The adage, “If you don’t use it, you lose it,” proves true for students who spend a summer without books and reading, especially if they have a learning difference. The “summer slide” is the tendency for students to lose some of the achievement gains they made during the previous school year. Students who take the summer off from reading can suffer a loss that equals about two to three months of reading development. For the child with learning disabilities, this can be a set-back they can ill afford. Of the children with a learning disability, 80% have difficulty with basic reading and language. Important to note is that reading skill losses during the summer months are cumulative, creating a wider gap each year between more proficient and less proficient students. By the time a struggling reader reaches the end of 6th grade, summer reading loss has accumulated to a two-year lag in reading achievement behind other children. Yet reading just 4 to 6 books over the summer has the potential to prevent a decline in reading achievement scores from the spring until the fall. Students who read in the summer tend to gain a month of reading proficiency.
What can parents can do to prevent this summer reading loss?
- Stress the importance of summer reading to your child.
- Allow children to choose the books they wish to read. The self-interest factor is important. When children select reading materials to read for enjoyment, they receive the most gains in reading achievement, including better reading comprehension, writing style, vocabulary, spelling, and grammatical development.
- For reading skills to improve, provide books that match your child’s reading level. Reading books that are too easy or too difficult won’t help. Teach your child the 5-Finger Rule. Ask the child to read 100 words from a book and raise one finger for each word that is too difficult to figure out. If the child has more than five fingers up, the book is probably too difficult.
- Providing books with no adult guidance does little to improve reading achievement. Make sure the child is understanding what they read. This can be effectively accomplished by discussion or asking questions about the story; summarizing the reading; and rereading hard-to-understand passages. This makes reading more of an interactive process in order to boost fluency and comprehension.
- Children and teens tend to read more when adults in their lives encourage them to read, and when they see those adults reading often themselves.
- Technology can be a valuable tool as some students enjoy reading e-books.
- Summer programs that emphasize making reading enjoyable and social are most successful.
- Books on tape are valuable when taking car trips.
Contributed by Dr. Jan Kirkland, Literacy Specialist, Fairhill School