Avoiding the Summer Slide: Pain or Pleasure? by Valinda Kimmel
We have also confirmed that students can make impressive progress in literacy without massive amounts of direct instruction, without endless dull workbooks and vocabulary lists. We have confirmed that the most effective way is also the most pleasant way.
—Fay H. Shin and Stephen Krashen, Summer Reading Program and Evidence
Summer slide affects many of our kids each year in this country, but there’s an impressive body of research that says it is avoidable, fairly easy to facilitate, and surprisingly cost effective. And now, thanks to Shin and Krashen, we can add pleasant to the list.
Working alongside fifth grade teacher Cathy Mason and a group of district leaders this spring as we planned to combat summer slide, I saw firsthand the power of “pleasant”.
We all knew from the research that it’s critical for students to take ownership of their learning. Telling students they needed to read 10–12 books over the summer to keep their intellect from sitting idle wasn’t going to help. These kids needed to understand for themselves, the problem of summer regression.
Our group knew that to facilitate success with these fifth graders, we would need to approach academic loss over the summer with them in a Project Based Learning format. Nancy Bingham, the technology integration specialist in our troupe, personally took up that challenge. She opted to facilitate an hour-long session with each group and approach it as a PBL. Nancy created a book club for the grade level on Edmodo and generated posts with information for the classes to guide the PBL. Each session started with a celebration of the students’ independent reading throughout the school year. Then students chatted in pairs as they viewed this infographic:
The question guiding the discussion was, “Since you guys have made incredible progress as readers during independent reading time this year, what do think you can do personally to avoid the Summer Slide?” The fifth graders posted ideas they generated on Today’s Meet. Students shared:
Read at least 30 minutes a day in the summer.
Get my mom to take me to the library to get books to read.
Sneak into my big brother’s room and get some books.
Meet at the park to talk and swap books.
Read first before playing video games.
When given the chance, with guidance, the students generated ideas about possible solutions. Instead of adopting some program prescribed for them, this group of fifth graders created their own notions about how to avoid the summer slide.
Choice is critical. We knew that when students get a chance to select books based on their interests, they’re much more likely to read and to keep on reading. Nancy approached this masterfully when she asked kids to help decide about the books that were available to them for the summer. “Would it be better,” she asked, “if we assigned the books you should read this summer?” The response was immediate and overwhelming, “NO! We already read a couple of required books this year that were boring!” One student told how hard he was finding it to get through A View From Saturday, required reading in his advanced studies class. “What if you got to choose the books you read, would that be a better option?” Again, an overwhelming response, but this time the students agreed they wanted to be the ones to choose the titles.
Nancy had students open a link to Scholastic Books and search for titles for 5th/6th grade students. At the same time, they were to open a link to Answer Garden so they could enter titles that piqued their interest. Students added the titles they wanted, which allowed all of us to see in real time the books that were most popular.
Using the Answer Garden responses from each class, I was able—along with our administrative support team—to shop at the local Scholastic Warehouse Sale. Between four of us, we were able to purchase almost 500 titles, which allowed each student in fifth grade on that campus to leave for the summer with at least five books they chose!
The Edmodo site Nancy created with the campus book club would also allow the students to chat with classmates about the books they would read over the summer. The teacher, Cathy Mason—along with the members of our group supporting her—are also chatting about the books we’re reading. In addition to comments about books, Mrs. Mason is posting about opportunities to meet up at the campus (the school librarian is opening the library on selected days during the summer). The meet-ups allow students and their teacher to talk about and swap books so the likelihood of these kids reading a minimum of 10–12 books over the summer is greater than if they were left to battle the summer slide on their own. They had their first meet-up last week with frozen treats and discussions about books they were reading. Mrs. Mason posted on Edmodo this week that she would bring a stack of books to the next meet-up so that students could swap out books they’d already finished.
A big thanks to Mrs. Mason for including admin support and letting us strategize ways to allow her students to be a part of the solution. (In our case, the support team consisted of the Coordinator of Instructional Technology, Technology Integration Specialists, ESL/Bilingual Facilitator, and K-5 ELA Facilitator.)
Imagine finding out what kids really want to read, working to get the titles they chose, and setting up a safe and protected social media site for them to talk about books all summer. Sound dull? It hasn’t been. Trust me when I say this project has been anything but dull. I’d say the entire process has been rather pleasant.
Valinda Kimmel fervently believes in the transformative power of great books. She’s flipped through lots of calendar pages since beginning a career as a teacher nearly three decades ago. She currently works as a K-5 facilitator/instructional coach for the language arts department in a large school district in Bedford, Texas. After hours, Valinda loves lazy evenings and long conversations with her husband Mark, and spending time with her adult children, their spouses, and three of the most brilliant “littles” in her world. She hopes that you’ll engage in spirited conversations with her on Twitter (@vrkimmel) and on her blog at www.valindakimmel.net/