Lessons from the research

Here’s what data and experience tell us about closing the word gap and helping West Virginia students to succeed, says Christy Schwartz, of the West Virginia Department of Education’s Campaign for Grade Level Reading:

Keep reading aloud to children from birth to adolescence, and keep educating families about the need to do it. Reading aloud does more for vocabulary development than talking with them, which is also good.

Encourage teachers to read to students daily.

“If children are responding well to a book you’re reading, encourage them to find another in the series, in that genre or by the same author that the teacher might read with them,” she said.

Continue reading “Lessons from the research”

Summer reading projects highlight the importance of access and family involvement

By Lesley McCullough McCallister

 Sunshine and warm temperatures mean summer break is upon us! While children may be focused on how many summer hours can be spent at the pool or playing outdoors, it is equally important to encourage them to read while they are away from the classroom.

According to Richard Allington, co-author of Summer Reading: Closing the Rich/Poor Achievement Gap, any child who fails to read during the summer will lose some reading proficiency during the break. (It is the equivalent of an athlete who stops training and loses physical skills.) Children from low-income families are particularly at risk. National research shows they  routinely lose two to three months of reading proficiency every summer, while middle-income families gain about a month, resulting in a three to four-month gap building each summer. Allington notes that the main issue seems to be access to books, not lack of ability. He cites the fact that low-income families own fewer books than middle-class children, and on average, middle-class students have ten places to buy or borrow books in their community for every one place accessible by a low-income neighborhood.

While Read Aloud West Virginia’s Book Distribution Program gives books to students in participating schools through a variety of programs throughout the year (Snuggle and Read, Kindergarten Round-up, and special family participation events), special emphasis is increasingly given to distributing reading material in the weeks leading up to the summer break. The success of a trial project, which began in one school in Greenbrier County in 2016 has led to an expansion of the project into two additional schools located in Fayette and Raleigh counties. Funding from the Carter Family Foundation and the West Virginia Leaders of Literacy: Campaign for Grade Level Reading has made this expansion possible.

According to Read Aloud West Virginia Executive Director Mary Kay Bond, the summer reading project is built on a partnership between educators, families, the State Read Aloud office and local chapters. First, Read Aloud staff and local chapter volunteers meet with school faculty to discuss the program and share the books which will be available to students: typically 120 titles representing a wide range of interests and reading levels. The faculty are encouraged to display the books in their classrooms, discuss or read short passages from various titles, and generally build excitement about reading books during the summer. Weeks later, local Read Aloud chapter volunteers return to the school as shopping helpers. Each student is invited to create a list of their top six book choices (and two alternate selections). The selected books are then prepared with personalized book plates bearing the student’s name on the inside front cover of the book. The six new books are placed in a tote bag and affixed with two tags, one with the child’s name on it, and the second with a tip sheet for families explaining all the ways they can help their child maintain or build reading skills over the summer months. Families and students are invited to a year-end celebration where the importance of summer reading and the role families play in raising enthusiastic readers is discussed. Finally, each child is called forward individually to receive the tote bag containing the book selections they requested earlier that month.

“The excitement of the children is palpable!” said Bond. “One child said it felt like Christmas.”

This simple project has yielded great results. Reading scores at Crichton Elementary, where the project is in its third year, have been raised from the lowest in the county to the highest. The principal notes staff and students are gaining valuable instructional time in the fall since they do not have to spend the early months of the school year remediating students and getting them back to their previous skill level. It is a win/win for teachers and students alike.

When creating a summer reading plan for a child, families are urged to make it fun and keep it simple. Suggestions, all of which are FREE, include the following:

1) Read to your child daily. Reading even 10 to 15 minutes a day can help them keep up their literacy skills and transition back to the school year more easily.

2) Let your child see you reading regularly on a daily basis. Habits are caught more than taught.

3) Visit the library together and enroll in a library summer reading program. Also, sign up for a free library card.

4) Let your child choose the material. Comic books, magazines or books about various subjects are all reading.

5) Limit screen time. Children need time to “unplug” from TV, video games and other electronic devices.

6) Spend time talking, singing, dancing and drawing with your child to encourage their creative side and introduce them to new words.

All of these activities are free but valuable!

The benefits of summer reading will help your child further a sense of discovery and develop positive attitudes about books, as well as maintain reading proficiency during summer break, which in turn will help your student transition back to the classroom in the fall more easily.

Lesley McCullough McCallister is a Read Aloud supporter, volunteer reader, newsletter contributor and a  freelance  journalist.




Importance of Summer Reading

By Sara Busse

Ahhh… summer. Time for kids to kick back, take a break, put away the books. Well, no.

Google “the importance of summer reading” and you’ll see that while it’s good to relax and enjoy the less-structured school vacation days, it’s never a good idea to stop reading.

Jim Trelease, reading guru and godfather to Read Aloud West Virginia, touts the importance of summer reading by citing a study of 1,600 sixth-graders in 18 schools showing that reading four to six books (chapter books) during the summer was enough to alleviate summer loss.

In his pamphlet, “Summer Reading,” Trelease, author of The Read-Aloud Handbook, discusses reading programs at local libraries as an important tool for parents during the summer. He also explains that, at first, ten to fifteen minutes of sustained silent reading (SSR) is appropriate for children who are not used to reading for more than brief periods of time. Later, when they are used to reading in this manner, the time can be increased.

Scholastic, provider of books and educational materials in tens of thousands of schools and tens of millions of homes worldwide, explains that learning or reading skill losses during the summer months are cumulative, creating a wider gap each year between more proficient and less proficient students. By the time a struggling reader reaches middle school, summer reading loss has accumulated to a two-year lag in reading achievement, according to an April 2007 study by Richard Allington.

Teachers typically spend between four to six weeks re-teaching material students have forgotten over the summer, according to the article “Lasting Consequences of the Summer Learning Gap,” by Karl Alexander, Doris Entwistle and Linda Steffel Olson. And in The Power of Reading, Stephen Krashen points out that “reading as a leisure activity is the best predictor of comprehension, vocabulary and reading speed.”

Finally, in the ”Kids and Family Reading Report” conducted by Harrison Group and Scholastic:

  • Having reading role-model parents or a large book collection at home has a greater impact on kids’ reading frequency than does household income.
  • An overwhelming 92 percent of kids say they are more likely to finish a book they picked out themselves.
  • Ninety-nine percent of parents think children their child’s age should read over the summer.
  • Parents think their children should read an average of 11 books over the summer, ranging from 17 books for children ages 6-8, to six books for 15- to 17-year olds.

So let the kids sleep in, swim, run in the yard and enjoy a little downtime. But make reading a part of the fun and the rewards will be seen in the fall — and throughout their lives.

Sara Busse is a long-time Charleston resident and community volunteer.

Nickell Foundation supports summer reading in Greenbrier

A $5,000 grant from the Mary B. Nickell Foundation brings Read Aloud one step closer to full funding of a summer reading initiative in Greenbrier County.

The pilot program is modeled after a longitudinal study by literacy researchers Richard Allington and Anne McGill-Franzen. The University of Tennessee education professors found that providing self-selected books for summer reading was as beneficial to reading achievement as summer school. Read Aloud will work with the Greenbrier County Campaign for Grade Level Reading to implement the program at Crichton Elementary.

“These funds, along with a grant of $3,000 from Greenbrier County’s Hollowell Foundation, bring us much closer to our goal of $10,000 for full implementation in all grades at the school,” said Lynn Kessler, Communications and Development Director for Read Aloud. “We’re extremely grateful to both the Nickell and Hollowell Foundations for their votes of confidence in this project.”

The Mary B. Nickell Foundation administers funds entrusted to it for the promotion of the arts and for educational purposes to encourage the development and appreciation of the arts and for the promotion of the happiness and well-being of the community centered in and around Greenbrier County.