In May I wrote about strategies a teacher might use to ensure that the last month or two of school are peaceful, productive, and fun for everyone involved. My hope is that regardless of if you read that post or not, you are still upright and are gearing up to say goodbye to your students. A lot of hard work was done throughout the past nine months, and honestly, at the end of the year it’s easy for all (students and teachers alike) to think less about school and more about vacation. However, we know that only a few months later, September almost always brings with it an unfortunate and startling reality: summer learning loss. There are countless studies and articles about the topic, but here are the three big things I keep in mind when it comes to the summer slide.
Acknowledge and Inform
Although it’s not a positive one, it’s necessary to highlight the issue of summer learning loss. True, there’s always been a bit of an understanding that over the summer months, students’ get a little rusty and their skills might not be quite as sharp. It’s easy to brush it off as, “Oh, they’re just out of the routine of school. They’ll bounce right back!” Unfortunately, for many of our most impacted students, bouncing right back isn’t as simple as it sounds. The non-profit educational research group RAND Corporation noted that although there is an average learning loss equivalent to about one month behind their performance in the previous spring, many students will fall much further behind. Research has proven over and over again (see RAND study linked above) that economically disadvantaged students will experience a significantly greater learning loss than their peers from higher-income families. The same data can be found when comparing white and minority students. Step one in addressing any issue is acknowledging that there is one and informing yourself and other stakeholders (students, families, communities, etc.) with the facts.
Locate and Share Resources
Although learning loss is measurable in mathematics as well, studies show that reading comprehension will take the greatest hit over those school-free summer months. The first and often most accessible resource that comes to mind in effort to providing kids and their families with access to not just books, but educational experiences and even meals, is the public library. King County Library System (KCLS) offers summer reading programs throughout the greater Seattle area. In my building, we invite one of the libraries from our local KCLS branch to talk to each grade about the summer reading program before students leave for break. Students learn about the different events happening throughout the summer months, the mobile library, and even prizes for reading a certain amount. The library system often pairs up with organizations that provide free summer lunches to children under the age of 18. This information, plus that related to any other summer learning programs run by other organizations including school districts, is imperative to pass along to families before the school year ends.
What Can Parents Do?
In addition to communicating about need and resources, I like to send parents practical tips about supporting their child’s summer reading. Some of these include:
- Ensure your child has access to a variety of books that interest them; both fiction and nonfiction (here’s where I really plug the public library!)
- Make a time and space for reading. One of the factors in learning loss is the fact that students are often out of their typical learning routine. Whether it’s in the morning after breakfast, before evening screen-time, or right before bed, carve out at least 30 minutes for your child to focus on reading.
- Read aloud! A parent, a sibling, a grandparent, it doesn’t matter who’s reading. In fact, the local libraries often have scheduled read-alouds throughout the week. Whether a child is being read to in English, Spanish, Vietnamese, or any language spoken at home, read-alouds are a powerful way to help students access text that they might not yet be ready to tackle independently. It’s also a great way to spend time with your child.
- Write every day. If a child can write, then they can read. Enough said.
Although its name suggests something fun and playful, the summer slide is no joke. If you’re anything like me, you’ve shed blood, sweat, and tears over the last nine months ensuring that your students made gains and achieved academically. So much so, that having students begin school in September a month (or more) behind where they left in June is heartbreaking; especially considering that it can be incredibly difficult for some students to bounce back, only increasing the achievement gap that we are working so hard to fill. By acknowledging the issue, locating resources, and supporting our students’ families in accessing those resources, we can play a pivotal role in preventing that slide from happening.
What do you recommend students do during those summer months? How do you suggest parents and family members support kids in effort to prevent learning loss? Please share any resources you have!