Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Summer Reading - Some Surprising Findings

   For reluctant readers,
  .... a book should be compelling, so interesting that the reader is "lost in the book".

During the summer holidays, many children read books of their own choice purely for fun, without a book report or comprehension questions hanging over them. Other children do little such reading or none at all. While both groups of children improve their reading comprehension equally during the school year, it has been shown that children who read for pleasure continue to improve their word knowledge and reading comprehension, while those who don’t regress.
In their book Summer Reading Program and Evidence, Fay H. Shim and Stephen D. Krashen analyzed a number of studies which produced these findings. The studies also showed that children from higher income families with access to a wide range of reading material at home and in libraries were the ones who read for fun, while children from lower income families with less access to books were the ones who were less likely to read.

They therefore designed a summer program that was devoted to “encouraging self-selected, enjoyable reading”. For 200 sixth graders with lower than average reading scores, it ran for 6 weeks. Each day began with 25 minutes of library time, when children were able to browse and select books and magazines which interested them. Because the existing library at the school was inadequate, they stocked each classroom with 400 books and the district spent $25 per student on popular paperback books and current magazines.
The next 80 minutes were spent in independent recreational silent reading. (No talking was allowed.) The most popular books were from R.L. Stine’s Goosebump Series. Also popular were the Sweet Valley Kids (for 2nd grade), Sweet Valley Twins (for 4th grade), the Boxcar Children, Animorphs and the Baby Sitters’ Club.This light, easy reading helps to develop vocabulary and grammar and the feel of how stories are put together, and becomes the bridge to more difficult reading of what adults consider to be better books. For cultural diversity, books by Mildred Taylor, Julius Lester, Allen Say, Paul Yee, Gary Soto, Pegi Deitz Shea and Sherry Garland were included. They also provided non-fiction books about animals, celebrities and sports figures; and magazines such as Teen People, Hip Hop Connections, and Car and Driver.

45 minutes were also devoted to Literature Based Instruction. Students read books such as Maniac Magee  by Jerry Spinelli, Hatchet by Gary Paulson, and The Giver by Lois Lowry. Reading was followed by discussion and a writing assignment. Another 45 minute slot was allotted to Project Activity when the students made posters, book markers and did writing which was put together to make their own books.
     Finally, the teachers spent 25 minutes reading aloud to the children to encourage reading. Another daily activity was conferencing - teachers held brief conferences with each student every day and kept a log.
The progress of the children in this program was compared with a similar-sized group which followed a regular summer program. The gains made by the children in this program far outstripped the regular group in general tests of reading, vocabulary and comprehension. Furthermore, the response of the students and teachers indicated that reluctant readers had been converted into enthusiastic readers. They concluded that children and teenagers really do like to read but they need to have access to genuinely interesting reading material (interesting to them, not necessarily what adults think would be interesting for them).
     What is the relevance of these studies to Jamaica? I submit that children here need far more access to more books, so that they can benefit from the summer reading experience. How many of our primary schools have libraries and librarians (full-time or part-time)? Even in at the high/ secondary level the quality of the libraries varies a great deal. At one high school I visited where the principal complained that the students don't read, I would describe the library as pathetic. There was nothing about it to encourage even an enthusiastic reader. Libraries the world over tend to suffer when cost cutting measures are needed. Libraries in Jamaica have thus been suffering for a long time.
     Another problem we have here is of course that so many children can't read at all, or are reading well below their grade levels. They need a helping hand onto and up the reading ladder.  In a future post, I will highlight the Granville Reading and Art Program, where wonderful work is going on to encourage children in the area to become enthusiastic readers.
A popular magazine


Melanie K Wood said...

Great post, Helen. It's amazing how enthusiastic children can become about reading when their interests are being met. One tends to understand (or strive to) of what one is interested in, and that, in and of itself, is a skill which can be applied to the less-appealing reading topics.

What I'm wondering, regarding the study, is the reading material that was most popular with the students. These are old series - Sweet Valley High, Boxcar Children, etc. If the school had purchased new books...I'm surprised that, either these are just that appealing (and boy, is that sad!), or maybe the data is old? Hmm...regardless, though, I think the findings are highly poignant. Of course children can learn!

Helen said...

Thanks for these observations, Melanie. If the program is still going on it would be interesting to hear which books appeal to the children in 2012.