How Reading Challenges Help Combat Summer Slide

Every school year, students and educators invest time and energy into learning new concepts and mastering new skills. And every summer, many of those skills disappear because of summer slide. 


For many students, especially those from lower income families, summer slide can have a lasting impact on future success. And, during the pandemic, summer slide is compounded by pandemic learning loss, which only expands 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 is a well-known phenomenon among educators, who often spend the first month of every school year reviewing the previous year’s material. Writer and educator Ariel Goldberg reflects: “My colleagues and I budgeted substantial amounts of time to reteach our students the skills that they had learned the year before; it was no secret that summer vacation led to rusty skills and forgotten knowledge.”


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. For the last few months, educators have been talking about the Covid-19 slide, which mirrors the summer slide in that it affects all students but has had a much greater impact on 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 propose what they call 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 during the summer, when kids are not in school, everything changes. 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. For children from poor families, however, the learning faucet slows to a trickle or stops completely. Without access to resources, kids from lower income families have little opportunity to keep learning. 


During the pandemic, we’ve seen this learning gap intensify as lower income students struggle to learn at home. For students with access to reliable internet and parental support during the day, pandemic learning loss has been less dramatic. Meanwhile students without access struggle to get by. 


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 so many factors impacting student learning this summer, reading challenges are a simple, high-impact strategy to combat summer slide. When students participate in a reading challenge, they 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. 


During Covid, digital reading challenges, like those available via the Beanstack app, have become a particularly important asset for teachers who want to motivate their students to read. For students who need that extra push, digital reading challenges help by:


Turning reading into a game

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, and that’s even more of a concern during Covid. The Beanstack mobile app allows students to continue to connect with classmates over the summer, so they are involved in a learning community even when they are 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 events like the Level Up Summer Reading Challenge offer even more incentive to read, with cash prizes for top readers and the opportunity to win a Zoom author visit for your school. 


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. 



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