Thursday, 18 July 2019

Thoughts on the 'Summer Slide in Reading'

"It’s hard to blame parents for anxiety about summer loss given a century’s worth of research that shows young people can lose up to several months’ worth of school-year learning over summer break." - Kelly Chandler-Olcott, June 10/19

Much of the research referred to in the quote from Professor Chandler-Olcott's article indicates children can lose up to several months' worth of school-year learning over the summer months, with children from lower-income backgrounds experiencing the most significant reduction in knowledge and skills. As she mentioned, there is considerable research stretching back to the early twentieth century that supports this idea that many students experience a slide in skills, knowledge and capacity across the disciplines through the summer months. 

While I would not dispute the evidence of a summer slide for most students, I would point out that most of the actual research is based on results from student testing, and losing specific knowledge about a particular topic is a much easier gap to measure than whether or not students are able to still use their skills and abilities as effectively, with reference to overall learning.  While 30 years of teaching has definitely left me with a firm awareness of the summer slide, in my experience it is more of a fading of skills and strategies than a definitive gap that is most evident when our young students return in the fall.

Being aware of the nature of 'summer slide' in elementary-aged students as described above also means there are numerous ways to help mitigate the possibilities of blurring student approaches to learning as the summer unfolds. Family holidays, trips to museums, national parks or monuments and other events, and holidays to different locales all offer students multiple opportunities to continue building vocabulary, making connections and introducing novel ideas. Daily read aloud experiences encourage children of all ages to interact with new ideas, vocabulary, genre, etc. and may be selected to reinforce or introduce new ideas introduced through summer activities - for example, experiences like summer camp, hiking outdoors or going to a circus - among many other kinds of experiences - may all be enjoyably revisited in the pages of books! 

A strategy I used with my children (and now my grandchildren) encouraged them to keep 'summer journals' where kids can write down what they did, or jot poetic ideas, new words, etc., and then add photos, stickers, dried leaves or flowers, small sticks or rocks as mementoes of their days and events through their summer. Sometimes we've done these as letters back and forth in the journal, but more often kids just like keeping track of their days - and it's a lovely place to record books and stories they have read too. Helping to write out lists of groceries or things to do, learning to cook that utilizes measuring, estimation and temperature strategies, tracking the calendar and weather - activities such as these reinforce concepts related to days/weeks/months of the year, using time and understanding weather and temperature - and are all details that can be added to the summer journal as well.

The reality is that school stops for two months every summer, and the five days a week children are used to spending engulfed in learning and practicing their reading, writing and math thinking and skills comes to a screeching halt. We've spent virtually 10 months reminding them every day to use their skills and strategies and to practice, practice, practice reading, writing and math. While they need a break from the focus on constant learning, helping them incorporate short bursts of activity where they utilize their thinking and skills throughout the summer will keep their understandings polished and acknowledged, resulting in a much quicker recovery of learning approaches in September. 

We all slow down in summer, leave our workplaces and feel relieved and relaxed as we slide away from responsibilities and demands. Children need this break too, perhaps even more than we do as adults, since it is a lovely time to generate new brain connections and synapses based on new experiences, while growing and exploring out of doors. Nudging their learning ever so slightly is a bonus for them, however, and can make the return to school less challenging and intimidating when the doors open again after Labour Day!

Happy Summering to everyone - hoping your days are full of adventures that incorporate reading, writing and math too :)

Lorraine Kinsman