How Reading Challenges Help Combat Summer Slide

avoid the summer slide by reading
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Every school year, students and educators invest time and energy into learning new concepts and mastering new skills. And many of those skills disappear every summer because of the summer slide. For many students, especially those from lower-income families, summer slide can impact future success. The summer slide was compounded by pandemic learning loss, which only expanded the gap between struggling students and their high-performing peers. In this article, we’re exploring why this learning loss happens, who it affects, and how reading challenges can help prevent summer slide so you can support the students who need it most.


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Summer Slide Makes an Impact

The summer slide, a well-known phenomenon in the education field, refers to students regressing in their learning progress from the previous school year. This often leads educators to spend significant time at the beginning of each new term revisiting and reinforcing previously acquired skills. Reflecting on this, writer and educator Ariel Goldberg noted, “My colleagues and I put in considerable effort to reteach our students the skills they had learned the year before; it was clear that the summer break often led to skills getting rusty and knowledge fading away.”


The data supports this story. According to one study by David M. Quinn and Morgan Polikoff of the Brookings Institute, students lose more than one month of learning during summer break, with more acute losses for lower-income students. Another study, conducted from 2008 – 2012, suggests that summer learning loss could be as high as 25-30% for students in grades two through nine. 


The pandemic has only amplified concerns about learning loss. Over the past few years, educators have been discussing the COVID-19 slide, which mirrors the summer slide in that it affects all students but has greatly impacted students of color and those from lower economic backgrounds. 


To understand why some students lose more knowledge than others during breaks, we need to think about learning, like turning on a faucet.


The Faucet Theory

In their book Summer Learning and the Home Environment, authors Doris Entwisle, Karl Alexander, and Linda Steffel Olson refer to seasonal learning patterns as the Faucet Theory. 


During the school year, every child has their learning faucet turned on. Students of all social and economic backgrounds receive regular access to educators who support their continued growth. But everything changes during the summer when kids are not in school. Many middle-class families continue to provide educational resources for their children via summer camps, trips to the library, or in-home educational resources. This keeps the learning faucet on. However, for children from poor families, the learning faucet slows to a trickle or stops completely. Without access to resources, kids from lower-income families have fewer opportunities to keep learning. 


As the pandemic unfolded, the educational disparities only deepened, particularly for lower-income students grappling with remote learning challenges. With limited access to stable internet connections and lacking parental support due to work commitments, these students faced an uphill battle in maintaining their academic progress. Shockingly, upon their return to school, many students discovered they had fallen behind significantly. In fact, one report revealed that the average student experienced a loss of over half a school year's worth of math skills and nearly a quarter of a year's worth of reading abilities, with certain districts seeing even more alarming declines.


This compounding problem has teachers wondering what schools can do this year to prevent summer slide for students across the socio-economic spectrum. One easy answer? Summer reading challenges. 



Reading Challenges Engage Students 

With many factors impacting student learning during the summer, reading challenges are a simple, high-impact strategy to combat summer slide. Students participating in a reading challenge reap the many benefits of reading while staying connected to their learning communities. Studies have shown time and time again that reading 20 minutes a day makes a huge difference in language and brain development while also fostering a deeper sense of empathy and interpersonal connection. Reading just 4 to 6 books over the summer can prevent a decline in reading achievement scores from the spring to the fall, so even small steps are very beneficial. 


Offering a community summer reading challenge, like those available in Beanstack, can become an important asset for schools wanting to motivate their students to read. For students who need that extra push, digital reading challenges help by:


Turning reading into a game

Motivating gamification features, like streaks, encourage students to make time for reading by rewarding them with digital badges when they read every day. Leaderboards foster healthy competition among students, inspiring them to keep reading so they can catch up to their friends. 


Providing a sense of community

The summer can be lonely for many students as they may not be able to connect with their peers on a daily basis. The Beanstack mobile app allows students to continue connecting with classmates over the summer, so they are involved in a learning community even when stuck at home.   


Connecting students to new books

During the summer, students often don’t have access to teachers and librarians who can recommend new books to read. Digital reading challenges solve that problem by allowing students to see what their friends and classmates are reading so they never run out of new material. 


Rewarding students for their hard work

Everyone likes recognition for their hard work. The Beanstack app comes with digital badges to acknowledge students’ efforts and schools and libraries can offer rewards and incentives when readers complete activities.


Preventing Summer Slide With Beanstack

The data is clear: we need to find ways to support struggling students during the summer months. With Beanstack, educators can easily foster positive learning outcomes for every student without sacrificing their summer vacation. Contact our team today to learn how to get started.



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