Students loose reading skills during the summer if they don’t continue reading. Educators call this loss the “summer slide.” It is most severe among low-income students who lose up to two months of reading skills. Yet it is sometimes nonexistent among middle class students who make slight gains in reading during summer months. Why the difference?
- A study of 3000 sixth and seventh graders in Atlanta Public School showed that students who read at least six books during the summer maintained or improved their reading skills. But students who didn’t read lost up to a whole grade of reading skills. (B. Heyns, 1978)
- A study of Baltimore students over 15 years found that By the end of fifth grade, Baltimore students who didn’t read during the summer measured two years behind their classmates who did. They concluded that 2/3 of the reading difference in ninth graders can be attributed to reading or not during summer school breaks. (K Alexander, D. Entwisle and L. Olson, 2007)
- A study of students completing third grade who took part in their local libraries’ summer reading programs scored 52 Lexile points ahead of their classmates who did not. (Dominican University)
- Children’s absence from reading during the summer is a major hurdle for achieving good reading skills by the end of third grade. (The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading)
- The summer slide is cumulative. Some estimate that by the end of high school the summer slide can account for up to a four year lag in reading achievement, and it can have an effect on high school graduation rates. According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, “one in six children who are not reading proficiently in 3rd grade do not graduate from high school on time, a rate four times greater than that for proficient readers.”
So how can you combat the summer slide?
- Sign your child up for your local library’s summer reading program, and make sure your child completes the reading.
- Go to the library regularly and let your child select books she will enjoy.
- Help your child to read a chapter book a week, or a picture book each night.
- Encourage your child to read the newspaper, television guides, magazines and online articles.
- Reward your child with a trip to the book store to select her very own book.
- Read to your child every evening, and let him read to you. Your reading will teach fluency and pronunciation, and establish the notion that reading for pleasure is fun.
(This blog first appeared on May 16, 2014.)
Though toddlers can’t read, they can begin to learn the comprehension skills they will need when they do read. Here’s one way you can help.
Improve their listening comprehension by orally quizzing them—as playfully as possible—when you read stories to them.
Ask them questions after each page or each part of a story. “Now I forget. Is Little Red Riding Hood going to her grandmother’s house or her big sister’s house?” In this case you offer two suggestions, one of which is correct, and the children can choose the correct answer.
Later, as the children grow, ask them to supply the answer. “How many little pigs were there?” “Was one of the houses made out of leaves?”
Questions about the sequencing of a story encourage children to pay attention to what comes at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end. “When did Sylvester find the magic pebble? Was it at the beginning of the story or at the end?”
Questions about the setting encourage children to pay attention to the where and when of a story. “I think Cinderella lived in a tent. What do you think?”
As much as possible, make the quizzing seem like a game. Use gestures, facial animation and your “big, bad wolf” voice. Limit the number of questions you ask to the child’s age plus one so the child doesn’t tire of this activity.
Some children will enjoy asking you the questions. Go for it. This will make the activity seem more game-like since in a game, everybody gets a chance.
If you make remembering information and asking questions a normal part of telling stories, children are apt to bring this habit to the stories they read themselves.
Understanding the main idea of a piece of writing is probably the most important aspect of reading once children understand phonics. Yet many children struggle to find the main idea. How can we help them?
- Ask the children to read the title and any subheadings. Ask the children what those words mean. Ask the children to predict what the writing might be about.
- Ask the children to look at any graphics such as photos, graphs, charts, maps, diagrams or other nontextual information. Ask the children what they have learned from those graphics. Ask them to predict what the reading might be about.
- In nonfiction, the main idea is often expressed at the end of the first paragraph. Ask the children if the last sentence of the first paragraph tells what the main idea is.
- In nonfiction, many times the first paragraph or even two or three paragraphs are a hook. They might give hints about the topic of the writing, but they might not tell the main idea. Ask the children if that is the case with what they are reading.
- In nonfiction, topic sentences often start the body paragraphs of a reading. Ask the child to read the first sentences of the body paragraphs. Are they topic sentences? If so, what is the topic that they are giving details about?
- In the last paragraph of nonfiction, the main idea is often repeated. Ask the children to read the last paragraph and to identify the main idea if it is there.
- Reading the first important paragraph (not the hook) and the last paragraph, one right after another, can sometimes help children to discover the main idea. Do both paragraphs talk about the same thing? If so, what is it?
Some children will understand immediately while others will need many, many lessons focused on the main idea. If children need more examples, more tries at figuring it out, make sure they get those extra examples and time. Figuring out the main idea will be on almost every reading test they ever take from first grade to the SATs.
But more importantly, it is a life skill which they will need.
Children need strategies to learn new vocabulary words when they encounter such words in their reading. Here are several strategies:
Definitions: Sometimes, definitions are given immediately after a new word. Definitions can be separated from the word with a comma (An avalanche, a quick moving mass of snow,), with a dash (An avalanche—a quick-moving mass of snow—), with the words “that is” (An avalanche, that is a quick-moving mass of snow) or with the Latin abbreviation for that is, i.e. (An avalanche, i.e. a quick-moving mass of snow,).
Comparisons: Sometimes a word is compared to another word or idea which is similar. “A zebra is similar to a wild horse but with different markings.”
Contrasts: Sometimes a word is contrasted with another word or idea which is different from the new word. “A mug differs from a tea cup because the mug is taller and contains more liquid.”
Context clues: Sometimes a new word can be learned from other words in the same sentence or nearby sentences. “The car crash caused one fatality. A woman not wearing her seat belt died.”
Examples: Sometimes a word is explained by the example which follows it. “Academic vocabulary is the kind tested on the SAT and ACT. Some examples include obstacle, complement and mollify.”
Similarity to a known word: Sometimes a word will sound like or remind a student of another word. “The child clasped her mother’s hand.” Clasped sounds like “grasped.”
How to recognize these clues to the meaning of new words needs to be taught to children, and they need practice using each clue. Knowing the clues will improve children’s reading comprehension, since comprehension depends so much on understanding vocabulary.
Sometimes we think vocabulary words are the kinds found in good literature, words like “evade,” “grandeur” and “prescient.”
But many times the words children must learn are the basic words and phrases of the subjects they learn in school, words like “remainder,” “summarize” and “find the function of.”
When children are in pre-K they are taught words like “thicker than,” “thinner than,” “shorter than,” and “taller than.” We parents and teachers take the time to instruct about these terms and then to quiz the children informally to be sure they understand.
But as children age, some terms fall through the cracks. The third grade teacher assumes that the second grade teacher has taught words related to subtraction, such as “difference” and “minus.” And the second grade teacher probably has. But what if a child was sick that day, or was distracted, or was moving from one school to another?
I was reminded of this when the mother of a middle schooler told me her son was having trouble figuring out some math terms, including “at most,” “at least,” “no more than,” “no fewer than,” “maximum,” “minimum” and “below.”
Her remarks reminded me of my own trouble learning what “function” meant in my algebra class. Whatever my teacher said didn’t help me, and for weeks I was confounded by that word.
How can we help our children learn the vocabulary basic to the subjects they are studying in school?
- When a child starts a new learning skill, such a multiplication, or a new unit, such as erosion, teach the vocabulary the child will need to know. Page through the child’s text to see what words are used. Then quiz the child on the vocabulary, both informally and formally. Make definitions part of subject matter testing. Be sure to use domain-specific words, such as “factor” and “water cycle” as well as informal words.
- Regularly review vocabulary in a field of study. You could offer a “spelling” bee reviewing definitions of volcanic terms, such as lava, molten, intrusive, extrusive, ring of fire and magma. You could play a BINGO game based on figures of speech, such as simile, metaphor, hyperbole and personification.
- Ask students to create dictionaries of terms they need to know in order to talk about a subject. Instruct students to read their dictionaries for two minutes before each day’s instruction on that topic.
- Give pretests which include definitions.
- Be aware of students who are absent when you teach vocabulary and give them private lessons or ask an advanced student to catch the laggard up.
- In emails home to parents, name new words the child needs to know and ask parents to discuss these words to reinforce them.
One of the key skills in reading well is learning and remembering vocabulary.
Creating mind webs (also called spider webs and concept maps) is a great way to increase comprehension for child readers. Mind webs should be created while the child is reading. Details can be added after each paragraph if the paragraph is rich in detail. Or they can be added after a page or a chapter. The length of the reading can determine how often the student adds to the mind web.
How does this strategy work?
- First, on a piece of notebook paper, the child writes the topic in the center and encircles it. For a child not used to this strategy, an adult might draw three or four “spokes” from the center, and at the end of each spoke, write an idea that the child should note while reading. For example, if a child is reading a biography about George Washington, one spoke might be labeled “childhood” or “education.” Another might be labeled “family.” Another could be called “soldier” or “general.” And the last might be called “President.”
- After the ideas are determined, the child begins reading. As he reads about Washington’s family, the child might write down the names of important family members, what happened to them, or how they influenced him. For example, Washington’s father died when he was a child. His older brother cared for him, but then Washington had to care for his brother when he became sick. Next to “President,” the child could write the year Washington became president, people who helped him, why he was an important president.
- Sometimes details in one category connect to details in other categories. Students can show this by drawing lines to connect the details. For example, when he was a soldier, Washington hired Alexander Hamilton to be his aide. Later he picked Hamilton to be a helper when he was President.
For reluctant readers, a parent or teacher might need to work one-on-one, helping the child to create the mind web. For a group, the teacher could model the concept by drawing a mind web on the board or on a computer whose image is projected, and by jotting down suggestions from students.
Sometimes children will write laundry lists of facts on a mind web. A parent or teacher should probe about those facts and encourage the child to detail why each fact is important. It is better to have fewer subdivisions but more details for each one than a long list without details. Why was one of Washington’s helpers Hamilton? Why was Washington’s work as a soldier when he was 21 important later on?
To reinforce the comprehension, the students could write one or more paragraphs, using the mind web for information.
Mind webs can aid reading comprehension in any subject. They help children organize information and see connections. Because they are informally drawn and can be added to at any time, they can enlarge as the child’s knowledge enlarges.