So one year as I was checking reading levels for a class of grade two and three students. I sat down with one boy who had tested at a level 13 in May of his grade one year. Now with the system that I was using, the district I work in has the expectation that by the end of grade one students should be reading independently at a level 16 and by the end of grade two they should be reading independently at a level 22. Now that is ideal but the reality is that students come from all different backgrounds, some with very little exposure to books at home, some with lots of exposure, and they have all different strengths and weakness. So even though this particular child had received intensive reading support in grade one, he was not able to get to level 16 by the end of grade one. So I pulled out a level 13 book and after the first page, I told him I had changed my mind and wanted him to try a different book. I gave him a level 11 book and it was still way to challenging for him. I went for lower and lower books. I asked him as casually as I could, if he had been reading over the summer. He said flat out, “No!” His tone suggested that he thought this was a crazy idea why would he do that over the summer. The final result was that he was reading at a level 6 at the beginning of grade two.
This is what is commonly referred to as summer reading loss. By the end of grade two this student was reading at a level 17, which is a beginning grade two level. When he was in grade three his teacher told me that she checked his reading level and he was reading at a grade one level. It seems he had another summer without reading. Now this is one of the more extreme cases that I have seen and it is definitely a prime example of how the most “at-risk” students are the most vulnerable to summer learning loss. However if I was to sum up what I see year after year, I would say that overall (and each class is slightly different) less than a third of the students in any given class improves their reading level over the summer. Typically, these are the students who have a regular habit of reading over the summer and throughout the school year. I would say that just over a third of students stay at roughly the same reading level over the summer. These are the students who do some reading over the summer but typically they don’t have the regular habit of reading. Finally, the third of the students who regress in their reading skills are typically the ones who admit, sometimes rather shyly and sometimes rather boldly, that they did not read over the summer.
Reading over the summer is imperative to preventing summer reading loss! A regular reading habit over the summer is likely to help with an improvement in reading accuracy, comprehension, and fluency. The best way to build a habit according to Charles Duhigg author of The Power of Habit, is to have a cue, routine, and reward. Over time this sequence becomes more and more automatic until cue and reward are intertwined. I have always found that an easy cue to use is a particular time in a daily routine. Some more practical cues might be, in the morning before any screen time (tv, video games, movies, computer pleasure use), after lunch, before dinner, after dinner, or before bed. The routine could be to read for 15 minutes for primary students and 30 minutes for intermediate students. Ideally the reward would be that the reading was enjoyable but some children could use a little bit more of bang in their reward. For those who like their screen time then having their enjoyable screen time after reading would be a reward. Checking off their reading on a calendar could also be a reward. Many libraries have a summer reading programs that gives the children their own calendar to keep track of their reading and after completing a specific number of days for their reading, they can come in for some form of recognition. My daughter has joined the Surrey Public Libraries summer reading program for the last number of years and I know that the Fraser Valley Regional Libraries also offers a similar summer reading program. I highly recommend these programs especially for younger children. For older children, an incentive might be to read them the example above to offer proof that it isn’t just their parent who thinks reading over the summer is important.
Here is a link that I came across for 24 books that will captivate your kids this summer. I emailed it too myself because I want to check out some of these books over the summer and now I don’t remember where I came across it. Picture books are fun for all ages and lend themselves to lots of rich discussions about story elements (character, setting, plot, and theme) and connections to other stories as well as life lessons. Picture books are great for a family story time with different family members taking turns reading them and asking other family members discussion questions. Stay tuned for a blog post on follow up reading activities or reader response activities in order to squeeze some more Language Arts learning into the summer.