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28 Oct 2021
Year after year, students come back to school in September having lost learning ground during the long vacation – but it doesn’t have to be that way…
Mention the ‘summer slide’ and non-teachers’ thoughts will immediately run to images of slapping on the sun cream, water parks and unfettered play. Unfortunately, for educators the phrase isn’t nearly so, well… summery!
Instead, it represents the damaging learning loss that can be repeated annually – and is recorded the world over – when pupils experience their long summer holiday spell.
Of course, the long vacation is a golden opportunity to reconnect with family and friends, to play, to travel, and to bask in rest – but it does offer up rich opportunities to learn along the way, too.
And without such deep learning experiences, there is the real potential that what has been learnt in the previous school year will be partially lost – with the evidence indicating, alas, that this is especially true for more disadvantaged children.
We can speculate, then, that limited opportunities to travel, read, learn, and more, might be a significant factor.
Research suggests that whilst all pupils may lose ground with mathematics and spelling during a long break from school, with reading there appears to be a stark differences between children from different social backgrounds.
Indeed, pupils from advantaged social backgrounds tend to improve their reading over the summer, whereas those from disadvantaged backgrounds suffer an equivalent reading loss. Clearly then, targeted support is needed.
Evidence from New Zealand has offered solutions for schools, with access to high-quality reading proving integral; but then direct support for parents, including guidance on how to support their child’s reading, proving crucial too.
Here are some ideas for ways we could counteract a potential summer slide for our own students, inspired by some of the great work already being done by schools across the country:
All of us can sometimes require a little motivation to read. For many of our pupils, creating a book club offers the type of challenge that can engage them with stories, whilst providing a platform to recommend great books that are age-appropriate.
We can increase the effectiveness of such an approach, too: how about supporting parents with games, reading comprehension prompts, forging links to local libraries, and more?
For many families, lots of great days out are an integral feature of the summer holidays. However, not all parents will have insider knowledge of the best local events or places to go that promote learning.
Offering an easy to use guide – perhaps with some further ideas for making good use of those inevitable rainy days, alongside those well-earned sunny ones spent slurping ice-creams on the beach and similar – can help ensure students don’t miss out on the opportunities around them.
Seven weeks represents a long break for any parent or child. During that time we can offer our pupils daily prompts to write, providing an interesting and creative outlet.
Perhaps you could set up blogs – the promise of a real audience, made up of their teacher and peers, can offer up a motivating sense of purpose for many youngsters.
Whilst many children may not have the privilege of expensive foreign travel, we can still suggest ‘journal’-style activities that can be undertaken over the break. Whether it is a trip to Paris or simply a day at the park, such summer days can easily be framed as opportunities to learn.
What happens at the end of the holidays is vital, too, of course. The return to school is a critical time to re-learn what may have been lost; and also to share and catch up with our vacation book clubs, writing prompts, cultural experiences, and much more. Because the summer slide is something we should all be interested in stopping.
Alex Quigley is an English teacher, Director of Huntington Research School, and author of the bestselling Closing the Vocabulary Gap (Routledge).