During the last few days of the school year, children across the South Carolina Upstate received a collection of books to read over the summer. The children, rising second graders, all participated in Reading Recovery®. Reading Recovery is a short-term, early intervention for students who are having difficulty learning to read and write. During the intervention, students work with a specially trained reading teacher who individually designs and delivers literacy instruction based on the child’s unique strengths and needs. While the students make accelerated progress during the school year, summer is always looming. This year, given the research on summer reading slide that suggests many students lose reading skills during the summer, the Clemson University Reading Recovery and Early Literacy Training Center for South Carolina (CUTC) wanted to do everything possible to make sure the gains children made during the school year held during the months of June, July, and August.
Enter the Tigers Read! initiative. Tigers Read! partners the nationally recognized Clemson University Football team’s head coach Dabo Swinney and his All in Team Foundation, Scholastic, and the CUTC in an effort to help ameliorate summer reading slide. The Tigers Read! Initiative provides 10 high-interest, high-quality books for each child to read during the summer months. Instead of having a “summer slide” we hope these 10 books will result in a “summer reading rise” for the children who participate in the program. When the initiative was first discussed, the connections between football and summer reading were overwhelming clear.
Athletes spend a great deal of time practicing. Football players lift weights, study game videos, and walk through the same play over and over as they prepare for the big game. This is the same kind of commitment needed from children during the summer – in order to maintain and progress in reading skill development they must practice, practice, practice. The old adage, “practice makes perfect” couldn’t be more fitting and certainly holds true for both sports and reading.
Players must be highly motivated. Football players are motivated by their teammates and coaches and have an internal drive that keeps pushing them to succeed. They are always working to win the next game or the next championship. Readers must have a similar motivation, a motivation that keeps them up at night begging to read “just one more page.” One key to being a motivated reader is developing the habit of reading. To develop the habit it important that students spend time each day reading for pleasure.
Coaches and Teachers
A good football coach cares about winning, but—more importantly—cares the players. Coach Swinney recently has received many coaching awards and understandably so. He always refers to his players as student-athletes and touts his player graduation rate, as much if not more than his record on the field. A good coach cares deeply about the person, and the same is true of a good teacher. A coach or teacher who supports a growth mindset instills in the athlete or student the importance of dedication and hard work. Coaches and teachers can make all the difference in the life of a child, their influence reaching well into the future.
Athletes and students certainly need the right tools to be successful. Football players need footballs, cleats, pads, and helmets in order to play. And kids need books in order to read—without them summer reading slide is inevitable. Research evidence indicates that book ownership is related to reading growth. Children participating in the Tigers Read! Initiative are given 10 books to read over the summer and these books are for their home library.
Initiatives like Tigers Read! make sure children have the needed tools to be successful by ensuring free access to high-quality books. Further, the Tigers Read! partnership that pairs a foundations, a business, and schools make quite a winning combination. So let’s all cheer, “Go Team!”
Michael Staton, Clemson University