Summer Reading: Access & Choice

I’d just read Tina Valentine’s post called “Will Your Students Keep Learning This Summer?” when I happened on another article on the same topic in the current International Reading Association newsletter. “Stopping Summer Slide” cites research conducted by Anne McGill-Franzen,  Richard Allington, and colleagues at the University of Tennessee. They say that whereas middle-class students typically gain about two months of reading achievement during the summer, students from lower-income households often lose ground, sometimes as much as three or more months.

Their study involved providing books to randomly selected high-poverty students at the end of the school year. When these students returned to school after the summer, their reading scores were compared to a control group who had not received books. The result: The students who had received books had significantly higher achievement gains. (If you want to learn more, a recent article in USA Today, “Free books block ‘summer slide’ in low-income students,” cites similar research.)

One clear message I take from all this is that we must do all that we can to provide all children with access to literature and print. The idea that Tina shared about her school providing gently-used books from teachers’ collections is wonderful. At my former school, we encouraged summer reading by holding end-of-the-year “book swaps.”  During the year, students and teachers would bring books they were ready to pass on to the library. Then during the last week of school, classes would go to the library to “shop” for summer reading books from among the donations.

The shopping aspect was an important part of what made this work well—students got to choose which books they’d take home. I know I am much more motivated to read when I am able to select a title for myself, or when a friend recommends a title I might enjoy.  Aren’t you? I noticed that students chose their own books in the University of Tennessee study, too. I bet that increased their motivation to read—and in turn, helped bolster their reading scores!

Babs Freeman-Loftis is a Responsive Classroom consultant and coauthor of Responsive School Discipline. She was assistant head of the lower school at the University School of Nashville for nine years.

Tags: Language Arts, School Breaks, Summer