Combat Vacation Brain Drain with Summer Reading
Summer vacation is coming. The students are probably beginning to lose some of their focus, and perhaps their teachers are as well. Wandering minds are inevitable at this time of year, with the promise of lazy days by the pool, endless sports, and the freedom from homework. But as educators, we know that the glory days of summer have a dark underbelly – the dreaded “summer slide.”
Research has shown that, without intellectual stimulation such as regular reading or math activities, students lose between 1-3 months of their acquired learning over the summer. As a result, most teachers spend nearly an equal amount of time reviewing material once school resumes in the fall. It’s a frustrating situation, both for the teacher who loses valuable instruction time re-hashing material, and for the students who exercised their brains over the summer and are now bored by the weeks of review.
Combatting the summer brain drain is easier said than done. Kids from low-income families and ELL students are particularly vulnerable to summer slide, since their families are often unable, unwilling, or unsure how to help. Experts have cited the lack of access to books as the single largest hurdle to students participating in summer reading, so teachers can provide lists and discuss with students where they can obtain books over the summer, such as the public library, local book groups and exchanges, and secondhand stores. To encourage student buy-in and provide some structure for summer reading, teachers can present ideas to kids to help keep them on track over the summer. Some ideas might include:
- Create a class wiki for students to post about their reading and share insights and book reviews.
- Partner with the local public library to create a summer reading program or book club. Many libraries already have summer reading programs in place for younger students through middle school and young adult students.
- Take a class field trip to the local library and get students signed up for library cards.
- Solicit high school students to lead book clubs. Meeting space can usually be had for free at local community centers, libraries, and churches, and high school students can use their roles as book club facilitators towards fulfilling character education or volunteer service requirements.
- Bribery! Dangle a prize or other incentive for students upon their return to school for the most books read, diversity of genres read, or other criteria. The intermediate school in my town, for example, issues “passports” to students where kids note which books they’ve read in various literary genres. In September, the kids hand in their completed passports and celebrate with a pizza party.
If willing, parents can be your biggest ally in motivating students to read over the summer. Perhaps families could institute “family reading time” for 20 minutes each night, where the TV and video games are turned off and the whole family reads books, newspapers, magazines, etc. They can read independently or together as a family – it really doesn’t matter, as long as everyone reads. Enlist the help of other school personnel or student families in producing copies of summer reading ideas and suggestions in several different languages if your school has a diverse population, and briefly outline the importance of students’ exercising their literacy skills through reading.
This week I’ve selected three teacher-tested resources to help promote summer reading to K-12 students: all these resources contain ideas and activities to help sustain student interest and motivation throughout the summer. Please be sure to check my colleague Peggy’s column (linked below), where she tackles the issue from a teacher’s perspective. Finally, throughout the week I’ll also be featuring many more resources and materials on our Gateway Twitter and Facebook pages for keeping kids on track with their summer reading, so please be sure to check those pages often.
Summer Reading Under the Covers and Around the Campfire Part II: The Lesson
Subjects: Language Arts
This lesson exposes kids to the joys of scary stories and also serves to stimulate summer reading. The lesson uses two Edgar Allan Poe short stories and some free MP3 audio files to prompt students to become involved in the stories, make predictions, and offer their own endings to the tales. The lesson includes activities to complete before the end of school, and ideas on how to keep the kids involved over the summer. One of the things that I like about this lesson is that it is meant to be used with both regular students and students with reading disabilities. This lesson was produced by Don Johnston Incorporated, a company that offers reading and writing products and resources for students with learning disabilities such as autism and dyslexia.
We’ve Got Mail! Summer Reading Program
Subjects: Reading, Writing
This lesson aims to help students who don’t have easy access to books over the summer. With envelopes and postage stamps, one teacher gives a new meaning to the phrase, "You've Got Mail!" Students will practice independent reading and writing skills, and will have the opportunity to swap books and create video book reviews on their "read in" days. I love the chutzpah of this lesson, and the way that this particular teacher found a way to work around the problem of lack of student access to books. The video book reviews are also an engaging way to practice presentation and speaking skills, and the audience is exposed to book reviews from their peers in a creative way. This lesson is a product of Write to Learn, a blog dedicated to the teaching of writing and literacy.
Summer Reading Activity
Subjects: Comparative Literature, Reading, Writing
This resource contains a list of literary terms that students should familiarize themselves with over the summer through their reading. Students will also keep dialectical journals, and note literary terms from the assigned reading, along with connections between the texts. Although the assigned texts for this activity are "The Book Thief" by Markus Zusak and the Bible, other texts may be used. I like how this resource requires students to focus heavily on a wide range literary terms and devices while reading, and it also provides examples for students to use as a reference. Learning such concepts will prepare students for higher level English courses, as well as for college courses. This resource is a product of Biblioteca Las Américas, a library in the South Texas Independent School District. In addition to summer reading ideas, the library also offers summer reading lists for all ages.