If you are an educator with some time away from school this summer, hopefully you are using a lot of it to recharge. There are many ways you might choose to do this: gardening, lounging, beach-going, cleaning, socializing and, perhaps reading and writing.
Getting caught up on that stack of novels at your bedside or finally tucking into that personal journal that's been sitting empty can be such pleasures when you finally have the time. Happily, as you nurture yourself as a reader or writer this summer, you can also fuel your teaching.
These days, it’s par for the course that nonfiction reading gets equal (and sometimes greater) emphasis than fiction in most reading classrooms. What’s more, many teachers recognize the need to teach nonfiction reading skills, rather than simply assign nonfiction reading, even as late as middle school and high school. Students cannot be successful in school without being able to read nonfiction well, and they cannot read nonfiction well without learning strategies to do it.
This week, institute season kicks off at The Reading and Writing Project, as thousands of educators gather at Teachers College in New York City to reflect upon, reinvigorate, and refine their teaching of writing. The workshops, lectures, keynotes, and often informal study groups they will attend will help them to hone their teaching practices so that they begin the next school year in the strongest place yet.
These days, books have a lot of competition for kids’ attention. Video games, cell phones, tablets, and social media sites all provide tantalizing sources of entertainment for kids of all ages during their off hours. As we move into the summer months, many kids will have a lot of hours to fill. As teachers, we have a lot of power to make sure that at least some of kids’ time this summer is taken up with reading.
Reading over the summer is particularly crucial for children from lower income families, as study after study has shown. Many of these children already suffer from vast achievement gaps that they can’t afford to widen. Some research estimates that children from middle-income homes read three lines of print for everyone one line read by children from lower income homes. Children from lower income homes simply cannot afford to not read in the summer if they are to catch up.
For many teachers and students, the summer months are a chance to change pace, to dig into projects of personal interest, and just…breathe. But for many kids, summer is also a time when learning grinds to a halt. Students in lower socio-economic households in particular have little opportunity to practice the academic skills that began to take root and gel by the end of the year. One particular area of well-documented summer decline is in reading. When students don’t read during the months of summer, the effects on their academic progress are disastrous.
Let's acknowledge that some of our well-intended end-of-the-year practices may actually discourage students from reading over the summer. For example: the summer reading list that teachers thoughtfully research, craft, and refine each year, in hopes that students will keep reading and stay "busy" during the summer. The list reflects hard work and good intention, but what does it communicate to a child?
Imagine your school grade self. The last bell of the year rings and you're practically out the door when your teacher hands you a booklist for summer reading. None of the titles mean anything to you, but you know the list is a command from your teacher to read at least some of them. What if it's difficult for you to access these books? Are you motivated, or will you put it in a drawer and go enjoy summer with your friends?
Is it any wonder why students don't read over the summer? We must assert for our students that authentic literary interactions with books can happen during the summer months. Here's how you can plan for summer reading success.