“What can I do to help my son and daughter stay sharp and not lose momentum? They have come so far this school year, and I am afraid they will fall back over the summer.”
As the school year moves to an end, students are talking about their plans for the summer. Some are talking about going on cruises or taking long vacations to national parks. Most, however, are talking about staying up really late playing video games and sleeping until three in the afternoon. I know this makes me as nervous as their parents when we think about what might happen to all the great work we have done throughout the year.
On average, my seventh- and eighth-grade students make a little over 1.5 years of growth in my literacy-based social studies classes. I attribute this to the vast amount of reading and thinking we do, which helps them on assessments and raises their Lexile scores. My classes are routine based and have literacy elements that foster growth daily. It is clear that some of the reason for the growth is that my students build momentum and are able to progressively handle more complex text with greater comprehension as the year moves on.
So, knowing that by the beginning of May I will be fielding phone calls, emails, and Facebook messages from parents begging me for some sort of silver bullet to prevent their child from getting swallowed by the dreaded literacy summer slide, I have learned to be prepared with very specific assignments for my students and their parents.
Through the years, I have collected many ideas and given them to parents and students to try. Some worked well, and some seemed to bore parents and students alike. After weeding out the ineffective ones and keeping the best ones, I have compiled a list of the Top Six Summer Slide Preventers.
Read, Learn, Teach
For this strategy, I suggest that the student choose a book they are interested in. The book can be fiction or nonfiction. I prefer that they do at least one nonfiction book during the summer to keep working on the skills we have built up through the year. As the student reads daily for at least 20 minutes, I suggest that the parents ask questions and have the student teach what they have learned if the book is nonfiction, or tell what has happened in the story so far if it’s a piece of fiction.
I have found that having the conversation at the dinner table, regardless of where the dinner is occurring, assures that time will be set aside to make this a routine for even the busiest families. For soccer families who eat in their cars on the way to the next match, for example, I suggest that this be the time for hearing about the latest chapters read.
The results are wonderful. If a family practices this at least three nights a week, my students end up reading a minimum of four books over the summer. They are also practicing key skills, including summarizing, noting main characters, doing character studies, and explaining setting. With nonfiction books, my students are summarizing, talking about cause and effect, and seeing connections to their own lives. If parents and students carry out this practice, there is no time or space for a loss of learning.
For this strategy, I ask the parents to pay close attention to things that interest their children. If they are on vacation and the child shows a particular interest in something they see or something they have learned, parents will have the seeds needed for this strategy.
Once the parent comes up with something that their child is interested in, they ask my student questions about the idea, place, event, or item. It is important for the parent to show interest and curiosity. Then, the parent gives the child the assignment to learn more and report back. They can ask the child to do some research using at least three sources and then, once they have learned, to teach the parent or the entire family about it. This is also fun if parents and siblings get invested as well.
There is a secondary objective here. If this is done correctly, with enthusiasm, by the second or third inquiry task, many students start doing it on their own. The key here is to always be ready to be an audience. If parents or other adults do not reinforce the value of the student’s inquiry and teaching, the practice will come to a stop or become an unwelcome chore.
Argue a Topic
Most of my students love to argue! This strategy capitalizes on this adolescent need and turns it into something quite productive. The magic comes when a parent finds something that the child wants to argue about that is worth defending. Because I work almost daily with my students on claim/evidence, this is one of my favorites for parents to try.
Once the parent realizes that their child wants to argue something—especially if they are thinking they know how something works or why something is the way it is—they have the claim. I suggest to the parent that at this point, they explain to their child that they themselves want to know more and whether, in fact, the child is correct. The parent directs the child to research and find three to five pieces of evidence that proves their claim. If the student finds that they were incorrect, they are able to use the evidence to show why. Either way, the teen wins and is right! Also, they are continuing the use of essential skills.
The beauty of this skill, I have found, lies in the fact that it is the parent who is looking for things to argue about so the student proves them wrong. There is nothing wrong with a parent saying something is so when they know it certainly is not . . . for the good of education and conversation.
Family Book Club
I have many families jump on this one over the summer. With family members going off in all directions every day, this one gives them a purpose for some meeting time. They can use this strategy during a summer staycation or even on vacation.
The strategy is pretty self-explanatory. The family chooses a book to read. I suggest something that interests most of the family and is at a reading level that most of the children can handle. YA literature is fun and usually well written. Most adults do not believe me until they try it; then they become hooked on YA lit forever.
Chapters are assigned and meeting times are arranged so the family can talk about the book. I suggest that no more than two-three chapters be assigned at a time unless the family is used to this activity. It works best when the child leads the book discussion. It is essential that the student do the heavy lifting and the parents reinforce and support with enthusiasm and guidance in noting deeper meanings within the book.
Of course, if this is done correctly and with excitement, the family will not stop at just one book. In fact, if it is done well, this can easily become a family activity year-round.
Experience and Learn
This strategy is much like using an inquiry topic, but the topics are created based on outings the family goes on. If the family goes to the zoo, the child can learn more about their favorite animal. If they go to the Grand Canyon, the child can learn about and teach the family how the canyon was carved. If the family goes out for spaghetti, the child can learn and teach about the origins and history of pasta. The possibilities are truly endless.
Not only does this strategy require reading, thinking, and teaching, but it also causes the child to develop a deeper sense of curiosity, the foundation of all learning. This, like many of the other strategies, can improve learning and thinking habits as well as help students become better readers. I have also found that students who use this strategy increase their vocabulary immensely through natural means rather than through a 10-word vocabulary quiz every Friday.
Watch and Read
Many of my history-loving boys enjoy this strategy. The idea is to find a TV show, preferably one with educational merit, and then find a book that furthers their knowledge and understanding about the subject. My history-obsessed boys love to do this with the History Channel. They watch an episode about something that they are interested in, then go to the library and find a book to get deeper into the subject. Often, these books are considerably above their reading levels, but it is cause for them to dive in and work through the struggles to make sense of it all. It is that important to them.
I have had some students and parents do a variation of this using video games. They go to the library and find books about the subject of their video games to make better sense of the game and possibly become better at it.
I have also had students read first, and then watch so they can see what they have been reading about and learning. The visual helps them validate what they were thinking while reading. It also acts as a summary or review of the text for them.
So there really is something that families can do to help their students to keep the momentum going and guard against the summer slide! Parents report that this is fun for the family. They explain that it brings the family together with a purpose over the summer. Best of all, parents say that they learn a lot themselves as they, too, engage in these strategies.