After a year of taking students on their 'reading journey', teachers can be dismayed at the loss of progress after a summer holiday with little or no reading or literacy activity. Some students start the new year below – sometimes well below – the levels they had achieved at the end of the previous year.
New Zealand research into summer reading loss
Preparation, promotion and practice
Target students for reading support
Teachers’ own summer reading
Using evidence to inform practice
Running a summer reading initiative in your school
Professor Stuart McNaughton's research into Summer Reading in Decile 1 schools in New Zealand, School achievement: why summer matters gives four major recommendations to teachers to reduce the level of summer reading loss:
- Find out what children like to read and engage them in reading motivating texts
- Mentor students to develop those aspects of their literacy which are to do with engagement, their development of 'taste' and informational interests. Teach them to access these texts and to monitor their enjoyment
- Give specific messages to parents about how to support children’s engagement with text
- Find out about students’ summer reading at the beginning of the year
The McNaughton study suggests teachers support their students in the classroom for summer reading success through preparation, promotion and practice.
Preparation for summer reading
- Be explicit with students about why holiday reading is important, how it will help them and make a difference, how classroom strategies are still relevant over the holidays, and (for young readers) WALT:
- We Are Learning To be responsible for our own reading
- We Are Learning To read independently
- Prepare students for holiday reading towards the end of each term as well as for the summer break.
- Discuss where to get books from, over the holidays: your school library and /or classroom, the local public library, from friends, from secondhand bookshops.
- Explore how to choose 'just right' books – not too easy, not too hard, just right, connecting to their interests and reading levels.
- Work closely with your school library team on how to get books into students’ hands over summer, enlisting their help to find suitable books that align with your students' reading interests.
- Encourage students and families to join and visit the public library over the summer break.
- Provide parents with information and advice about avoiding the summer slide.
Promotion of summer reading
Active, enthusiastic, regular promotion of books and reading is part of every classroom’s reading culture and essential for creating readers. Classroom-instilled reading habits, positive attitudes and strategic approaches to reading will help support and sustain students’ reading through the holidays. To encourage and promote summer reading you could:
- provide time for students to share, discuss and recommend books to each other
- introduce booktalk - time to talk about authors and titles, genres and series, share favourites and identify 'read-alikes'
- set up online opportunities for book sharing and recording on a blog, website or social account such as LibraryThing or Goodreads
- celebrate reading role models, with a variety of people sharing how and why they are readers
- create goals or challenges focused on keeping holiday reading fun
- build in intrinsic rewards rather than focusing on extrinsic rewards
- create some guidance around reading recommendations, such as listing 10 of your own favourite authors / titles / series, 10 of your friends’ favourites, 10 of the class favourites, 10 most popular authors borrowed from your school library
- talk about reading a range of material such as magazines, comics and non-fiction.
Practise reading for pleasure
As a teacher, you're likely to already be building a classroom culture where reading for pleasure is valued, practised and celebrated. To help develop and cement the reading habit, it's important to allocate class time for this each day. This encourages students to build reading stamina - making links between school sustained silent reading (SSR) and home reading time.
In addition, other strategies you might use include:
- setting some goals, or making a 'contract', eg to read for a certain amount of time each day, keeping a simple record of what they have read
- adopting a class slogan, for example Read a little every day, or Read your age plus 10 minutes a day
- identifying blocks that may stop students reading, and working through ways to address these, for example:
- choosing a particular time or special place to read
- if stuck with a book, try another book, talk about it with someone, skip forward or re-read -with the emphasis on reading for pleasure, it's important this doesn't become 'schoolwork' or a chore
- collaborating with the school librarian and other teachers in your school (from other subject areas if in a secondary school) to ensure messages and approaches are cohesive
- with younger children, talking about how to look after books and about bringing books back after the holidays.
Teachers may wish to target specific students for support, to maintain hard-won reading gains. For example, students and families who have participated in the Reading Together programme, or been through Reading Recovery.
Avid readers may also be a possible target group. Your school could supply enough reading material to support their reading habit over the holidays.
Ohaeawai School linked holiday reading into their Student Librarian recruitment programme, encouraging eager potential student librarians to:
- borrow and read widely over the summer
- record their reading, which then formed part of their application for student librarian positions in the new year.
Teachers need to read children’s and young adult literature in order to be effective teachers of literacy and reading role models - sharing with students what you are going to read and what you have read.
- Imaginative, hopeful, and quick to read, children’s and young adult (YA) literature is enjoyable and rewarding in itself. It can connect you to your own childhood, and to your students.
- Summer reading provides an opportunity to catch up with what students are reading, what has been well-reviewed and recommended, potential read-alouds for the following year, and more.
- When you read and share your love of books in the classroom you can engage students in thoughtful book discussion, encourage them to read more, and use books more creatively in your classroom.
- Teachers who read are the best reading role models, demonstrating how they value reading for pleasure in their professional and personal lives
- The Guardian article Why teachers should read more children’s books refers to research that found reading for pleasure had implications for a teacher’s own well-being:
Teachers who read for pleasure have better book knowledge and feel more confident, calm and stress-free in the classroom.
What about your own summer reading?
How can the school library support teachers with providing recommendations and books to borrow over the summer?
For me, summer reading slump refers to my prone posture on the couch, reading happily. Donalyn Miller - The Book Whisperer
Being strategic about gathering evidence before, during and after any holiday reading initiative will help show how what you did made a difference. It will also inform future practice and initiatives.
Some questions to consider if you are planning a summer reading initiative include:
- Is the 'summer slump / summer slide' an issue for your students?
- Do you have data about end of year and beginning of year student reading levels, and if so what is it telling you?
- Is anything being done already?
- Who could you discuss this with at your school?
- What approach might work for your students, your school and your community?