Our teachers had families eager to begin before the family event even began, too. We’d never had a program where students got to keep books in such volume. So the teachers were excited and that excitement bubbled over to families as teachers notified and chatted with them about the event. Although this coming spring, those events may be virtual, the bi-lingual parent guides mailed home inform and excite families.
Throughout the summer, teachers kept track of student progress online and many helped keep reading at the front of everyone’s mind by sending notes home through Remind 101. Some of them even made phone calls. I could really see a difference in the number of books students were completing depending on whether their teacher was making an effort to reach out. I think it was a big piece of how much effort students kept up through the summer.
We really hope and push for families to actively engage with each of their children’s books because we’ve learned over time that family engagement is a key element of student reading achievement. Without that support, they just don’t progress as much, and reading is the foundation for everything else.
Allowing students to choose what books they read is the other key factor in their engagement. It gives them ownership of their learning and ensures they have books they’re interested in. This initiative was for students in grades K-3, and children that young don’t have control of very many things, so getting to make a choice is a big deal for them.
We have a free and reduced lunch rate of approximately 55 percent. Many of our students may not have any books in their homes, let alone titles they’re excited about, so our teachers were eager to help guide their choices. They sat down and talked through their choices from the Book Wish List with Lexile and AR levels noted, and made alternate suggestions if they thought something was so far above a student’s level it might frustrate them. But if a kid really wanted a book, they got that book. Just chatting through their choices with their teachers got them excited before they even had their first books!
Provide books for all reading levels
It’s important to make sure there are choices for students of all reading abilities. Again, this needs to be balanced with student choice. Our teachers wanted to ensure that there were several books at just the right level to avoid that frustration and allow students to enjoy some success.
Having nine books to put on the list was a huge help in achieving that balance. Our teachers were able to make sure that, no matter a child’s level, there were several on their wish list in an appropriate range while allowing them to choose others that may have been more challenging or a little easier but much loved.
Sometimes when we make kids read only those things that are at their level or within their Lexile range, we can beat the love of reading out of them if we’re not careful. So, we really tried to take an approach that allowed them to get a bit of everything if that’s what they wanted.
Offer choices in technology
These days, even a summer reading program is likely to have a technological component. In ours, technology comes into play when families report that their children have completed a title.
Some of our parents couldn’t do that through a computer because they don’t have internet access at home. To ensure everyone could participate, it was important that they be able to report books through their phones or a text message. Without that, we simply wouldn’t have been able to ensure equitable access for all our students.
Our parent-teacher organization also got involved in a pretty effective way. The PTO president connected with students and made a video together where the student talked about one of their books. They posted the videos to the Facebook page regularly throughout the summer and encouraged families to post pictures of their students with their own books.
Just about everyone is on social media these days, and putting those posts in their feeds was a powerful way of keeping summer reading in the fronts of family members’ minds. It was just a consistent reminder to keep reading throughout the summer.
Reading camps and summer intervention programs are great, but a summer reading program that reaches all students has the potential to become a community-building event. And the best part is hundreds of kids with their very own books at home.
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