Bridging the Summer Reading Gap
A break from books can mean big losses for at-risk readers, but schools can help
keep pages turning and minds sharp.
By Anne McGill-Franzen and Richard Allington
December is fast approaching and you can feel the heat of summer in the hallways.
Days are longer, attention spans are growing shorter, and everyone is ready for a
break. Teachers are planning for their holidays. Children are ready to shrug off the
mantle of "student" for the break, along with the backpacks, the math homework, and
the quizzes and tests. But just because school is out, it doesn't mean that reading and
learning should stop. Teachers know that many children can't afford to take such a
long break. Young readers who don't continue to read over the summer – especially
those who are reluctant or at-risk – are likely to lose crucial ground. One summer off
can sometimes mean a whole school year of struggling academic performance.
Summer Reading Loss
Regardless of other activities, the best predictor of summer loss or summer gain is
whether or not a child reads during the summer. And the best predictor of whether a
child reads is whether or not they own books. While economically advantaged kids
often have their own bedroom libraries, disadvantaged kids usually depend heavily on
school and classroom libraries for books to read.
Understandably, summer reading loss or "summer setback" is a bigger problem for
children from low-income families. Their reading achievement typically declines an
average of three months between December and February, while that of typical
middle-class students improves or remains the same. This means that a summer
reading loss of three months accumulates to a crucial two-year gap by the time kids
are in middle school, even if their schools are equally effective.
Children need to read outside of school. Research clearly shows that the key to
stemming summer reading loss is finding novel ways to get books into the hands of
children during the summer