It’s that time of year again when the beauty of our classrooms begin to disappear. Posters and signs that inspired students vanish from walls and doors. Classroom supplies get dumped into storage bins and closets. Those smiling cherubs are no longer waiting for us to greet them. It’s summer.
Summertime doesn’t mean that reading has to stop, but too often it does for our students. For many students in low-income areas, the moment they leave school on the last day is the last time a book enters their hands until the following school year. Reading is not a priority over the summer for these students, and it should be. Study after study proves what Richard Allington has been saying for decades: the achievement gap between high and low income children continues to widen. Allington states that as they enter public school, children go “from less than a year’s difference upon entering Kindergarten to almost 3 years’ difference by the end of 6th grade” (Allington and McGill-Franzen 4-5). Summer reading loss is a huge part of the problem, for students who do not pick up a single book in those 10 weeks of summer are 10 weeks further behind in the fall. My district has a high poverty rate, so this concerns me. Each school year, I aim to do more to promote the importance of independent reading in my district. I also do all I can to show students that reading can provide them with as much entertainment as their iPhones can. Now, I am revising my goal to include summer vacation.
It all starts with falling in love with reading during the school year. If students aren’t reading consistently from September to June, they won’t read on their own over the summer. So, starting that very first week, I gave all of my students time to read in class EVERY DAY. It became a habit. After those 15 minutes, I always “book talked” an intriguing new title I read myself or heard about from a trusted source. I really had to know my books, as well as the various genres my students enjoyed. I made sure my classroom library was visible. I surrounded my students in a sea of books. “Book passes” got students into new titles they didn’t know about. (Think speed dating with books.) We used Goodreads to reflect and share our reading experiences with peers, which created a reading community outside of our classroom. We Skyped with some of their favorite authors. I showed them all the important reading statistics I could find. Most importantly, I never gave up on those students that said they “just hated reading” or “couldn’t find a good book.” By the end of the year, my 94 9th graders read over 366,000 pages, and all but three read at least 1,000 pages. ALL of them said they found books that they enjoyed. They are readers, and I want them to stay readers, so I began thinking about encouraging summer reading.
Throughout the last few weeks of school, I began the prep work. I started promoting my all-important “summer library hours” during the daily announcements so students knew when their trusted reading sanctuary would be available to them. Almost every Tuesday and Wednesday they will be able to check out a few books, preview new titles, or even just stay and read quietly for a few hours. (Soon weekly emails will be sent out to parents with reminders about these summer hours, as well as “reading tips” to get their children reading, and a link to my blog that contains the Class of 2019’s favorite books of the year.) Next, I began book talking titles that would be coming out over the summer to lure my students into my classroom library. At the beginning of June, I encouraged my students to help me promote the Little Free Libraries our district would be getting at the end of August. These libraries will serve as an additional reading reminder, for students will be coming into my classroom to paint and stock them. I also told them I will be attempting Donalyn Miller’s #bookaday challenge. Many students were shocked by this, but I told them some of the books would be picture books I’d be reading with my own young children. I mentioned that I am still aiming to read at least 30 YA titles, and some students are challenging themselves to read even more than that!
As of today, many districts are already a few weeks into their summer vacation, but in my Western New York district, final exams are just wrapping up. I only have a few days left to take care of some paperwork and get my classroom in order. I hope that, starting next week, some familiar faces pop in to see what new titles I have awaiting them. I can only wait and hope that reading has become its own incentive.
How do you encourage summer reading? Please share in the comments!
Sarah Krajewski is a 9th grade English teacher at Cleveland Hill High School in Cheektowaga, New York. She is just finishing her 14th year of teaching, and is always looking for new, creative ways to help her students enjoy learning, reading, and writing. She is anxiously awaiting another trip to the NCTE Annual Convention to expand her literacy knowledge. At school, she is known for her dedication to her students and for being a devoted reader who “knows her books.” At home, she is a proud wife and mother to three avid readers. You can follow Sarah on Twitter @shkrajewski and her blog can be viewed at http://skrajewski.wordpress.com/.
Allington, Richard L., and Anne McGill-Franzen. Summer Reading: Closing the Rich/Poor Reading
Achievement Gap. New York, NY: Teachers College, 2013. 4-5. Print.