Make reading a priority this summer
June marks the beginning of summer with school vacation right around the corner. It is the time for parents and educators to think about the possibility of summer literacy lag for children. Summer literacy lag is caused when children do not read enough to maintain the reading skills they have acquired during the school year.
Once school is out children often read less, and for many this will result in losing valuable gains like fluency and problem-solving skills. After all, 'practice makes perfect' we have been told. The solution to avoiding this loss of skills is simple. Children must read over the summer vacation, just as much, if not more, than when they were in school. It is generally left up to parents to set up structures to make reading during the summer as much fun and as varied an experience as the activities found in summer camps.
It is well researched that students of low-income families and struggling readers are more at risk for losing ground if opportunities and interesting books are not available for them. Much has been written to support children and their families in ways to keep reading a priority during the summer vacation.
The simple reality is reading just has to be a priority for families during summer vacation. Schools can support families by keeping their libraries open (using parent or community volunteers) or by providing books that are to be read during the long vacation.
Specialist teachers can organise evening reading camps and summer tutoring for at-risk students. Public libraries are also a staple for finding books to read. Summer camps can provide a structured time for reading during the day. The knowledge of the importance of prioritising reading opportunities during the summer vacation will support children to transition more easily back into school.
The summer literacy lag is not only a possibility for children. It can set in for our professionals responsible for teaching them. Educators must also be aware that the long summer vacation could result in losing ground in their teaching skills. Yet, summer offers the best time for educators not only to catch up on reading but to use what they read to expand their professionalism. The school year is so packed with the daily routines of instruction and testing that for many educators, the opportunity to pick up the latest professional book on reading is lost. Even more unfortunate is the loss of opportunity to set up structures during the school day to share with colleagues our latest thinking on what we have read.
As educators depart for the summer, consideration should be given to what they will read to enhance their professional skills. Thought can be given within a school to share a text over the summer. In thinking more widely, educators will find the summer is a great time to get together casually to do book discussion groups on single but complex topics like boys and literacy or how to teach phonemic and phonological awareness so that these skills are used in the context of real reading and writing or the role oral language plays in beginning reading.
Literacy topics are as equally varied as they are critically relevant to how we teach for success. School administrators can also support educators through the purchase of professional DVDs that can be shared throughout the summer, and they can set priorities for a renewed focus of instructional strategies.
Educators should also read widely the books on the market for children. Going to the library and bookstores to catch up on what our children are reading provides us with a basis for talking to them about their interest in books.
Educators can also study text features of children's books to explore ways to provide access by knowing the structures, unusual vocabulary and figurative language those books present. Reading children's books with a special lens of how to give access to books for struggling readers sensitises educators to think more carefully about how to select and introduce books to children. Educators who read widely and talk with each other about what they are reading in professional literature show better student gains and passion in what they do.
With instruction and assessment being carried out all year, summer vacation is the time to examine the areas in teaching and learning that can use more support. Did students struggle with comprehension, then what's the latest thinking and professional books on this topic? Did students not develop in their writing proficiently, then how can educators get together over the summer to share professional videos with instructional strategies?
Students and educators should both begin the new school year ready to share what they have read, thus demonstrating how summer vacation presents the opportunity for all to prevent literacy lag.
The biggest gain is the joint consensus demonstrated that summer reading should not only be a requirement for our children but for the adults responsible for teaching them. As June signals the culmination of a long school year of literacy gains for students, it also signals the beginning for educators to step up to their own reading.
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