Set Students Up for Summer Reading Success

Involving Families Boosts Buy-in and Motivation

By Donalyn Miller, fourth-grade teacher at O.A. Peterson Elementary, Fort Worth, Texas.

Reading research indicates that the reading ability of many children declines between the end of one school year and the beginning of the next. My former sixth-graders can tell you why this happens: They don’t usually read much over the summer. You can offset this summer reading slump by reading as few as four or five books over the summer. I, of course, would love for kids to read more than that! The summer break is a marvelous time for readers, freed from the mandates of assigned school reading, to explore topics and books of their own interest.

Best Practices for Getting Started:

• Ensure student access to a library over summer.
• Give students opportunities to share favorite titles before break.
• Hold a book swap.
• Encourage families to expect students to read 20 or more minutes a day.
• Share information with families about summer reading programs in your community.
• Hold summer book club meetings in a park.
• Celebrate summer reading success when school resumes.
Look for ways to include parents and children in your summer reading initiatives, and you will have more buy-in and motivation to participate. Although it is challenging to require or monitor students' summer reading, here are some suggestions for launching a schoolwide summer reading initiative that encourages more children to read during summer break.

  • 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 list at least four 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 don’t have books. If you have extra books at the end, find a local charity, hospital, or children’s 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 will open our school library for two hours one afternoon and two hours one morning every week for most of the summer.

  • Advise parents to set the expectations for their child to read every day. Reading for 20 to 30 minutes a day keeps students’ 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 the airport.

Think Outside the School Walls to Create a Summer Reading Community

By Alyson Beecher, program support specialist at Pasadena Unified School District, Pasadena, Calif.

Every summer as a child, I went on dozens of adventures and trips to faraway places, but I never left the small town I grew up in. Books provided me with a way to visit places and have experiences that I otherwise would never have had. Summer meant hours of uninterrupted time to read every day. I didn’t worry about reading for school assignments or having to write a book report to show that I read a book. I simply read what interested me. It was something that was pleasurable and I did as effortlessly as breathing.

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When I became an elementary principal, I quickly realized that each year the majority of my students were returning from summer break with a significant loss of skill. Based on teacher comments, it seemed that students had forgotten nearly everything that they were taught the previous year. Though that may not be true, what was noticeable is the learning gap created by the summer months was even more pronounced in children coming from lower-income homes who did not have the same access to summer enrichment programs available to students from families with more financial resources. I needed a plan for bridging that gap.

During the school year, I noticed that students were reading more and showed enthusiasm toward books. Our reading community was growing and taking off. As the lead reader, I had to figure out how to support our reading community even when we weren’t all together. I realized that our reading community needed to move beyond the confines of our classrooms.

We found creative, effective ways to encourage and support summer reading and connect with other reading communities.

• Share information about summer reading programs in your community with children and parents. Many public libraries have programs through which children can stop in weekly to report what they read or participate in weekly programming. Partnering with librarians in your community is critical.

• Invite your local librarians to attend an open house. Use the opportunity to sign up children for library cards, as well as to promote library services such as homework help, book clubs, summer reading programs, author visits, and other programs and events. You can also help children identify libraries closest to their homes.

• Hold a summer book club for students in the local park near the school. Children enjoy opportunities to see school friends during the summer. Pairing a social gathering with reading reinforces the idea of a reading community. Parent volunteers and teachers can coordinate summer book clubs, which can be divided by age groups. Because busy summer schedules can be a challenge, plan on meeting only two to four times during the summer, and make sure that families have the dates, locations, and contact information for coordinators before leaving for summer break.

• Celebrate when children return in the fall. Our local public libraries keep track of children who sign up for their summer reading program. At the end of the summer, they send a list to the school of who participated. The launch of the school year is a time to celebrate everyone’s summer reading efforts.

A voracious reader, Donalyn Miller spent 10 years teaching middle school language arts and is embarking this year on a new adventure: teaching fourth grade self-contained. Donalyn is the author of The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child (2009) and the upcoming Readers in the Wild, which describes her methods for inspiring and motivating her students to read. She writes The Book Whisperer blog for Education Week Teacher.

Alyson Beecher has worked in early childhood, elementary, and special education at the site and district level, including six years as an elementary principal. Alyson is passionate about helping teachers and students understand the value of reading for learning as well as for pleasure. She serves on the Scholastic Book Fairs Principal Advisory Board and the
Schneider Family Book Award jury. Alyson shares her insights on reading and favorite children’s titles on her blog,
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