With the end of the school year rapidly approaching, most families are envisioning family trips and vacations that will allow many opportunities for bonding and life long memories. Summer is truly a wonderful time. Yet, parents of students who struggle with reading skills have additional luggage to bring along: extra difficulty in making sure that the dreaded summer reading list gets done.
Reading tasks during the academic year can be problematic in themselves, but students are more inclined to complete reading assignments as they are already in academic mode from September to June. Summer is viewed, and rightly so, as vacation time when students are free from the daily grind of academic achievement. Summer mode is quite different, naturally, from academic mode. A true life experience drove the point home for me.
I used to work as a language training instructor at the Kildonan School, a boarding school for dyslexics, in upstate New York. Each summer, I worked Camp Dunnabeck, a camp for dyslexics where they could experience arts and crafts, swimming, horseback riding, and, of course, language training. One summer, I was presented a little boy who had just finished the third grade. He was very excited as this was his first time at camp. After a few minutes of getting to know each other, I suggested that we walk to the library and pick out his book. He said, “What do you mean?” I pointed out that fifteen minutes of each language session was set aside for oral reading. He gasped, folded his arms, and threw his head down on the desk. After a few seconds, he lifted his head and, with a truly anguished look on his face, screamed, “You mean I gotta read?” As I looked in his eyes, I could see his heart sink. Yes, it is summer break, but the fact remains. Students from middle school through high school have literature that must be read and understood before the school bells ring in September. If parents approach it correctly, summer reading can be accomplished and accomplished well.
The first thing to remember is the most obvious: your child does not want to do it. This simple, yet, direct assessment of the situation places you in a position where you can approach the task at hand with patience and understanding. No one enjoys being confronted with their weakness. Even we, as adults, stay away, as much as possible, from tasks or duties that place our weaknesses on display. I, for example, am terrible in math. Growing up, I hated report card day because I knew that each of my grades in math was a “U”. (For those of you who don’t remember or know, the “U’ stood for “unsatisfactory”.) Today, I don’t work with numbers. I don’t even handle the family finances. I just give my wife my earnings, and, magically, the lights stay on and there is always plenty to eat. Remembering your own weaknesses as you approach your child’s summer reading will provide you with the right perspective. Remind them that they will naturally gravitate toward professions that suit their skill set, and the summer reading is a very small slice of their history that must be accomplished.
Additionally, here are a few suggestions that can help make the summer reading process more manageable:
- Schedule a time each day where your child can read for a minimum of twenty to thirty minutes. This scheduled reading time should occur early enough in the day so that students do not spend the whole day dreading the impending task.
- During the scheduled reading time, students should be encouraged to read out loud. This allows parents to help monitor accurate decoding of what is read. Students who struggle with decoding frequently will look at a new or unknown word, and will say the first word that comes to their mind with similar construction. For example, students may look at the word, “transmission,” and quickly say “transfer” and keep right on going. If you are sitting within earshot, you will know whether the word, “transfer,” fits in with the context.
- Read with your child using their summer reading book. This provides you with an opportunity to “track” the student as he reads. Tracking is done using two techniques together. The first is for you to place an index card directly above the line the student is reading. The card must be directly above the line because, in the English language, we read from left to right and top to bottom. We want the eyes of the student to swing freely from the end of the line to the beginning of the line beneath it. Having the card above the line being read prevents you from being an obstruction to this process.
- In addition to the index card, you should track each word the student reads with a pencil, moving the pencil along the index card as each word is read. If a mistake in pronunciation has been made or a word has been inappropriately identified, you should stop the tracking of the pencil at the site of the error and tap the pencil tip on the index card at the error site. This signals to your child that an error of some sort has been made.
- Helping a child identify an error in pronunciation is important for their edification. When a child mispronounces a word, I recommend that you divide the word into syllables if the word is multisyllabic. If this does not provide enough assistance to enable your child to identify the word, pronounce the first syllable. Be mindful, though, that in some cases, it may better serve the time constraint for you to give your child the entire pronunciation.
- Share the reading task with your child. You can read one paragraph or page out loud, and they can read the next. As you read, make sure that they are following along with the text. This shared reading also provides an opportunity for echo reading, where your child attempts to match your pitch and cadence.
- While reading with your child, either shared reading or letting them read out loud, you have a chance to occasionally stop the reading and ask a comprehension question to monitor whether he understands what is being read.
Children who struggle with reading are going to drag their heels during the summer reading process, regardless. Approaching the task with the right attitude and tools will make it more manageable. As Mary Poppins reminds us, “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down… in the most delightful way.”