Summer reading matters — and it's reading for pleasure
Away from school, over the long summer holidays, some children and teens spend less time reading. Often, it's those who can least afford to lose their year’s reading gains who fall the furthest behind. The 'summer slide' can also be seen in other curriculum areas such as maths, and on levels of confidence generally.
Reasons some children and teens don't read over the holidays include:
- lack of access to books and other reading resources
- no opportunity to practise reading
- no-one encouraging them to read
- having no reading role models
- receiving little or no support for reading.
Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are.
— Mason Cooley, American educator and academic
What the research shows
A number of international studies into children’s reading loss over the long summer break have shown that:
- teachers spend weeks, if not a term or more, helping students catch up to the reading levels they achieved the previous year
- the consequences are cumulative and long-lasting, often having a powerful influence on reading scores throughout high-school and beyond
- children from low-income households fall further behind than their classmates
- 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
- it's harder to close the gap once it has opened, so the earlier the intervention the better.
Research on the summer slide and summer reading
Summer reading is reading for pleasure
Summer reading is about reading for pleasure — allowing students to choose what they want to read, with the focus being relaxation and enjoyment and no 'work', such as writing book reviews.
Free Voluntary Reading (FVR)
Stephen Krashen is an ardent proponent of FVR, especially during school sustained silent reading times.
FVR is Sustained Silent Reading in its purest form. No requirements! No book reports. No journal entries. No chapter questions. No required home reading. It's a chance for students to kick back and read, no strings attached.
— William Marson, a Grade 6 teacher in California who introduced a programme called 'Reading for Fun' to his students.
Free Voluntary Reading pays big dividends — an article by William Marson from Education World, sharing his success in motivating sixth-graders and emphasising holiday reading as reading for fun and pleasure.
Create a community of support
Students need a community of support to help them keep reading during the holidays.
Teachers, families and public and school libraries all have important and complementary roles to play in keeping students reading over the summer. And the more you coordinate, collaborate and communicate, the more successful we'll all be in achieving our common goal of getting our children and teens to read for pleasure and succeed academically.
Students are at the heart of any summer reading initiative. You need to support students on multiple fronts by giving them:
- access to reading material
- reading role models
- strategies for reading success
- encouragement and acknowledgement.
Reading for pleasure is the most important motivator. Knowing that reading over the summer will help them academically may also motivate some students.
Students encouraging students
When it comes to choosing what to read, student peer recommendations are often the most powerful.
Parents, families and whānau
As vital role models, parents, families and whānau have enormous influence on students’ holiday activities and reading mileage.
The focus of a summer reading initiative is to help families understand:
- why summer reading makes a difference to their children and teens
- what they can do to help make it happen — for example, parents of younger children and struggling readers could spend more time reading aloud to them
- how to keep summer reading a positive and enjoyable experience.
Families — keeping your child or teen reading over summer
Public libraries offer summer reading programmes for students to:
- encourage them to join the libraries
- borrow reading material
- participate in activities or challenges that encourage holiday reading.
Public libraries — encourage summer reading
Schools can do a lot to help families connect with their local public library to make the most of their free services. This means specific summer reading programmes as well as regular services, resources and programmes.
Schools and principals
With the principal’s leadership and endorsement, schools can develop a school-wide approach to summer reading which can do much to scaffold students into summer reading. Coordination between teachers and collaboration with the school library staff helps schools to build a culture of reading that reaches beyond the school walls and beyond the school year.
To provide support and encouragement for summer reading, schools and principals need to:
- know their school community profile, and understand the cultural and language backgrounds of the students, and their parents or whānau
- work collaboratively to provide parents, family and whānau with information, practical strategies, access to resources and support for summer reading.
Principals — lead summer reading
School community profile
Teachers have a vital role:
- motivating and encouraging students to read
- showing them effective techniques for finding/choosing what to read
- teaching comprehension strategies and problem-solving skills to tackle reading difficulties
- providing reading role models and a reading community
- teaching the reading habit by having daily independent reading time in the classroom.
Teachers — prepare your students for summer reading
The school library and library team
The school library can be a key resource in helping students maintain their reading mileage during the holidays. Making it accessible to students and their families is especially important in areas without a local public library nearby. It can:
- provide resources and recommendations
- build enthusiasm and excitement
- support teachers
- connect with families in the school community.
School libraries — encourage summer reading
Along with information and resources on supporting students with summer reading, the National Library provides reading engagement loans to schools in term 4. Schools can keep the items through to the end of term 1. They can loan these along with their own school library books to staff and students to read over the summer.
Who can borrow, what can you borrow
Evidence-based initiatives in schools
Creating an evidence-based summer reading initiative in schools is an important way of preventing the summer slide. It also reinforces a reading culture in schools with all of the literacy benefits for students that this promotes.
It's a good idea for schools to put together a team, which includes the school librarian, teachers, literacy leads and students to take responsibility for summer reading initiatives. When only one person has responsibility, the long-term sustainability of any initiative is at risk.
Plan a summer reading initiative
Spin-off benefits of summer reading partnerships
Your school community can experience spin-off benefits from using a collaborative approach to summer reading, such as:
- new or strengthened connections between schools, public libraries, students and their parents/families/whānau
- students — especially those targeted by your summer reading programme — using and valuing the school library and public library more than before
- avid readers extended with sufficient reading material to support their reading habit
- the roles and profiles of the school and public libraries raised and promoted
- stronger relationships between the school library and public library
- home literacy practice developed, with parents and families/whānau more informed and confident about helping their children
- principals, teachers and school librarians encouraged to read for pleasure while increasing their knowledge of children’s and young adult (YA) fiction, creating more effective reading role models
- a reading culture in the school community reinforced and aligned with the school's literacy goals.
Summer reading stories — stories from New Zealand schools showing how they planned, managed, and evaluated initiatives.
School term holiday reading
The long summer holiday break leads to the most pronounced loss for students not reading enough. But every school holiday is an opportunity to promote 'holiday reading'. Soon the idea of finding something to read when not at school is reinforced, practiced and becomes 'business as usual'.
Mahurangi College Library created a slogan 'take a book break', which they promote at the end of each term to students and staff. This has proved an effective brand for their holiday reading programme.
Taking a 'book break' at Mahurangi College