School is out for summer. Why worry about reading? Isn’t reading a worry for teachers during the school year?

Reading is huge, and the concern about reading and strategies for helping students through the summer should be huge as well. “Academically, children who are not reading on grade level by the end of third-grade struggle in every class, year after year, because over 85 percent of the curriculum is taught by reading,” according to the Reading Foundation.

Furthermore, independence in life depends on one’s ability to read. A few instances in which one uses reading skills in life, after academic purposes in schools, include: understanding mail or email, reading and understanding owner’s manuals, completing various forms and applications, reading and understanding bank statements and insurance policies, following signs when driving, attending to directions and warnings inside buildings, comprehending maps, communicating with schools, clinics, agencies, and more, etc.

Struggling readers and non-readers are at risk of the following: becoming unmotivated in school, struggling with behavior problems in the classroom, failing grade-level assessments, becoming school dropouts, getting involved in crime, earning lower wages, being unemployed, and being dependent on others as adults. In essence, reading and students’ abilities to read dictate their trajectories for school success and independence as adults.

Why have Some Students Fallen Behind in Reading Skills?

Students who fall behind in reading do so for one or more reasons. The particular reason or reasons are not as easy to determine as one might imagine. After all, possibilities that contribute to reading difficulties abound.

Reading difficulties result from various practices or lack thereof in schools, homes, and biological make-ups. Schools must differentiate instruction for children with various learning needs, ensure a rigorous and relevant curriculum, vary text genres, levels, and topics, instruct in all five components of reading, promote students’ reading interests and motivation, work to identify learning disabilities or learning difficulties, monitor students’ progress and respond appropriately, and more. Failure to effectively do any of these things can lead to gaps in reading.

In homes, parents or guardians must ensure children are exposed to vocabulary, engage in conversations, model good reading habits, read aloud to young children, ask questions, provide reading materials, practice reading with children, listen to children read, and more. Failure to engage in these reading-related activities can lead to gaps in children’s abilities to read.

Finally, reading difficulties are sometimes the result of learning disabilities or other genetic realities. Sometimes, reading challenges are evident from one generation to the next.

What is the Achievement Gap in Reading/Literacy?

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, “Achievement gaps occur when one group of students (e.g., students grouped by race/ethnicity, gender) outperforms another group and the difference in average scores for the two groups is statistically significant (i.e., larger than the margin of error).” The disparity in performance can manifest as differences in test scores, dropout rates, rates of college acceptance, and more.

Learning gaps, or the difference between a students’ actual performance and the student’s expected performance at their current grade level and time of year in that grade level, can contribute to larger achievement gaps. Learning and achievement gaps can decrease when students’ reading achievement increases.

Reading Strategies for How to Close the Achievement Gap

With the variety of contributors to achievement and learning gaps, one wonders about closing such gaps. Just as causes are numerous, strategies for closing the gaps are numerous. Demographic changes, policy changes, and systems changes in schools, districts, and states help close achievement gaps on a large scale.

Within schools and classrooms, implementing evidence-based instruction, rigorous curriculum, progress monitoring, and professional development are a few necessities to impact achievement and learning gaps. In homes, parents and guardians can help close learning gaps for individual students with a few significant changes or additions to repeated practices at home. Such practices involve:

Motivating students to read.

Exposing children to rich vocabulary.

Reading with and to children.

Teaching phonics and phonemic awareness skills.

Having conversations with children.

Motivation is moving. Adults and children are more likely to engage in activities that motivate them. People engage in intrinsically or extrinsically rewarding activities, things that pique their curiosity, and things to which they can relate. To encourage children to read, try allowing them to choose the text’s topics and genres.

Also, establish a reward system for reading engagement. For example, after every fifth book a student reads, they get a snack of their choice. Or, for each book one reads, they get a sticker on a chart; when the chart is complete, the child receives a prize. Motivation drives people to action, so motivating children to read helps decrease the likelihood of reading gaps.

Another strategy for helping close reading gaps is exposing children to a rich vocabulary. Texts of all kinds are composed of words and are laced with words that are known and unknown. The more words children know, the better they can comprehend passages, stories, and other text formats.

Next, reading to and with children from the womb and beyond improves children’s chances of successfully reading. Hearing fluent reading and practicing fluent reading are keys to reading. In an analogous example: professional basketball players watching great basketball games and great players and then later practicing appropriately and consistently are practices that contribute to the greatness of the pros. Reading is very similar; watching and practicing excellence are steps to being excellent.

Another strategy for closing learning gaps in reading is practicing phonics and phonemic awareness. Basic or foundational phonics skills include letter recognition and letter-sound fluency. Seeing letters and quickly making their sounds are keys to decoding, which is crucial to reading. Phonemic awareness is the manipulation of sounds without any print. An example is to play verbal rhyming word games. Another example is to make sounds and have students blend the sounds to make words. For instance, make the sounds /b/ /o/ /x/ and have children say “box.” This is a blending activity, and blending sounds is another key to reading.

Finally, having conversations with children aids in their verbal skills, vocabulary acquisitions and usage, and ultimately their comprehension. One cannot learn words without hearing and using them.

In conclusion, reading is a foundational skill—foundational to academic success and ultimately a life of independence. Therefore, employing reading strategies over the summer and beyond is crucial in the lives of children.