October 1: Time to Think about Summer Reading?

imageWelcome to October. Now that school has been in session for a few weeks, while summer is still reasonably fresh in memory, maybe it’s time to consider whether or not our approaches to summer reading accomplished what we hoped.

Numerous studies indicate that “summer slide” is a very real phenomenon. Statistics vary but consistently show that students who do not read during the summer return to school as notably worse readers than they were on the previous school year’s last day. This raises an important question for schools: Do we have a responsibility to promote reading over the summer, or is that time when learning can and should be entrusted to parents? The answer can probably vary according to a community’s culture, but if a school decides to promote summer reading with some kind of program, it should be a program that actually accomplishes its goal.

An earlier blog post described how summer reading was playing out in our household in the last few days before school resumed. That post also offered ideas about how schools can encourage reading during the summer without requiring counterproductive accountability measures.

October 1 seems like a good time for English/Language Arts teachers and departments to look back on the past few weeks to reflect on whether or not their summer reading programs worked.

Some guiding questions:

  • Did our students read? How do we know?
  • If they didn’t read, did it matter in our classrooms?
  • Did those who read become better readers? Did they enjoy what they read? Does enjoyment matter?
  • Did students who completed our requirements fare better on our accountability measures than those who did not authentically complete the requirements? How do we know?
  • If we required whole-class or whole-school novels, have we effectively used those efforts in our instruction?
  • If we required specific texts for summer reading, did we choose the right titles? How do we know?
  • Were students who read required texts in early summer at a disadvantage over those who those the texts in late summer, or even after the school year started? Is that OK?
  • What assessment or accountability measures were most effective in helping us accurately understand our students’ summer reading experiences?
  • What assessment or accountability measures generated grades or points but didn’t actually tell us much about how or what students read?
  • Were “fake readers” able to successfully slide through our accountability activities? Did we look the other way on those inauthentic reading experiences so that those students don’t begin the year with a low grade?
  • Did our summer reading program contribute to our school-wide reading goal, most importantly the nurturing of lifelong readers?
  • What aspects of our summer reading expectations should we retain for next summer?
  • What aspects of our summer reading expectations should we change in order to promote authentic, enjoyable reading experiences for all students?

If we reflect on these questions now, in early autumn, we’re more likely to be accurate in our ruminations than if we wait until next May. By then, our considerations may be clouded by dim memories and a temptation to get the year over with by just defaulting to past practice, even if it wasn’t all effective.

The results of any program that comes up annually in the cycle of a school year can be treated in one of several ways. We can artificially declare success and repeat the program. We can repeat the program for several years and then claim its validity based on that repetition. We can start over fresh each year. We can thoughtfully consider the strengths and weaknesses of the program and adjust our approach based on that consideration. Which approach do your students deserve? Which approach would you want for your own children?

Thanks for sharing any ideas about what summer reading ideas worked and what didn’t work at your school!

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2 Responses to October 1: Time to Think about Summer Reading?

  1. Great questions, Gary. There is a lot to think about here and to use for conversation. Many of our teachers felt and feel that our summer reading has not worked for students. Several teachers did not read the books themselves–an additional issue that likely speaks volumes about what we have in place. We have high expectations that students will read a “one-grade” book and a choice book, but many of our students, especially in upper grades, do not read. Figuring out how to adjust our practice so that we’re actually growing our readers is what we need to do. Now to have those conversations.

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  2. Dani Rren says:

    Good for you! It always amazed me when I was a teacher that the parents whose kids were truly behind in school, never asked me what their kids should be doing in the summer. It was always the kid who was ahead who had overzealous parents who worried about it. Kids need to be outside playing and readingfor a few hours every day, and they’ll be fine. I would rather a child spend the day at the park playing than being tutored in a fixed environment. We have 5 weeks left before my three children head to school this year (likes!) and we are going to enjoy it! This is an online resource that we use to teach them educationalfun.info

    Regards,
    Dani Rren

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