In a perfect world, any reference to a “slide” in the summer would be about having fun on playground or waterpark slides—not academic loss. Unfortunately, the “summer slide” in academics is real. Research indicates that students lose on average about one month of proficiency over the summer; for economically-disadvantaged students, that loss can be as great as two to three months.
These are frightening statistics! Summer should be a time of joy, not decline. But what can be done? Here are three research-proven ways to help prevent the summer slide:
1. Increase access to reading content over the summer.
Getting more books into the hands of students over the summer may be the simplest yet most effective way to stop summer learning loss. In a 2010 study, Professor Richard Allington of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and his colleagues found that when they gave elementary‑school students 12 free books to take home over the summer, reading scores went up as much as they did for those who attended summer school. The effect was greatest for children from low-income families, suggesting that access to books is crucial.
Access to both digital and print reading material can benefit students over the summer. Schools and districts might consider opening school libraries a few times over the summer, allowing students to take books home from school for the summer, and maintaining connection to digital reading content via student logins over the summer.
The students in Allington’s study also got to choose the books they read. This self-selection is key. The researchers noted that students often chose books with pop culture content, drawing on prior knowledge to build success with reading, increasing student engagement, and motivating them to continue reading.
2. Host or promote a summer reading campaign.
Many schools and public libraries host or promote summer reading campaigns to motivate children to read over the summer. Check out a previous myON post for tips on getting the most out of your reading campaign.
Reading campaigns encourage children to read by offering incentives, by giving students control over their reading choices, and by building a sense of ownership and accomplishment in participants. Research has proven that summer reading programs can help close the reading achievement gap. Researchers at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at Dominican University published a study of students from rural, suburban, and urban communities who participated in public library summer reading programs. Across these demographics, students who took part in the reading programs demonstrated higher reading proficiency on back-to-school assessments than those who had not participated.
Schools can host their own campaign, and promote the local public library’s offerings, too. Many schools partner with public libraries, letting families sign up and receive materials at school for public library reading campaigns. Personalized digital literacy content offered through the school or books checked out from the library can all contribute to the summer fun of a reading campaign!
3. Encourage summer program participation.
Summer school programs don’t need to be solely focused on academic skills to have a positive effect on achievement. By offering topics with high student interest—anything from STEM makerspaces to graphic novel writing—schools can see higher student engagement and growth. A study by the RAND Corporation noted characteristics of summer programs that had the biggest positive impact on student achievement: small class sizes, regular student attendance, personalized instruction, and combined academic and enrichment activities.
By increasing access to reading content over the summer, promoting a summer reading campaign, and encouraging summer program participation, educators and schools can ensure the slides stay at the playground or waterpark—and out of the classroom. Sounds like fun all around!
Tracy Pruitt is a classroom teacher at an urban, public K-6 Montessori school in Wisconsin.