Contrary to popular perceptions, it is not simply that children from low-income families attend ineffective schools, but rather that poor children’s achievement falls behind during summer when schools are not in session. Without books, poor children rarely read during the summers and their school-year achievement suffers a setback.
This quote from the article Eliminating Summer Reading Setback by Richard Allington and Anne McGill-Franzen in the current issue of Reading Today (May, 2013) cuts to the heart of what we need to be worrying about in the next few weeks. (Well…that and that some of our students are safe and have enough to eat.)
You have worked really hard this year to make sure your students have made gains in reading. Congrats. Now what do we do to make sure these children don’t lose half of what you taught them this year?
Allington and McGill-Franzen highly recommend book distribution programs. I’ve seen this work. In one district, the reading specialists spent hundreds of hours ordering books and stuffing them into envelopes to be mailed out at certain points in the summer. The students also received post cards they could mail back to their schools with notes about their reading. When the students came back, summer reading loss had been eliminated for the most part.
But this is not always feasible or practical. What else?
Raise parent awareness. I know this can be hard.
- Be explicit – tell the parents about summer reading loss and tell them exactly how much their student will lose if they don’t read this summer. Guesstimate about half of what the student gained this year.
- Make phone calls to see if the family has a library card.
- Send home library card applications and, if library policy permits, maybe you can even turn the applications in for the families.
- Take the students to the public library as an end of the year field trip and check out their first book with them. (Should I say check out their first “nonfiction” book with them? 🙂 Ha!)
- Pick up the summer reading incentive materials for the families. If the public library wants the students to keep a log of their reading so they can earn a free book, read the first book during school and fill out the log with the students – so they can see what they are supposed to do.
- Mine your school for any books or extra magazines that are not being used and send them home with students. Provide a pacing guide – how often to read, a chart, something. Include a postcard the student can send to the school with a note about what he or she read in June, July, August.
Sorry – I’m a little off my topic of teaching with nonfiction. I’ve just spent this year working two days a week in a low income school with 180 k-2 students. I have fallen in love spending time reading and writing with each of them. I can’t stand to think of these young learners losing ground this summer. For me, it’s not about what the parents should do – I don’t know what every parent is or is not capable of given their circumstances. And I don’t want to judge. What I know is what I can do…raise awareness…take some action…strive for the best outcomes…and then send them off for the summer…hopefully, to read.