Summer Reading: Why It Matters

Thanks to a few tips from the National Summer Learning Association summer reading can be a bit less stressful and a lot more effective.

If there is one tip I inferred from looking at their 2009 Research Brief, “How to Make Summer Reading Effective” it is this. If you want to increase your child’s reading comprehension, spend less time on quantity and more time on quality. The quality of the book (is it a right fit) and your discussions afterwards count most.

While it’s true that low-income students lose two months in reading achievement over the summer, all students regress if they don’t read. According to the NSLA, students “typically score lower on standardized tests at the end of summer than they do on the same tests at the beginning of summer.”

Reading Success Breeds Success

Even if you hope to put your focus less on test scores and more on a love of reading, any parent knows that finding joy in reading comes in large part from finding success with it.

That success is what James Kim, an assistant professor of education at Harvard University, discusses throughout the NSLA brief.

Professor Kim’s study involved children in grades 3-5, who he tested in the second week of June and again in mid September. Those assigned to the “books with oral reading and comprehension scaffolding” scored higher on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills than their counterparts in the “control”, “books only” and “books with oral reading scaffolding”.

Professor Kim found, “…when we gave books to kids but did nothing else, they did no better than kids who did nothing over the summer. There was no difference.”

According to Professor Kim, younger kids, who are still mastering fluency, need to be matched with books that meet their ability. And then they need guidance.

Professor Kim explains, “Ask questions about the story and allow the child to ask questions; summarize or ask the child to summarize; and reread hard-to-understand passages. Essentially, make reading more of an interactive process in order to boost fluency and comprehension.”

Five Finger Rule

As for finding books that are a “right fit,” many students already know the five-finger rule. A book is deemed too challenging if a student discovers five words within the first 100 that prove too difficult.

Many of us feel fortunate that our kids have incredible access to books and academically enriching summer opportunities. In fact, we may be as concerned about giving our kids unstructured free time over the summer months as we are about using the time productively.

But perhaps professor Kim’s studies can help us with our competing concerns. In many cases, we’d do well to slow down and simply ask our children to talk to us about what they’re reading. No gold star or ice cream reward can compare with that connection.

This blog was written by Sarah Vander Schaaff, staff writer for Mindprint Learning.

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