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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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How to Inspire Your Students to Read this Summer

Rebecca Alber

Edutopia Consulting Online Editor

Some teachers like to get back all their classroom library books before the school year ends. I was not that teacher. Check 'em out, read 'em, and share 'em. A dog-eared, weathered book returned in fall (or not) is an ideal book in my book.

And we all know this: when kids independently read during June, July and August, it works wonderfully against what's known as Summer Slide.

And here's another reason why I didn't mind checking out books over the summer, and even not getting some returned: I've had the opportunity over the last two years to ask about a hundred students at an urban middle school (many who are English learners) how many books they have in their homes. "Oh, lots!" some will answer. When I ask these students how many books exactly, they will answer at most 10, maybe 15. Sometimes they answer less, or they tell me "none." Often times these are books they've already read or are books for small children.

This is a problem.

For many underserved children in our poorest communities, advanced reading skills, and literacy in general, will help free them from the limits placed on them by poverty. So when it comes to education, and equity and access, it's not just the great digital divide we are at war with -- illiteracy is also a worthy and very real enemy.

And many of us find ourselves at our schools advocating to principals and those in charge to continue purchasing new popular fiction and non-fiction books for the school and classroom libraries. They do their best, but we've got to convince students to also seek books off campus as well. Here's some suggestions how:

1) Invite students to give Book Talks to the entire class. Who influences kids the most? Their peers, of course, so providing children opportunities to pitch books to classmates can be incredibly effective and powerful.

2) Introduce kids (and especially those reluctant readers!) to a book series. This will inspire them to seek out the next book, and the next, and the next.

3) Provide your students and their families with the "Latest and Greatest" in fiction and non-fiction for the grade level you teach. I've had students come back to me the next year, and there are x's by several book titles (they used the reading list I gave them as a check list!)

4) If teaching older kids, set up a Facebook page all about books. Students will then be able to share with their classmates (and you!) updates on what they are reading and post their book reviews.

5) Start or end class with a Read and Tease. This means you read a few enticing lines from a book (it can be the opening words, or midway through). For my students, I'd give a dramatic reading of the opening paragraph and then place the book on the rim of the whiteboard. At the end of class, at least 2 or 3 students would ask to check it out.

6) Advise families to take children to the library and bookstores on a regular basis. Send a letter home or an email with a list of neighborhood libraries and bookstores. Possibly include some inspiring quotes or a bit of research, giving some evidence to why reading is so very important.

7) Encourage your students to register for the Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge. You can even make it a homework assignment. Scholastic also offers creative suggestions for classroom lessons using the Summer Challenge. Once a student does register, she will be able to enter a contest with prizes by simply logging in her reading minutes. Consider sending the Scholastic link to parents where they can download reading lists and get some tips for supporting their child's summer reading.

Kids need to become lifelong readers early on. Be an advocate, guide and a reason for a child discovering the book that hooks him, inspires him to keep reading, and to continue seeking more and more enriching text. Developing strategic, savvy, critical readers is one of our great charges (and challenges) as teachers. It's also one of our greatest rewards.

I've shared the following quote with many students. It's from a guy we all know of, and in fact, if it weren't for him, who knows, the laptop I'm using to write this might not exist: "I really had a lot of dreams when I was a kid, and I think a great deal of that grew out of the fact that I had a chance to read a lot."

Rebecca Alber

Edutopia Consulting Online Editor
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Brittany's picture

I love your ideas for improving summer reading. Book talks and introducing students to a series of books has worked really well in my classroom. Your blog really made me think about my classroom library. I am a teacher who wants all the books to remain in great condition and be returned at the end of the school year. After reading this, it made me rethink the goals I have for my students. Of course I want them to use the books, so why am I protecting the books from them? I also loved the idea about sending home a list of new books and having a reading log for the summer with incentives. Again, I thank you for this inspirational blog!

Rebecca Alber's picture
Rebecca Alber
Edutopia Consulting Online Editor
Blogger 2014

I'm glad my post resonated with you! I, too, once believed in keeping my classroom library in mint condition and intact over summer. Then I realized that it was more of a "book museum" than a heavily-used, rotating library (what I truly wanted it to be!)

One thing I didn't mention in my post was the incredible influence Kelly Gallagher had on my thinking about classroom libraries and student reading. I recommend checking out one of his books. My favorites: Reading Reasons and Readacide. Both very inspiring!

Best,
Rebecca

Rebecca Alber's picture
Rebecca Alber
Edutopia Consulting Online Editor
Blogger 2014

That's great news, Lisa. Imagine if every school opened its library once a week during summer months? (Meanwhile, good luck to Ashley in pursuing this goal for her district's schools.)

Such a simple solution in combating Summer Slide and growing literacy in our students while schools out. Hopefully, it will catch on!

Best,
Rebecca

LaurenB's picture

Great ideas, Rebecca! I was just packing up things in my classroom today when I realized my classroom bookcase is overflowing with books. A wonderful way to solve that problem would be to allow my students to check out books for the summer.
I also teach in a poor community. When I ask my students how many books they have at home, they usually respond with "five or six." It is so important for students to read during the summer months. When completing DRAs with my students at the beginning of the school year, I notice there is no gain in their reading accuracy rate since last tested in first grade. Many times I see the student's accuracy rate has decreased, more than likely due to little or no reading over the summer.
I am also going to look into the Scholastic Summer Challenge. Sounds like a fantastic way to motivate my students to read this summer!
Thanks again!

Amanda H.'s picture
Amanda H.
3rd and 4th grade -MI

I am so glad that I found this posting before the end of the year. There are some great ideas that I can pass along to my students. I really liked the idea of having the kids "check out" books from the classroom to read over the summer. I just began having a parent volunteer cover some of the "well loved" chapter books in my library with clear contact paper. It has helped me get a couple more years out of my paperbacks.
I am also excited to tell my students about the Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge. My students will love this! I think I will add a direct link to the challenge on my classroom blog to get the parents involved as well.
Another idea- my school just began using the Fountas and Pinnell running record kit to test our students and find an accurate reading level. We are giving our students a large list of recommended titles at their reading level to help them choose appropriate books over the summer. When school begins in the fall, we are encouraging kids to donate any leveled books they purchased over the summer. We will use these books to start a large leveled book section in our library that everyone can enjoy.
Thank you for these useful ideas!!!!!

Allison's picture
Allison
1st Grade Teacher

Great ideas and suggestions to keep students engaged in summer reading! I am always amazed at the amount of information that students can sometimes forget over the summer or as you call it, the "Summer Slide". I have always tried to warn my parents against it, but I do not think that I have done enough. I send home my system's summer reading incentive program SOAR (Summer Opportunity of Academic Reading)but have never thought about allowing students to check out my own personal books. Many of my students do not have a book collection at home and their families do not take advantage of our public library. I know that many of my students would continue to read over the summer if only they had resources at home. I look forward to trying your great ideas!

Allison's picture
Allison
1st Grade Teacher

Great ideas and suggestions to keep students engaged in summer reading! I am always amazed at the amount of information that students can sometimes forget over the summer or as you call it, the "Summer Slide". I have always tried to warn my parents against it, but I do not think that I have done enough. I send home my system's summer reading incentive program SOAR (Summer Opportunity of Academic Reading)but have never thought about allowing students to check out my own personal books. Many of my students do not have a book collection at home and their families do not take advantage of our public library. I know that many of my students would continue to read over the summer if only they had resources at home. I look forward to trying your great ideas!

Traci Wells's picture
Traci Wells
1st Grade Teacher, Hartsfield, Georgia

You had great ideas to keep students reading over the summer. Our school year has ended, but I will keep your ideas in mind for next year. I am ashamed to say that I didn't know about the Scholastic Summer Challenge to recommend it to my students, but I have made a note to put this into my action plan for next summer. I want all of my students to continue to read over the summer, and I know many will. It's those struggling readers that I'm so concerned about "sliding" over the summer. I actually contacted several of my parents at the end of the school year to set up a summer opportunity where I would bring 5-7 books, with the majority chosen on the independent reading level and 1-2 chosen on the instructional level, to their home. Every 10-14 days, I would come by to exchange the books and to catch up on the student's summer activities. I have actually only had 1 family agree to this opportunity, but I hope to hear from more.

Karla Valenti's picture
Karla Valenti
Empowering parents to empower their children (www.totthoughts.com)

I am actually working on an initiative that fits in very nicely with the objective of this post. The project is called Rock Thoughts (rockthoughts.com) and it is designed to encourage literacy through art and creativity. It is easy, virtually free, accessible through any computer, and an engaging way to encourage children to practice reading and writing (anywhere in the world and in multiple languages).

Rock Thoughts is essentially a global art and collaborative storytelling initiative. The idea is that participants paint rocks to resemble monsters and hide those rocks in public spaces for others to find. Finders of those rocks use the monsters as plot devices for stories that they create and submit to our site. Kids can also participate even if they haven't found rocks by adopting rocks featured on the site or collaborating with others on a form of crowdsourced storytelling. The service is free and open to anyone around the world. We have stories in English and in Spanish and are currently working in the US, Mexico and Switzerland. Our goal is to use this as a virtual forum for kids to inspire others and to be inspired to read and write(and make art).

We have partnered with a number of schools that are using this as a way to encourage literacy and creativity and are also in talks with children's museums in the US and in Mexico about setting up workshops on site. I would love to get input from the members of this forum on whether you find this to be a useful tool to encourage summer reading (and if not, why not?). Thanks!

Alie's picture
Alie
1st grade teacher from Idaho

Hi Rebecca,
I really enjoyed reading your ideas to help prevent the summer slide! This is my first year teaching first grade and I feel like we worked so hard all year and now I am so worried the students will regress! I wish I had seen your post earlier. I inherited a classroom with probably 200 books. I have been trying to organize them by level but I feel like this is something I can impliment next year. I always feel bad when a book isn't returned but I just hope it gets read by another sibling or friend! I had the opportunity to take my class on a field trip to the local library to learn about their summer reading program. I hope some of my students will take advantage of it but I love the idea of a checklist! I am ashamed to say I didn't know about Scholastic's program! It would be a great incentive and students can still check out scholastic books from the local library! How many years have you done this? Thank you for your wonderful list of ideas!

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