April 23, 2012

The Secret to Helping Students Improve Reading Skills During the Summer Break

Tags: Education Research, Summer Reading, Teaching Reading Tips

summer-readingLet’s compare a classroom to a ship.  There are about 20 passengers (the students) and usually only 1 captain (the teacher).  The ship is small and modestly equipped, often requiring the captain to be creative with problem solving in order to keep the ship afloat.  It sets sail in late August and arrives at its destination early next June with only a few short stops to provide breaks from the sea.

As the teacher and captain of the classroom, it is your job to make sure that over the course of this journey you are steering your students (or your passengers) through experiences that will help them master the right level of skills and techniques they need to survive their life of learning…their life on a sea of knowledge.  The problem that many teachers face is that their students often forget some important skills they learned throughout the school year during the summer break.  As this research states, math and reading are two of the subjects where skill-loss is greatest, along with spelling.  Children from low socioeconomic status families are impacted the greatest, often suffering 1-3 months of learning loss

“For disadvantaged students, reading scores were disproportionately affected and the achievement gap between rich and poor widened.”  -- Professor Harris Cooper, Duke University Professor

So what is the secret to skill retention during the summer slump?  It’s no secret – what counts in the long run is what teachers have done throughout the year to help students learn.  Using reading as an example, the best way to enable students is to teach with systematic, explicit instruction in order to allow them to further their own comprehension.  Teach children how to relate the text they read to the world, to other books, and – most importantly – to themselves.

In order to keep kids learning over the summer months, the most effective thing teachers can do is to get parents on board with their child’s learning.  Here are a few suggestions for teachers to pass on to parents to increase summer reading, using The ABCs of Improved Reading:

Access to books.  It is important to give children access to a wide variety of books.  Make a family trip to the local library and have everyone sign up for library cards.  Kids will love the sense of importance and responsibility signing up for a card will give them as well.

Books that match readers’ ability levels and interest.  Let them choose to read about topics that interest them. As their skills grow, make sure the books children read continue to challenge (not frustrate) them.

 **To test whether a book is above a child’s reading ability, use the five-finger rule.  Have a child read 100 words from a book of their choosing.  Ask them to raise a finger for every word they don’t know.  If they raise five fingers, the book is probably too hard.  In this case, help them find a book on the same topic that is on their level.** 

Comprehension, as monitored and guided by an adult.  This concept cannot be stressed enough:  read with your children!  Encourage them to ask questions.  Ask them questions about the characters and storylines to make sure they understand what is going on.  Summarize chapters for them or ask them to summarize.  Reread harder passages. 

Articles About Summer Break

The Teachers Guide to Summer Break: Tips for Fun, Relaxation, & Professional Development ›

Summer Learning Ideas that Help Narrow the Achievement Gap ›

What is the Best Approach for Teachers to Help Struggling Readers Over the Summer? ›

Get the Most Out of Your Summer Break [For Teachers] ›

Interested in learning more about Early Literacy? Explore our FREE educational resources to learn how you can help the young readers in your life!

Here is a free one hour webinar about helping students not only be motivated to read, but skills that you can teach them to have more success in understanding what they read (which will in turn motivate them to read more):

"Motivating Readers: Collaboration, Challenge, Competence, and Choice" by Sarah Collinge



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Karl Wheatley said

With all due respect, the Reading First study showed that the superior decoding skills gained through direct de-contextualized skill instruction did NOT translate into better reading comprehension, even though supposedly "scientific" reading instruction was used faithfully. Re-analyses of the NRP report in the last decade showed that the panel misclassified studies and that when you remove this error, kids experiencing whole language and free voluntary reading had just as good reading comprehension as those with direct skills instruction, and in some studies, had better writing and better attitudes towards reading. Longer-term studies consistently show free voluntary reading to be better for comprehension than traditional instruction and even cast doubts on the idea that young children with disabilities benefit in the long run from direct and de-contextualized reading skills instruction.

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Dr. Sanford Aranoff said

We need to encourage rational thinking. See Rational Thinking, Government Policies, Science, and Living. Rational thinking starts with clearly stated principles, continues with logical deductions, and then examines empirical evidence to possibly modify the principles. See also Teaching and Helping Students Think and Do Better.

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angela said

Thanks for sharing your thoughts Karl! We agree that simply teaching decoding doesn't help students improve their reading skills if they aren't taught how to transfer those skills. Just like struggling students need explicit instruction to learn decoding skills, they also need explicit instruction in [i]transferring decoding skills[/i]. Here's a blog post on how to help students do this: http://www.readinghorizons.com/blog/post/2012/03/13/teaching-reading-strategies-transfer-decoding-skills-to-written-text.aspx

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Licence said

For me the idea to study children during the summer a good idea, and the comparison between the captain of the ship and the teacher is remarkable because the same problem faced by the captain a teacher can meet her. Not to mention the way you suggested to see if a child understand his proposed book is remparcable. I would do the same thing with my son. Firstly thank you for the article and the steps you have suggestions revealed.

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