Tips to combat students’ “summer slide”
For most students, there is nothing so spectacular as that long, lazy stretch of summer. But research shows that this respite from school can come with a price in the form of summer learning loss. On average, students’ achievement scores decline over summer vacation by one month’s worth of school-year learning.
“Summer slide is definitely real, and there are a number of studies that reflect that,” said Dr. Laurie Lee, Associate in Research at the Florida Center for Reading Research.
According to Lee, a longitudinal study of students in first grade through high school showed that learning gains made during the school year are fairly similar across socioeconomic tiers, but most of the differences in learning gains happen during the summer. During that long break, lower-income students fall behind more than their peers, and that loss accumulates over time.
“The thought there is that there are a number of opportunities provided by families of higher-income students — museums, camps, field trips,” she said. “Students of other backgrounds may not have access to that. As students then progress through the grades, the achievement gap becomes wider.”
Students who have been doing well in reading may experience some summer slide, but Lee said it’s not going to be as detrimental as it would be for someone who was already struggling. Florida and other states may work to mitigate summer loss for struggling students by offering summer reading camps to students in third grade and below. In fact, Florida law requires districts to provide summer reading camp to third-grade students who scored at Level 1 on the English language arts Florida Standards Assessment.
Parents can have a powerful impact when they act as reading advocates during the summer and throughout the school year.
“We all know parents are a child’s first teacher,” said Dr. Kevin Smith, a Senior Research Associate at the Florida Center for Reading Research. Much of his work has focused on improving outcomes for adolescents, whose interest in reading can naturally wane. Also, when kids reach this age, parents think they should start backing away from their academic involvement to encourage responsibility. Smith would encourage them to stay engaged with reading.
“A lot of parents think that’s not their place as the child gets older, but it really is their place,” he said.
It shouldn’t feel punitive or like hovering, though. Instead:
- Play games such as Scrabble or crossword puzzles.
- Bring literature into the home through topics that spark your child’s interest, such as Sports Illustrated.
- Have your child read articles out loud — and vice versa — stopping to ask if they “know what that word means.”
- Consider pulling a list of the top 30 root words in Greek and Latin and learning those as a family.
- Discuss how important reading is in your own career, and connect their own potential career readiness with literacy. (More tips for boosting adolescent reading here.)
“Even if they’re not having issues with reading, it’s great if parents continue to read to their students and with their students — even for the rest of their lives — to model that,” Smith said. “The research shows that health outcomes and employment outcomes are both higher with better literacy.”
Research shows that when parents are involved — attending parent–teacher conferences and extracurricular activities, engaging in activities at home, etc. — students have increased motivation, effort, concentration, attention and positive outcomes in reading.
Lee and Smith both say that all students can aim to boost their vocabulary because if they can’t understand what words mean, they will never grasp a passage’s full context. Smith recalled hearing a teen ask an expert how he could best prepare for the ACT and SAT. The answer was “to have started reading everything you could beginning in third grade.”
For younger students, the researchers emphasize the importance of dialogic reading – interactive reading that involves asking lots of questions — from the very, very beginning. During the pandemic, Lee and Smith helped create a website of free activities that would help parents of K-3 students make the most of their reading time at home. It has already been accessed thousands of times throughout the nation.
“It’s meant to be a very positive experience between parents, caregivers, older siblings. It can’t be ‘just one more thing,’ ” Lee said. “Each section has at least one video that really shows what this looks like in the home. It’s very helpful in showing families that this isn’t that hard to support their child’s reading skills.”
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