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How Can Teachers Get Students to Read Over the Long Summer Break?

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Many teachers work on strategies to encourage students to read as the spring semester winds down and concern grows about the summer slide, the loss of academic skills seen primarily in children from low-income backgrounds during summer vacation.

An article recently published in the International Literacy Association's The Reading Teacher explores this issue. The authors examined book distribution programs and current research to come up with some possible solutions.

IMG_1467.JPGIn the article, called "Summers: Some Are Reading, Some Are Not! It Matters," the authors determined that access to reading material, being able to choose what to read, and thinking of reading as an enjoyable activity were some of the main factors that determined if a student would read over the summer break.

Lead author Anne McGill-Franzen is a professor of reading education and the director of the Reading Center at the University of Tennessee.

"First of all they need to have access to books, and then access to books they want to read," said McGill-Franzen. "Every school probably isn't at a point where they can give away books, but when districts look at the cost and benefit of giving kids free books, they will be more likely to see that as an expenditure that they need to do. They will see giving kids books as something that they have to do if they want to ensure that there's equity."

Handing out books solves the access program, which is particularly acute for low-income families in both urban and rural areas.

"We know that kids, poor kids especially, get most of their reading material from the school library," said Maria Cahill, one of the article's co-authors and an education professor at the University of Kentucky. "Almost all communities have a public library, but often they're inaccessible for kids from poor backgrounds because the neighborhoods aren't safe if you're in an urban area, and in rural areas there are huge transportation gaps."

One District's Solution

The Philadelphia school district recently purchased books for students in pre-K through 2nd grade from Scholastic through a program designed to encourage summer reading.

Earlier this month about 37,000 students received 10 Scholastic titles.

"We are encouraging reading for leisure," said Cheryl Logan, the district's chief academic support officer. "We're trying to foster that in our young people."

McGill-Franzen also says allowing children to choose their own books is one of the keys to getting students to read over the summer.

"We need to really pay attention to children's preferences and even if the preferences are not what we would call great literature, what matters is that they're actually reading," said McGill-Franzen. "Whatever the topic is, if it gets them into reading and into thinking of themselves as readers, it's worthwhile."

Through its Scholastic book giveaway, the Philadelphia school district selected the books for each student based on the child's reading ability.

"With the scale of this project, this was the best way for us to do it efficiently," said Logan. "Certainly, children picking their own books is also an awesome way to do it. Perhaps if we're able to continue this program next year, then we would certainly want to do that. That is obviously always going to be the preferred way—for people to self-select their reading material similar to how adults self-select their reading material for leisure."

Reading for Pleasure

Making reading fun is also part of the equation and was stressed in the article. Teachers and parents were encouraged to support reading that "does not have a remedial or skill-building focus."

So what's the best way to do that?

The article encouraged parents to ask their children about what they're reading in an organic way.

"Talk to your child about what makes that book interesting to them, really engage them in a conversation about it rather than interrogating them as we sometimes do in school," said McGill-Franzen.

Photo: Philadelphia Superintendent William R. Hite reads Pete the Cat and the New Guy by Kimberly Dean and James Dean with 1st graders at Lewis Elkin Elementary School. These students all received 10 customized Scholastic books to read over the summer. (Courtesy Scholastic)


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