Summer Reading Reflections
by Mary Ann Scheuer
ACL member Mary Ann Scheuer is a teacher and librarian for elementary students in Berkeley Unified School District. She shares her reflections on the impact of summer reading programs at public libraries and how all librarians can support children’s reading during summer vacation.
As librarians, we know in our heart and soul that it’s important for children to read during the summer. It’s vital for us as professionals to understand the research, so we can share our messages and shape our programs effectively.
Summer reading loss is a real issue. Children devote many hours and tremendous effort to reading throughout the school year, but many only see reading as a school-based activity. As Anne McGill-Franzen and Richard Allington write in No More Summer-Reading Loss (Cahill, et al., 2013),
“Summer means some kids are reading and some kids are not. Summer affects students differently, depending on whether or not they live in low-socioeconomic communities or attend low-socioeconomic schools. All students should read during the summer, but children without any books can’t read.”
This loss is significant and disproportionate. McGill-Franzen and Allington examine studies which have shown that “students from low-socioeconomic communities lose about two months of reading achievement during the summer months, while students from more advantaged communities gain a month during the summer.” Moreover, this difference accumulates over time, creating a significant gap for students.
Public libraries provide essential access–and their programs make a huge difference for families. How can we make them effective, supporting children and families? According to McGill-Franzen and Allington, the two most important factors that impact children’s summer reading are access to interesting books and student choice of books they read. I couldn’t agree more. As we shape our summer reading suggestions and programs, we need to focus recommending books that honor these choices. But choice doesn’t just mean opening our doors and ordering books, it means supporting children based on what we know about their approximate reading levels and their preferences.
Reading levels help children and families find books that are easy enough for them to read independently, an important factor especially for summer reading. Many librarians speak disparagingly about reading levels, primarily because they don’t want children limited in their choices. I absolutely agree that reading levels should not be used prescriptively to force children to read certain books; however, children will find the most success reading books in that they can read easily and fluently. Teachers talk about the “zone of proximal development” — what a learner can do without help and what he or she can do with help.
I want to share the summer reading lists I created for Berkeley Unified–you can find easy access to them at my blog, Great Kid Books. For my summer reading lists, I focus on bands of reading levels so I can guide children to what they can read easily and what they may want to stretch and challenge themselves.
We need to send out the message to children and families that they need to “use it or lose it”–that we all get better by simply doing it. We can help by talking about the idea that reading is part of who they are, their identity. By choosing what to read, they are creating their own identity and that’s a powerful thing–even for a young child.
Librarians and parents can help children create personal learning goals–asking children to think about what type of books they want to read over the summer, how many and what their goals are. Learning is social, and one of the hardest things over the summer is that so much of our learning becomes isolated.
Think about ways to create social interactions that give purpose to reading, that allow children to talk and write about books that matter to them so they can see reading as part of their social identity. This might mean hosting informal book clubs (come share a snack, draw pictures and talk about books you’ve been reading) or it might mean creating a way to share book recommendations. One of my favorite methods for elementary students has been to create informal posters–talking with kids about their reading recommendations, asking them to jot down their ideas, and adding book covers that you print out. This provides an easy, authentic way for kids then to see other kids’ recommendations when they come to the library.
As a teacher and school librarian, I want to thank all my public library friends for their hard work over the summer. I know it’s your busiest time of year, and the work you do matters so much. As a parent, I am eternally grateful that my children have access to a wonderful library system and to engaging, fun librarians. The work you do matters so much to all of us.
Cahill, Carrie, Kathy Horvath, Anne McGill-Franzen, and Richard Allington. No More Summer Reading Loss. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2013.