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Summer Reading Practices That Reach All Students

In the 5/22 blogpost, “Won’t Read Much If Don’t Have Any Books," researchers Anne McGill-Franzen and Dick Allington show how making interesting books easily accessible to children from low-income families fosters summer reading. In this article, literacy coach Darla Sarlay offers additional practices that schools and teachers can follow to encourage summer reading. Want to share your thoughts on this? Subscribe to the Heinemann Digital Campus and join the discussion.

Unlimited access to more articles like this, as well as video clips and full-length books are available on the Heinemann Digital Campus. Subscribe now: http://www.heinemann.com/digitalcampus/referenceLibrary.aspx

Summer Reading Practices That Reach All Students 

Written by Darla Salay

Last year, my school district held a Reading Buddy Picnic in September so that students could celebrate their summer-reading accomplishments and talk about their new reading goals for the upcoming school year. Students brought in beach towels from home to sit on, and they marked places in their books to prepare for their literary talk with their buddies. It took some creative scheduling, but every student was paired with a student from another grade level.

The day was near perfect. It was early fall, the sun was shining, and students were engaged in talk about books. They shared a snack, discussed favorite parts, and many sat shoulder-to-shoulder, their books between them, as they reread meaningful parts.

So why was the day nearly perfect? Because in a school district with over 1300 elementary students in grades 1–5 only about a third participated in the Reading Buddy Picnic. And that’s because only about a third brought back their summer reading log—that was the only qualification to participate.

We know from research that kids lose ground over the summer if they don’t read. And not reading especially impacts low-income students who may not catch up to their grade-level classmates once the school year begins. In our district, almost 50percent of students are low-income, so choosing not to read over the summer is a big deal.

Why is it that so many of our students are choosing not to read over the summer? And, more importantly, what can we do to engage more learners, despite their income level, to read more? We’ve begun to make some incremental changes with the hope of creating more summer readers. And now that we are collecting numbers of students who return their logs, we can begin to track whether or not more students participate each year:

Last year we: 

1. Goal Setting Day: We kicked-off summer reading last year by setting a school-wide Goal Setting Day. On this day, all students in grades K–5 set personal goals for summer reading. Teachers conducted goal setting in various ways, from modeling personal goals to encouraging students to work in partnerships to formulate goals. All students were able to share their plans in some way in the classroom.

2. Book Drive: Teachers organized a district-wide book drive to gather book donations for students who needed summer reading materials. This began in March of last year. Teachers sorted the books by level and asked all teachers to submit names of students who were in need of books for summer.  Those students got to participate in “Summer Book Shopping” under the guidance of teachers who staffed the book drive.

3. Call Home: To remind parents about the importance of summer reading, we arranged a call to all parents in early July through our “connect-ed” system. The prerecorded message discussed that reading just 4–6 books in the elementary grades over the summer can help students not only return on grade level but actually help them increase in reading skills.

4. Bookmarks: We purchased colorful bookmarks for each student and gave them the bookmark on Goal Setting Day. Students in grades 2–5 received “The Five Finger Rule” bookmark, which outlines steps for choosing a “just right book.”

This year we plan to: 

1. Broaden Reading Materials: Nonfiction feature articles or news articles will be reading options this year. We’re suggesting that students use web sites such as Wonderopolis, or Newsela for content. For those students who prefer articles, but who don’t have access to technology, we’re sending home packets of articles.

2. Research Topics: Recognizing that summer is—and should be—a time to engage in all sorts of learning opportunities, we are offering students the option to explore a topic of interest, such as “sea turtles” or “planets.” They can research and read on their chosen topic all summer long. Students will still track their reading on their chosen topic and record new learning and ideas on their reading log.

3. Get Them In the Habit: To get students in the habit of reading and logging books, students in our summer programs will be given their summer reading logs while in the program. They’ll read and log books over the course of the five-week program. Summer teachers will collect their logs and give students new ones to use for the remainder of summer. This will give these students the opportunity to participate in the Reading Buddy Picnic in the fall.

4. A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words: In summer reading packets, we are including pictures of last year’s Reading Buddy Picnic. A letter will explain to parents that we would like all students to have the opportunity to participate in this special day.

5. Library Days: We have arranged Library Days, in May/June, when all of our K–2 students will visit the county library. They will receive library cards, read, and get a tour of the library.

We have already begun to think about next year. One idea is to provide summer library hours one day a week at school. A few teachers have already expressed that they will volunteer their time so that students can come in to return and check out books. In addition, we’d like to allow time for students to use digital devices to read online.

There hasn’t been enough dialogue on how to support students’ summer reading practices. We need to keep talking about how to ensure that every child reads every summer of her school career.

About the author:

Darla Salay is a curriculum supervisor in Hammonton, NJ.  She is also a former reading specialist and literacy coach with the New Jersey Department of Education. Darla has published lessons on the International Reading Association’s website: readwritethink.org. She blogs about teaching and learning at


Unlimited access to more articles like this, as well as video clips and full-length books are available on the Heinemann Digital Campus. Subscribe now: http://www.heinemann.com/digitalcampus/referenceLibrary.aspx

Topics: Literature, Reading, At-Risk Students, Digital Campus, Elementary

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