such publications as Educational Leadership and the Washington Post. To book a presentation with Donalyn, go to http://bookwhisperer.com/presentations.php.
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