Summer is a time of promise, when the light is golden and the sound of children’s voices echo in the air, even after darkness begins to come across the sky. For us as teachers, and for the families we serve, summer can be a period of great joy, but it can also stretch in front of us in a way that worries us: Will our children thrive as readers in these months?
It is during this time that children are at risk for the “summer slide,” a phenomenon that occurs when they are not reading or connecting with books in a rich and robust way. These “lost” months are not only a time when students may remain static in their reading progress—they can also “fall back” and lose ground.
In a landmark study, Richard Allington and Anne McGill-Franzen, coauthors of Summer Reading: Closing the Rich/Poor Achievement Gap, discovered that the summer slide accounted for as much as “85 percent of the reading achievement gap between lower-income students and their middle- and upper-income peers.” However, another study found that if children read four or more books over the summer, they did better on reading assessments in the fall than their peers who read one or no books during that time, regardless of any differential. The summer slide is real and it is profound, but the good news is this: It is solvable.
The “Super Reader” movement that we hope to ignite with our book Every Child a Super Reader invites you as teachers to enroll families as partners in telling a new summer story of learning for all our children—supporting them to take a giant leap forward as readers, writers, and learners. In this way, we can create 365 days of super reading that will ensure no child suffers the consequences of the summer slide.
Celebrate Independent Reading
Twenty minutes a day of independent reading is all it takes to expand vocabulary and turn reading into a lifelong habit. Ask your students: “What are your reading goals for the summer?” “Who is someone you can read with?” “What is one book you definitely want to read before the summer is over?” Create a blog or use an online portal, such as VoiceThread, so that students can keep in touch with one another as readers all summer long. As an incentive, give them a challenge: Record individual minutes read and set a collective reading-minutes goal. When they return in the fall, celebrate as a school. We must strive to create the kind of world where children count words and time spent reading as valuable, whether they are reading poetry, nonfiction, comics, blogs, or the backs of cereal boxes.
Summer Read-Aloud Fun
The read-aloud not only improves reading, writing, vocabulary, and listening skills—it also invites readers to form bonds, to become part of a literary community, to connect. Together, create a list of favorite read-alouds from the school year. Send the list home, and tell families to look for the books at their local library or at a nearby bookstore—or lend class copies you may have on hand.
While school is still in session, have kids practice reading aloud to one another, and then suggest they do the same with younger siblings or friends throughout the summer months. Encourage them to turn one of their favorite read-alouds into a play, use it to make a recording, or even create an art project around it.
Create Super Reader Families
Send home the Super Reader Summer Countdown and Family Summer Reading Tips sheets to get families started on thinking about how they can build reading rituals into the coming months. (If you can, also send a selection of leveled books with children whose families may not have many on hand.) Let families know that their participation counts, and that you and their children are counting minutes this summer, so read-alouds will also count! The Scholastic Kids and Family Reading Report (2015) notes that having parents as reading role models or having a large book collection at home has a greater impact on children’s reading frequency than does household income. Let parents know that reading aloud or side-by-side with their child and taking books along with them on trips help build lifelong Super Readers.
7 Strengths for 7 Weeks of Summer
Children often believe that when they struggle as readers, it indicates a lack of ability. But depending on the text, any reader can struggle. It’s part of what we do as we wrestle with words and strive to make sense of a challenging text. By focusing on a strength-based approach in our Super Reader 7 Strengths Model, we say to every child: You can succeed, practice matters, and what you bring to the reading of a book—your ideas and processes—are all strengths. We developed the framework through our longtime work with LitWorld, a global literacy organization.
By naming their own strengths—from curiosity to courage to kindness—children begin to see themselves as readers who are facing struggle with joy and purpose. This shift in perspective changes the learning landscape for children. Suddenly, when confronted with a challenging text, they know they have the skills to overcome difficulties and tackle the content rather than feel defeated. Super Readers are bold and brave and not afraid to push forward into new territory to discover new meaning.
In Every Child a Super Reader, we focus on seven strengths for reading success: belonging, curiosity, friendship, kindness, confidence, courage, and hope.
Week One: Belonging
Invite children and families to create a sense of belonging as readers at home. Make a cozy nook for reading. Collect favorite books from the library or on a digital device and designate an area at home for this reading life. Create a “reading on the go” kit so that when there is a sibling’s soccer game or a long subway trip, that bag of books or tablet can come along for the ride. Encourage families to make a refrigerator chart called “We Are All Super Readers,” and feature each family member’s photo. Make the home a place of belonging and safety for the reading experience.
Week Two: Curiosity
Suggest that your Super Readers build a “Curiosity List” of things they and their families most want to learn about this summer, and then find books on some of these fun and interesting topics. They should keep the list in a prominent place, and add to it as the summer unfolds.
Week Three: Friendship
Have families encourage their children to reach out to another reader—a grandparent, a neighbor, an aunt, a friend from class—to share what they are reading at that particular moment.
Week Four: Kindness
Challenge students to take a kindness action from a book or a story they are reading. What might this book inspire them to do for another person?
Week Five: Confidence
Encourage affirmation. Have parents identify one or two things they are seeing their child do as a reader this summer, whether that is trying a new genre or having breakthroughs in reading hard words. They can celebrate these small steps by posting a compliment on their child’s bedroom wall or having a special family dinner together.
Week Six: Courage
Suggest Super Readers read a book about a courageous person in the world, and then have a family conversation about what courage means and where they see small or big examples of courage in the world.
Week Seven: Hope
Have parents initiate a conversation based on this question: What about your reading life this summer makes you feel more hopeful? Have families create a “Hope Map” together that encompasses their hopes for one another, their hopes for the world, and how reading something this summer inspires them to hope bigger and dream bigger for themselves, for one another, and for the world.
Photo: JuliarStudio/iStock (blast); Tintin75/Dreamstime.com (background);
Rob Hainer/Shutterstock (kids); Rodrigo Osornio/The Noun Project (book icon)