Teachers work feverishly throughout the ten month school year to bring their students up to grade level in reading/literacy skills. The gains most students make are often lost over the summer break. Reading is a skill that needs to be practiced extensively and continually. In a 2004 study Kim found that “summer reading actively stemmed summer setback in a sample of 6th grade students in an urban school system.” Students from low-income families are likely to have more restricted access to reading material at home than their more-advantaged peers do. According to Allington & McGill-Franzen, 2008, “Easy availability of reading material strongly predicts the amount of reading activity.”
A summer intervention program is reported by Kim (2004). Fourth grade students received eight books, which were mailed every other week during July & August. An accompanying postcard encouraged the students to practice reading silently and out loud. The students also received instruction on comprehension strategies and paired reading in the last two weeks of school. Small positive effects were found on reading achievements as compared to a control group.
In another study conducted over three years by Allington & Mc Gill-Frazen, 12 paperback books were given to primary-grade students eligible for free or reduced meals in 17 high-need elementary schools. The books were self-selected by the students at book fairs. The books were distributed on the last few days of school along with a book log. The reading scores of children who received the books were significantly higher as compared to the children who did not participate in the program. The students reported that having the opportunity to select the books was a crucial factor in their reading engagement.
Making books more accessible to students is the goal of these programs. It is recommended that schools:
Provide access to school and classroom libraries in the summer. Possibly an “Open Library” day once a week.
Budget summer reading materials for the neediest students over the summer with self-selected books.
Acknowledge the role of pop-culture reading as a form of reading especially for summer reading.
Build on students’ interest in animals and their habitats and utilize local environmental/park groups for reading material.
If we expect to close the achievement gap for low-income students, we need to put books into the hands of these youngsters. During the summer months students need books that are their own, so they can practice their reading/literacy skills in the off-season.
Allington,R., McGill-Frazen, A. (April 200). Got Books? ASCD. 65(7).
Kim, J., (2004). Summer reading and the ethnic achievement gap. Journal of Education of Students at Risk. 9(2).
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