The summer reading slide — what the research says
A number of New Zealand and overseas studies into students’ reading loss over the long summer break have shown the loss can be significant.
Impact on student academic achievement
Weeks, if not a term or more, are spent helping students catch up to their reading levels from the previous year. In one New Zealand study, some students in a South Auckland decile 1 school lost 5.8 months reading progress over the summer holidays (McNaughton et al, 2012).
The consequences are cumulative and long-lasting, often having a powerful influence on reading scores throughout secondary school and beyond. A Baltimore study showed 65% of the reading achievement gap between 9th graders of low and high socio-economic standing could be traced to what they learned — or failed to learn — over their childhood summers (Kim & Quinn, 2013).
The summer slide in reading levels can also be seen in other curriculum areas, such as mathematics, and on levels of confidence generally.
It's harder to close the gap once it has opened, especially for struggling readers, so the earlier the intervention the better.
National Summer Learning Association
This Horizons National video with NBC's Brian Williams illustrates the impact of the summer slide and, although based on US research, is relevant to New Zealand:
Summer learning loss (YouTube, 2min11)
Characteristics of students
Often it's students who can least afford to lose their year’s reading gains that fall the furthest behind, such as struggling readers who lose momentum, reading habits and confidence. For example:
- students and families who have participated in the Reading Together® programme or been through Reading Recovery
- students in priority learner groups identified by the Education Review Office (August 2012) as ”historically not experiencing success in the New Zealand schooling system" – low decile, Māori, Pasifika, and ESOL students, and students with specific learning needs.
Low-income children fall further behind than their classmates. Studies in the United States have found that middle-income students tend to lose one month of reading achievement, while lower income students generally lose about 2 months of reading achievement.
The loss is less pronounced or absent in students who have access to books and holiday learning experiences such as travel, museum visits, or other similar experiences.
Reading Together programme
Barriers to summer reading
Research indicates a variety of barriers prevent students reading over the summer holidays, including:
- lack of access to books and other reading resources
- low choice and lack of appropriate high-interest material
- lack of reading skills and consequent low self-efficacy
- negative attitudes to reading (readers are boring, reading is boring)
- no opportunity to practice reading
- lack of reading role-models and encouragement to read.
Research findings also show that school-community approaches have helped to address the barriers by building a culture of reading for pleasure. By working together, teachers, parents, family, whānau, and public and school library staff have helped to remove barriers for summer reading.
New Zealand research on summer reading
Dare to Explore evaluations — report on Auckland Libraries’ summer reading programmes.
Teaching strategies that work — this Education Review Office (ERO) resource looks at activities Tamahere School implemented to encourage reading and address the summer slide.
The only way to go — article about the High Plus Summer Reading Programme, a collaboration between South Taranaki LibraryPlus, Hawera High School Library, and the Rotary Club to encourage students to use both the school and public library.
School achievement: Why summer matters — Teaching & Learning Research Initiative (TLRI) research examining summer reading in decile 1 schools in South Auckland. The outcomes led to 4 major recommendations to teachers to reduce the level of summer reading loss:
- Find out what children like to read, and engage them in reading motivating texts.
- Mentor students to develop those aspects of their literacy which are to do with engagement, their development of 'taste', and informational interests. Teach them to access these texts and to monitor their enjoyment.
- Give specific messages to parents about how to support children’s engagement with a text.
- Find out about students’ summer reading at the beginning of the year.
Solving the summer slide, strategies and suggestions — investigation into whether encouraging year 3 students from both low- and high-decile schools to read self-selected books over the summer helped stem the summer slide. Results indicated a positive effect of the summer books programme on STAR Reading, and the 'poor' reading group made the most gains in sentence and paragraph comprehension. You need a subscription to access this research paper as a full-text PDF. Check whether your school has a subscription.
Summer reading to overcome the summer effect: A partnership between a school, a library and the school community — this TLRI research explores a collaborative, community-based programme involving year 5 students, whānau and staff of Papatoetoe Central School, Papatoetoe Library and the local community. 76% of the students were English language learners (ELLs / ESOL) with home languages other than English.
A summer reading programme — this 2017 article in the Set journal for teachers reflects on the 2014 TLRI research with Papatoetoe Central School, Papatoetoe Library, and the local community.
Use it or lose it: Countering the 'summer reading drop' — how primary school Clayton Park (Auckland) and secondary school Mahurangi College (Warkworth) addressed the problem of summer learning loss by running programmes to support reading at home during the holidays.
Summer reading stories — examples of summer reading initiatives to inspire you and help you decide what to trial in your own school community.
International research on summer reading
The effects of summer reading on low-income children’s literacy achievement from kindergarten to grade 8: A meta-analysis of classroom and home interventions (pdf, 972KB) — analysis of research on summer reading interventions with students from kindergarten to grade 8 conducted in the United States and Canada from 1998–2011. The findings highlighted the potentially positive impact of classroom and home-based summer reading interventions on the reading comprehension ability of low-income children.
Get ready for endless summer learning — looks at Seattle Public Library’s venture into extending summer reading into STEM learning to help students pursue their interests. One challenge is related to Three Billy Goats Gruff, where students are asked to design something that helps the 3 goats cross the river and avoid the troll.
Libraries at the center of summer learning and fun: An online toolkit to expand from summer reading to summer learning (pdf, 495KB) — summary of research findings on reading loss and the impact of 3 types of US traditional summer reading programmes. Includes hands-on and inquiry learning activities so that summer programs are about 'doing' as well as reading, at the public library, at home and elsewhere in the community.
Motivational attributes of children and teenagers who participate in summer reading clubs — looks at demographic and children's and teens' possible extrinsic motivational reasons for participating in summer reading programmes in a US city.
Addressing summer reading setback among economically disadvantaged elementary students — this longitudinal study provides evidence that giving easy access to self-selected books for summer reading helps reduce the summer reading slide.
Lasting consequences of the summer learning gap — research that used data from the Baltimore Beginning School Study to examine the long-term educational consequences of summer learning differences by family socio-economic level.
INNZ and EPIC articles on importance of summer reading
You can access Index New Zealand (INNZ) for abstracts and descriptions of articles on summer reading from journals, magazines and newspapers. INNZ includes links for downloading full-text articles, or you can ask National Library Collection Delivery to provide full-text articles as a free PDF emailed to your school.
Index New Zealand
Index New Zealand (INNZ) guide
You can also search EPIC for summer reading articles. EPIC is a suite of databases the Ministry of Education has funded to provide subscription access for all New Zealand schools.
For example, these articles can be accessed using EPIC:
Brewer, B. How to get teens in the library this summer: innovative summer reading programs explored. (2016). American Libraries, Vol. 47 (6), p.20 — Teens participated in a technological scavenger hunt called BattleKasters, which was organised by Lexington (Kentucky) Public Library. Using their smartphones, they virtually experienced Alane Adams' book The Red Sun by visiting 'beacons' — or points on a scavenger hunt map — around the city.
Jesson, R., McNaughton, S., & Kolose, T. Investigating the summer learning effect in low SES schools. (2014). Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, Vol. 37 (1), p. 45–55 — This study looked at the effect of summer loss on low socio-economic schools (SES) in Auckland and practices by teachers, students and their families to help maintain the reading momentum.
Applying the research
Use this research to provide inspiration and practical ideas for planning a summer reading initiative in your school or community.
Plan a summer reading initiative in your school
Measuring the impact of summer reading
Find out more
Bridging the summer reading gap — by Anne McGill-Franzen and Richard Allington.
Parent brochures on reading — 'Summer reading: Where the real damage occurs' — Jim Trelease's brochure for parents.
Summer reading (Reading Rockets) — resources and articles.
Kids & Family Reading Report: The Summer Reading Imperative — Scholastic