Well, folks, it’s that time of year! Time when we reflect on the past school year, dream about all of the ways we will be a better teacher come September, and curse the custodial staff for refusing to let us install air conditioners in our classrooms.
It’s also that time of year when we begin to warn our students’ families about the dreaded summer slide–the learning loss, specifically tied to (but certainly not limited to) reading, which occurs when young minds cease to be stimulated by daily opportunities to independently read texts of their own choosing, to talk about their reading lives, and to revel in a strong, supportive community of readers with whom they spend most of their waking hours between the months of September and June.
Summer learning loss has been well-documented (see here, here, and here for details), and colorful infographics abound that aim to communicate the consequences of this phenomenon to students and their families:
And while I wholeheartedly support the push to educate families about summer reading loss, particularly as it relates to issues regarding equity and social justice, I find myself disheartened each year by the secondary message(s) that are sent when visuals such as these are used. I worry about the story we are telling kids (and their parents) about reading when we attempt to bolster our argument about why kids should read over the summer by sharing statistics related to test scores–often hidden under the guise of “achievement”–or refer to “grade level” equivalency.
The intent of our argument–and of visuals like the ones I’ve shared here–is admirable. Summer slide is real, and it is particularly prevalent among children who live in less privileged communities. We must continue to educate families about it, and in ways that encourage them not to rely on poorly-conceived programs that use incentives or contests to entice children to read (as Donalyn Miller writes eloquently about on her blog, The Book Whisperer). However, we also must be cognizant of the not-so-subliminal messages we send when our conversation is rife with references to “reading scores,” “test scores,” or “achievement trajectories.”
Instead, we should be much more vocal about the lifetime benefits of being a voracious reader, like enjoying an increased knowledge base, a more engaged academic experience, and a more desirable life in general. As Kofi Annan, former secretary-general of the United Nations reminds us, reading doesn’t merely ensure that our test scores stay strong; it “unlocks the door to learning throughout life, is essential to development and health, and opens the way for democratic participation and active citizenship.” More importantly, it’s FUN.
So how can we communicate this more meaningful message about “summer slide” in a way that is both coherent and aesthetically pleasing? Do you know of a graphic that already does this effectively that I may have missed? Please share your thoughts below in the comments so that, together, we can revise the story we are telling about summer reading loss.
Stay cool and have a fabulous, book-bountiful summer!