As summer comes to a close, we asked our contributors: What can teachers, schools, districts and/or states do to combat summer learning loss, particularly for the students who are most affected, as students head back to school?
All of our contributors who are current and former teachers focused on the importance of literacy in combating summer learning loss. What's missing? Join the conversation: You’re seated at the Field Day blog round table.
Second Grade Dual Language Teacher, Powell Elementary
Last school year, of the 20 students in my second grade classroom, 18 fell three to five reading levels over the summer. Prior to becoming a teacher, summer learning loss was something that I knew existed, but I did not fully understand just how severely it negatively impacted student achievement.
I believe that bringing awareness to these detrimental losses is the first step in combating them. To do this, I take a few steps with the students in my classroom and with their families:
First, when students return this fall, I’ll have individual conferences with them where we will look at their reading levels together. I ask students to compare their end-of-first-grade reading level with where they are currently. In past experiences, most of the students have been shocked and disappointed at their lack of progress. They realized that reading over the summer would have helped them maintain their reading abilities, and it jumpstarts their desire to work hard at the start of the school year to regain ground lost.
Second, I have these same conversations with families. By the end of the school year, during the final Academic Parent Teacher Team meetings at my school, we show our families how the summer has affected their students’ progress over the year. This has been eye-opening for families and has increased their motivation to get their children to attend free summer programs.
Lastly, before we release our students for the summer, we send home on-level activities that students can work on independently and encourage reading conversations for oral production and trips to the library. It is a large lift on the teachers, but we need to hold our students and families accountable for completing and engaging together — providing them with resources and books and following up with check-in calls over the summer.
Founding Faculty, Democracy Prep Congress Heights Public Charter School
Summer learning loss is literacy loss, but more positively, there are ways to combat it in the first weeks of school that can set students up for success for the rest of the school year. For example, teachers could give students a diagnostic reading exam at the beginning of the school year such as STEP and then use those results to plan targeted lessons to fit their students’ needs.
This would be the first step in the right direction, but not the only step. Dedication to improving literacy rates must be a year-long initiative. “Even the most dedicated teachers cannot cram a lifetime’s worth of knowledge and vocabulary into 180 days of reading instruction,” writes Robert Pondiscio, executive director of CitizenshipFirst at Harlem’s Democracy Prep Public Schools. “But if our schools are not intentionally and coherently building knowledge, they’re not teaching reading.” A solid school-wide commitment to content-rich lessons, the high expectations of Common Core State Standards, and opportunities for outside academic engagement could yield a positive change for students who lose ground over the summer.
Reading is an important aspect of literacy, but writing ability is another part of the equation that is often forgotten. As an English language arts teacher, I know that writing skills also suffer tremendously over the summer. Getting a baseline for the writing deficit is equally as important as the reading diagnostic exam. Just as in reading, teachers can build out the goals and objectives from the data they receive from a writing assessment. It could be something as simple as providing a narrative, persuasive, and expository writing prompt and a rubric that sets expectations for the writing assignment.
Operations Associate, DC Public Charter School Board
All students lose up to two months of academic progress over the summer when they do not engage in educational activities. Regardless of the availability of other programs, the best predictor of summer loss (or gain) is whether or not a child reads during the summer. Summer is coming to a close, but it is not too late for students to pick up a book and brush up on their reading skills prior to the start of the school year.
The best predictor of whether or not a child reads is if they have access to books on their reading level (or the level at which they can read independently and fully comprehend the text). But research shows reading programs work best when adults and teachers help students choose appropriate books and employ simple techniques to improve skill and understanding. The importance of guided support cannot be overstated. One study found that when kids were given books without guided support, they did no better than the kids who did not read at all over the summer.
So what makes all the difference? Simply asking questions of the reader to monitor comprehension. Many teachers set their students up for summer success by providing students with mediums to ask and answer questions that require going back to the text for evidence. Making reading an interactive process is the best, most-efficient way to boost fluency and comprehension.
At a time in which many schools face considerable financial challenges, simple solutions for summer learning loss are required. Summer reading programs are a good place to start. And picking up on reading at any point throughout the summer is better than nothing at all. As students head back to school this fall, teachers can accelerate learning by cultivating the reading lives of their students. Strategically targeted discussions in which all students practice connecting their thoughts to evidence from the text is not only Common Core-aligned, but also the simplest, most-effective way to accelerate learning and make up for summer learning loss.