The Most Important Summer Reading Slide In History

By Carly Shuler & Pam Allyn 

“Super reading transforms, exhilarates, provokes and inspires. It is the kind of reading that empowers children to feel at ease in any setting, to explore, to share ideas. It is the kind of reading that changes children’s lives, and, by doing so, changes the world”

-Pam Allyn & Ernest Morrell

MAY 11, 2022 – With summer right around the corner, it is the season for many to be thinking about sunshine and slides. However, most of us dedicated to raising readers are thinking about a different kind of slide: the Summer Reading Slide.

Simply put, many children stop reading during the summer, resulting in a backward slide in their burgeoning literacy skills. These children can lose up to three months of reading progress – a loss which has a cumulative, long-term effect. While some groups are at greater risk of the summer reading slide – including those from low-socioeconomic statuses, rural areas, students with learning disabilities, and English language learners (ELL) – all kids are at risk of falling backwards during the summer. The summer reading slide has been observed at all age levels, amongst children of all ages and circumstances.

While the summer reading slide is a long-standing phenomenon, it has never been more important than this summer. Students are now completing their third consecutive school year disrupted by the pandemic. Assessments and other year-end data will provide a more complete state of where Canadian and American children are at with their reading, but the evidence to date is disturbing at best. 

The summer reading slide is typically a two steps forward, three steps back phenomenon. This year, it will be two steps backwards, two more stumbles back. How many backwards steps can one take before they fall completely? The slide metaphor starts with a gradual climb up. This year, we are already starting with downward momentum. 

This loss will have a cascading impact on kids’ future learning, possibly affecting their completion of high school or their attendance to college. Certainly affecting their journey towards becoming Super Readers.

This summer, not only do we need to prevent the summer slide; rather, we need to capitalize on these unique two months of the year as an opportunity. An opportunity to recover loss, to raise readers, to find joy in reading outside of the confines of the busy school year. Collectively, there are three urgent calls to action:

  • First, we must ensure that all children have access to wonderful, rich, varied texts all summer long
  • Second, we need to support struggling readers with great intensity (and don’t remove the joy!) through opportunities for one on one and small group supports for students this summer
  • Finally, we should look at the summer months as an opportunity to make up valuable learning time that has been lost. (We will say it again – don’t remove the joy!)

Often, commentary on the summer slide is met with counter arguments such as “kids deserve to be free”, “summer should be fun” and “our children need the chance to socialize.” We vehemently agree! Perhaps never more so than in the wake of the pandemic. But here is the thing. Reading is freeing. Reading is fun. Reading can be social. Programs, products or interventions that are not intentionally designed with this essence are the wrong approach.

To leaders, educators, parents: we need to be unified in our urgency to take advantage of summer 2022. Learning has been lost, but it can be recovered. But one can’t say the same for time. This summer is the most important summer reading slide in history – the time to shift from a slide to an opportunity is now.