Twitter Chat Recap: #SummerReaders with Pam Allyn

Yesterday @ScholasticEd hosted a Twitter chat with Scholastic author and Founder of LitWorld, Pam Allyn. We asked Pam all about helping kids become #SummerReaders, from explaining why it is so important for kids to read when school is not in session, to helping them to get excited about reading and how to get families and the community involved. At the end of the chat, Pam also shared some of what she plans to read this summer: books, magazines, poems and more.

To learn more about helping students become Super Readers, check out the professional title Every Child a Super Reader by Pam Allyn & Dr. Ernest Morrell, and don’t forget that pre-registration for the Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge for educators, librarians and community partners begins on Monday, April 9th, 2018.

Below is a recap of the chat: 

Is There a Silver Bullet for Literacy?

Patricia Scharer is the editor of Responsive Literacy: A Comprehensive Framework.

Some educators boil reading down to “the simple view” of D x C = R, with D for decoding and C for comprehension.

Certainly, word recognition and decoding are essential, but it’s not as simple as this equation. In fact, decoding itself is not at all simple. It involves phonological awareness, an understanding of letter-sound relationships, and learning how to use knowledge of letters and sounds to figure out unknown words. However, for example, the rule we all learned as children “when 2 vowels go walking, the 1st one does the talking” only works 45% of the time!

I’m wary of this notion of a “simple” view, which could be expected to work like a “silver bullet”—the answer to teaching all children to read. We hear about this all the time: it could be a new technology, teacher’s manual, or set of materials. Buy this and your students will succeed! The problem is that we have never, ever found this silver bullet in technology, a teacher’s manual or a set of materials. Wouldn’t it be nice if learning to read English could be made simple using a silver bullet? Unfortunately, it’s never that easy.

What a child needs to learn to read varies from student to student. Some children come to school as fluent readers; for other children, regular classroom instruction enables them to learn to read and write successfully. But for about 20% of students, regular classroom instruction won’t meet their individual needs. We need to provide all students with a highly qualified teacher who can support each child in the areas in which he or she needs it, and build on their strengths as they learn to read and write.

I think we have all had enough experiences with the latest trends to agree that teaching all children to read is certainly not simple. So, for want of a silver bullet, below is what strong literacy instruction would include if I could create it:

  1. Assessment—we need to carefully select the most powerful and appropriate assessment measures to learn as much as possible about each student. Naming letters in 60 seconds may be quick, but we are left with many questions about the child: how many of the upper and lower case letters can the student identify? Are there confusions like reversals? The assessment must be rich enough for the teacher to plan instruction. I won’t know enough about a child in 60 seconds to help her learn the alphabet. So, the first part of my plan is quality assessment that the teacher can use immediately to plan instruction.

  2. Quality teachers—The Reading Recovery i3 study identified four attitudes and dispositions which are key to excellence: openness to change, strong interpersonal skills, strong work ethic, and a belief that all children can learn. I think we can all agree on these four qualities, but my focus is on the belief that all children can learn. I worry that sometimes, in the face of budget cuts and fiscal uncertainty, that we move resources to the middle of the class and the children who need it most are provided with resources that aren’t sufficient to meet their needs. Providing a volunteer to a struggling reader is like handing the heart attack patient to the candy striper. For more than 30 years, Reading Recovery has shown that more than 70% of the very lowest-achieving first graders can not only learn to read and write, but can accelerate their rate of learning, rising to the class average, in 12–20 weeks. A core belief held by Reading Recovery professionals is that all children can learn. In fact, Marie Clay believed that if a child isn’t learning, it’s because we haven’t yet figured out how to teach him! Children need the special skills of a highly trained teacher.

  3. Ongoing professional development—I don’t know of anyone who believes that initial university training is enough to become an expert teacher. It’s a start, but there’s so much to learn! The comment I hear regularly from newly-trained Reading Recovery teachers is that they really didn’t know how to teach a child to read until after their year of initial intensive training. Two professional development days a year on assorted topics are not enough. I believe that there are three components to quality professional development: a shared understanding by the staff that we are all life-long learners; a commitment to regularly-scheduled study sessions; and the support of a highly qualified coach who works intensely with teachers in classrooms.

This is what I call a silver bullet: powerful assessment, quality teachers, and support for them to continue to learn as professionals.

And there’s proof that it works.

A federally-funded study by Gina Biancarosa and Anthony S. Bryk in Literacy Collaborative schools was the first to document the positive relationship between the amount of coaching and teacher change, and teacher change and student achievement. The 17 schools in the study had a highly trained Literacy Collaborative coach; a commitment to 60 hours of PD in the 1st two years and at least 10 hours every year after that; and the books and materials to support implementation of a responsive literacy framework. By the 3rd year of implementation, students were learning, on average, 32% more each year than they learned during the baseline year.

It’s not easy. It’s not quick. It’s not cheap. But it works.

Conferences and Conversations About Independent Reading Matter

Curled up on a comfortable chair, I opened my book. Time seemed to pause after I re-enter the story, and I was hooked. An hour later (it actually feels like minutes) the phone rang. My annoyance quickly disappeared. My friend Meg was calling, who was reading the same book. That’s the only interruption to my reading I welcome—talking about the book. I relived parts of the story with Meg, a friend who also loves the book.

Reading is social. A need to share emotions, fears, and predictions is part of reading. Conversations bond readers to books because talk can affect their hearts and minds. To share ideas with others—to talk about books in a group or conference—not only improves recall and understanding, but also invites readers to organize their ideas so listeners understand them.

Teacher-Student Conferences

Conferring with a student is your opportunity to get inside the student’s head and understand how he or she thinks about fiction and nonfiction. You can discuss questions as well as provide the support that improves a student’s reading skill.

During the first six weeks of school, it’s important for you to hold two rounds of conferring with each student and build relationships, gain insights into students’ reading process, and prepare them for conversations with a peer. Help students understand that by practicing with you, they’ll be able to have meaningful conservations about books with a classmate.

You can find the time to hold three- to four-minute conferences with students while they complete instructional or independent reading. I recommend reserving two weeks at the start of the school year to complete one round of conferences, take a break, and complete the second round.

Set aside time to know your students and forge relationships with them throughout the year. You’ll gain insights into their learning lives that can help you decide what kinds of questions to pose and discuss during conferences as well as what kinds of interventions students need. Document each conference by noting the date, listing what was discussed, as well as your reactions and lingering questions.

You will have students, English language learners and those reading two or more years below grade level who you’ll want to meet with frequently in order to build their fluency, improve comprehension, and develop the self-efficacy needed for students to choose independent reading at school and home. Suggest books they might enjoy, but remember the choice to read one is always theirs. Schedule these conferences as often as needed.

Conferring With Students

Conferring about independent reading with students helps you know their interests as well as their ability to:

  • recall details;

  • use details to infer;

  • identify themes in fiction and nonfiction;

  • identify main ideas in nonfiction;

  • make connections to other books, movies, and videos; and

  • share their enjoyment.

A goal of conferring about independent reading is to discover the kinds of thinking students do as they read. Refer to and adapt the questions that follow, always keeping in mind the best way to interact with that student grows out of your relationship with them and your knowledge of their strengths and needs.

Questions Encourage Conversations

An easy way to offer students a choice of which question to discuss with you or a peer partner is to write each question on a 3-by-5 index card. Students can choose a card at random or look through the deck and select one or two that interests them. There will be times when you set the conferring agenda because you’re intervening to scaffold a student’s reading.

Enjoyment Questions

  • Why did you choose this book?

  • Why did you enjoy the book?

  • To whom would you recommend the book? Explain why.

  • Can you identify the genre and its structure? Is it a favorite? Why or why not?

  • What have you learned about people?

Questions/Prompts for Literary Elements: Fiction and Biography

  • Who is the protagonist? What problems does he or she face?

  • What are three antagonistic forces? Explain how each one affects the protagonist?

  • Can you show two different kinds of conflicts the protagonist faces?

  • Do other characters affect the protagonist’s decisions and/or actions? Choose one and show how.

  • What changes the protagonist? Discuss events and/or other characters that cause a change and explain the change.

  • Name three personality traits you observe in the protagonist. Use text evidence to support each trait you identify.

  • Name two themes in your book and explain how details in the book support each theme.

Questions/Prompts for Informational Texts

  • Why are you interested in the information this book presents?

  • How did you develop an interest in this information?

  • What new information did you learn?

  • Choose a favorite photograph or diagram and discuss why it spoke to you.

  • How does what you learned affect people’s lives today?

Student-to-Student Conversations

Student-to-student conversations use a lens that differs from teacher-student conferences. Such conversations are social, not prescriptive, and students set the agenda. I recommend pairs converse about books on a class blog, taking turns asking questions and writing their answers. This provides you with written text and allows students to have conversations while the rest of the class reads silently.

To keep track of students’ conversations, ask them to post on an excel spreadsheet on your computer: name and date, the title and author of the book discussed, and the name of the conferring partner.

After students converse about a book, encourage them to write a review on a class blog or school website. When peers advertise books and recommend them, it often develops a desire, among other students, to read the book.

Closing Thoughts

Offering opportunities for student-to-student conversations about completed books shows you value reading and recognize reading is social. Encourage students to have reading conversations with different partners so they learn about the kinds of books that interest classmates. Continue to use teacher-to-student conferences to model conferring and talking about books as well as to provide support and interventions for those who need it.

This post is part of an ongoing series on independent reading. Read more:


Empowering Students and Families to Address Summer Reading Loss in Greenville, SC and Stoughton, MA

Over the past two years, we have been proud to partner with Public Education Partners and Greenville County Schools in Greenville, SC to examine the benefits of access to books and engaging families on summer reading. Last year we were able to institute a similar summer initiative and research through partnership with Stoughton Public Schools in Stoughton, MA.

The findings from both Greenville and Stoughton, described below, reveal that when children and their families have the resources they need to read all summer long, we see increased volume of reading and confidence in students, overwhelmingly positive sentiments from families, and fewer students experiencing a loss of skills while school was out.

Make Summer Count (MSC) 2017

For the second consecutive year, Scholastic and Public Education Partners (PEP) have collaborated to study the effects of access to books and family engagement on students’ and families’ attitudes, beliefs and behaviors around summer reading. The heart of this work has been Make Summer Count (MSC), a summer reading initiative that since its 2014 launch has been led, managed and sponsored by PEP in Greenville County Schools (GCS) in Greenville, SC.

MSC consists of two opportunities for literacy engagement for more than 18,000 students and their families in grades 1–6 across 29 higher-needs elementary schools in Greenville, SC:

  1. MSC Book Celebrations help students build home libraries by allowing them to self-select 10 free books to take home and read over the summer.
  2. Family Reading Nights are events where families can learn strategies to support their children’s reading over the summer, and where children receive additional books to take home.

The biggest takeaway from the two years of data (2016  and 2017) is the consistency in the findings, which highlight positive trends in family engagement as well as positive student attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors regarding summer reading.

Among the findings from 2016 and 2017:

  • Over two consecutive summers, MSC students reported reading more than 14 books, compared to the national average of 12 books. Students reported reading 14.7 books in 2016, and 14.2 books in 2017.

  • Students across both years, who began the summer with fewer than 10 children’s books in their homes, reported increases.

  • For the second year, more than 75% of students agreed they were better readers in the fall because of the reading they did over the summer: 83% in 2016; 79% in 2017.

  • Across 2016 and 2017, more than 96% of families agreed that the books their children received from MSC contributed to them reading more over the summer.

  • In 2016, 98% of families agreed that reading books over the summer would help their children during the school year. In 2017, 100% of families agreed to a similar statement.

Summer Reading Spotlight: Stoughton 2017 (SRS)

Based on the success of Make Summer Count and the positive findings from the research, Scholastic collaborated with Stoughton Public Schools (SPS) in Stoughton, MA to develop, implement, and research the impact of a similar summer reading initiative called Summer Reading Spotlight: Stoughton 2017 (SRS), which reached students in grades K–6 across five elementary schools. Similar to MSC, Stoughton students had the opportunity to build their home libraries by self-selecting 10 free books to take home and read over the summer, and families were invited to participate in Family Literacy Nights.

Each school participating in the research was in one of two groups that received the same opportunities, but at different points in time. The “summer book” schools received resources—books and family literacy nights—before the start of summer, and the “control” schools received the same resources in the fall. In total, about 1,700 students self-selected 10 free books and had the opportunity to participate in one of five Family Literacy Night events.

In addition to exploring students’ and families’ attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors about summer reading, SRS also included an exploratory review of students’ literacy levels as measured by standardized test scores provided by the district.

Key findings revealed that:

  • Fewer “summer book” students who were striving readers experienced summer reading loss than students in the “control” schools: 21% vs. 30%. In addition, fewer “summer book” students who were advanced readers experienced summer reading loss than students in the control schools: 34% vs. 43%.

  •  Fewer “summer book” students reported not reading over the summer (6%) in comparison with 14% of “control” students.

  • Eighty-seven percent of “summer book” students in 3rd grade agreed they were better readers in the fall because of the reading they did over the summer, compared to 77% in the “control” schools.  The current state and federal focus on reading proficiency by third grade further highlights the importance of this finding.

  • Eighty-five percent of families agreed that the books their children received contributed to them reading more over the summer, and 94% of families that attended Family Literacy Nights agreed that they were a good way to connect families and schools.

To learn more about the Make Summer Count 2017 and Summer Reading Spotlight: Stoughton 2017 research, download:

Book Studies: Home-Grown Professional Development

Faculty book studies are an excellent way to collectively focus staff on your school’s initiatives. Imagine how your faculty can enlarge their learning and improve teaching practices as they read, explore, and reflect on professional books. Next, add the enhanced communication you can accomplish by using technology. The result? You have professional development and learning for all staff—and it’s happening in your school!

I can recall years ago, staff in my school said they could not change their practice because they were not sent to conferences. Granted, twenty years ago the ability to learn independently was not as available to educators as it is today. The Internet and social media allow any interested person to access information quickly and to connect with like-minded individuals. Below, I propose an additional method to keep staff focused on personal and professional growth: book studies. To focus staff on learning, collaboration and growth when money was tight, we did book studies. And all these years later, we still do them.

Let’s get moving. I want you to bring book studies to your school. Organized book studies can focus the learning of staff while fostering communication and collaboration. Below, you will learn how to launch an effective book study in your school. And to keep this future-focused, I will include how you can incorporate technology into book studies. I encourage you to take my ideas and make them your own!

What Is a Book Study?

A book study is not buying a book for your staff, telling them to read it, and never having meaningful conversations about the text. In my school, a book study is an opportunity for the entire staff or parts of staff to read the same book and have structured conversations as they move through the book.

Once staff and I agree on a book, we set aside time at a faculty meeting to chunk the book into four to five sections, depending on its length. Then we negotiate the amount of time needed to read each chunk and respond on Google Docs or Google Classroom. If, after completing the first chunk, everyone feels they require extra time to complete the reading and responding, we adjust the due dates.

Who Decides on the Topic and Book?

I suggest the principal chooses a book that all staff can benefit from reading, ideally one that aligns with a school focus or theme. I encourage teachers in my school to suggest books, which I read and use as the basis for my selection. The best choice will be engaging and motivate your staff to read and discuss. I have used books like Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson and The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros. In general, I have found that overly academic books are not ideal for staff book studies. I recommend you choose one that leads readers to reflect on their practice.

How Long Is a Book Study?

Three months is the maximum time for a book study. When the book study is too short, staff feels rushed. When it is too long and drags on, excitement fizzles out. I have failed on both ends, but based on my experience, three months—give or take a week—is the way to go! In my school, we usually do one book study in an academic year.

Tips for Launching a Book Study

Before Starting the Study: Prior to launching the book study, send staff a list of the dates for reading specific pages in the text and the deadline date for responding. Providing staff with the due dates they negotiated with you reminds them of how much time they will have to read a section and respond on Google Classroom. This enables everyone to build the reading and response requirements into his or her personal schedule.

Finding the Time: It is challenging to find time for staff to gather in a room and formally discuss a book. Technology allows communication to happen in new and exciting ways! For your book study, I recommend staff offer comments and feedback, making the process interactive. Google is an excellent platform to make this happen, and I suggest two options for you to consider.

  1. Post five to eight reflection questions in a Google Doc after staff have read a section of the book. Invite staff to select quotes from the book, post these, and offer comments.
  2. Set up a Google Classroom and invite staff to write their comments/questions in the Classroom. If the group is large, Google Classroom is the way to go because it’s easier to find many comments in that platform.

To initiate a top-notch comment activity, add thought-provoking questions and a few responses as these can motivate readers to join the conversation. This year I had an enthusiastic staff member who asked to lead the chat! Empowering others to lead is your opportunity to develop leadership. Always embrace such an opportunity!

Ready, Set, Go

I have found that when launching book studies, participants fall into one of three groups: some are enthusiastic; some are not real sure but try to remain open-minded; and some don’t want to do it.

It’s important for you to believe in the book you're reading, so you can communicate excitement about learning from it. Let your reading community know that everyone will have opportunities to respond, raise questions and react to comments of colleagues after completing each section. To get all on board, suggest that they pilot the first book study and then hold a debriefing session so participants can discuss the process and celebrate their learning.

Change Takes Time

Book studies will succeed or fail depending on the motivation and participation of the principal. When you participate with teachers, you send the message that book studies are important professional learning experiences. Two books my staff and I studied have changed the teaching practices of a few teachers: Teaching Reading in Middle School and Differentiating Reading Instruction, both by Laura Robb.

Change did not occur the year of the study. What I discovered is when one teacher announced a change in instruction at a team meeting, she raised the curiosity of others. Here’s what she said: “I organized my reading unit around a theme and genre. Now students read books at their instructional reading levels, and my read aloud is our common text.” What followed were ongoing conversations among teachers. Those teachers thinking about change observed her class. Still, there wasn’t a groundswell of change. Over time, teachers risked trying a unit to test the concept.

Be patient, because change takes time. If you maintain the momentum of conversations about a book, continually support integrating new ideas into teaching practices, embrace and honor the transformation when it comes, and encourage teachers to observe one another, change will follow.

Spring is a great time to reflect on how the year has gone and where your school needs to head. What books might help everyone grow as teachers and leaders?

Final Thoughts

Continually encourage staff to take some of what they have learned and integrate it into their teaching practices. Motivate staff to communicate with each other and other educators in new ways by using Twitter. This year in my school, our culminating book study activity was a staff Twitter chat that we opened to the world. You can check out what we said about our book study by going to #jwmsstaffinnovates.

This post is part of an ongoing series on independent reading. Read more:


3 Quick Ways to Capture and Analyze Learners’ Thinking (enter for a chance to win a copy of the book!)

Judith Dodge and Blanca Duarte are co-authors of 25 Quick Formative Assessments for a Differentiated Classroom, 2nd ed., which is updated with more support for English language learners and teaching with tech. They join EDU to discuss the power of using formative assessments. 


We are giving five readers the chance to win a copy of 25 Quick Formative Assessments for a Differentiated Classroom. To enter for a chance to win, leave a comment below telling us your city and state, and what grade you teach. One entry per person. All entries must be submitted by 5:59 p.m. ET on March 30, 2018. U.S. residents, 18 and over, please. See the complete legal rules here.

Formative assessment is a purposeful, ongoing process that is non-graded, frequent, and, generally, carried out several times throughout a lesson. Before educators give a single grade, they gather data about where students are in their understanding of a topic or concept. Then, they use this assessment-based evidence to drive subsequent instruction, targeting misunderstandings or gaps in student comprehension. According to Hattie (Visible Learning for Teachers, 2012), formative assessment has one of the most powerful effects on student achievement, improving engagement, self-regulation and self-directed learning.

In 1998, Wiliam and Black, credited as the first to describe “assessment for learning," noted that in many cases formative assessment can effectively double the speed of student learning.

What formative assessment looks like:

  • Teachers engaging in one-on-one conferences with students;

  • Students writing summaries to synthesize learning;

  • Students drawing illustrations to show understanding;

  • Students using checklists and rubrics to self-assess and learn next steps toward the learning objective;

  • Students engaged in collaborative conversations to discuss meaning, process, and problem-solving;

  • Students writing in journals where they stop to reflect, describe, sequence, compare and contrast, note relationships among concepts, and so on.

How to capture this information:

In a differentiated classroom you can ask students to note what they are thinking at different times during the lesson: at the beginning, at the middle and at the end of a lesson, and/or lots of times in between. There are many ways that you can capture learners’ thinking especially if you are in a classroom that has access to technology.

Below, we focus on three summary and reflection assessments that function formatively and provide traditional as well as digital suggestions for using them.

1. A TimeOut!

KWL charts are often used as a pre-lesson activity which, when used with a collaborative tool, offer opportunities for students to quickly brainstorm what they know about a topic, what they want to know, and, after the lesson, what they have learned. A TimeOut! offers a similar experience.

After students are accustomed to the procedure of responding to a prompt through a QuickWrite (2–3-minute timed reflection activity), a TimeOut! can be offered multiple times during a lesson. Pausing for student reflection and writing two to three times during a lesson allows for consolidation of learning and deeper understanding (Hattie, 2012).

In a digital classroom, students can be prompted before, during, and after a lesson is completed using backchannel tools like TodaysMeet or Chatzy, a collaborative bulletin board type tool like Padlet, or a feature like the Question in Google Classroom. See the image below for an example of how TodaysMeet is used for a TimeOut! (a reflection or a response to a teacher-posed question) as students read about the Byzantine Empire.

As an alternative reflection activity, educators can provide students with a random list of ideas and statements that partners have to think about—some that are true and others that are false. Have students discuss with partners whether they agree or disagree with each statement, and have each write down all statements they believe to be correct.

2. A WriteAbout

A WriteAbout is a concrete tool for summarization in which students use key vocabulary terms to synthesize their understanding of key ideas in a paragraph, accompanied by a visual image.

Digital tools allow for some additional flexibility in how students work. Students can insert images or draw their own, and label images freehand or with a text tool to complete a WriteAbout. This is especially useful for students who have difficulty expressing their understanding in words, like ELLs. The use of digital device is also helpful for those that have trouble with fine motor skills like those with dysgraphia. Using a text tool, students can type their summary under their image.

The digital documents can be saved and compared for improvement in writing over time.

See the image below for a Math WriteAbout example on the relationship between buildings and right angles. This can be done as a precursor to an introduction on right angles to measure what students know prior to the lesson, or during the lesson as students are making sense of information, vocabulary and the relationship between the real world and mathematics.

Words: right angle, 90 degrees, triangle, relationship, opposite, area, perimeter, square, rectangle

Challenge yourself: isosceles, hypotenuse, adjacent

In the following image of the Empire State Building (ESB), there are multiple right angles visible.The perimeter of the building clearly shows the right angles as the building gets narrower at the top. Right angles equal 90 degrees and are found in squares and rectangles. These right angles make up rectangles that are visible on the outside edge of the building, also called the perimeter. One way to calculate the area of the building would be to measure and multiply the base and height of each rectangle. The top of the ESB forms a loosely shaped isosceles triangle whose area can be calculated by multiplying ½ base x height. There are also windows with 90 degree angles on the ESB.

3. A 30-Second Summary:

30-second summaries can be used as both an assessment and a way to extend learning.

During a study of cell division, for example, students can research how cell division in a plant is different than in animals. They can summarize their findings in a 30-second summary by:

  • delivering an oral presentation to the class;

  • creating a visual about key findings; or

  • creating a set of bullet points with key points.

As students make these 30-Second Summary presentations, they are providing a spiraling, student-driven exploration of content. To save even more time, educators can consider limiting the number of students who will present for each unit. We recommend that each student orally present at least one 30-Second Summary per quarter.

In a digital classroom, there are multiple tools you can use to show understanding using a 30-second summary. After conducting research individually or in pairs, teachers can:

  • ask students to record a summary as a response to a prompt using FlipGrid;

  • allow students to choose how they leave a summary on a Padlet: Draw, Film, or Voice; 

  • use a tool like Verso to create a prompt and ask students to write their response.

Keep in mind that with practice, all of these tools can be set up on the day of collection, with students responding to multiple prompts throughout the day as they summarize new information.

Let’s Pledge to Make Literacy a Year-Round Priority

We’ve witnessed the tremendous strength that schools, families, and communities have in supporting student learning, especially over the summer. In October 2017, the Dick and Tunky Riley WhatWorksSC Award for Excellence recognized Make Summer Count 2016, a partnership among Greenville County Schools, Public Education Partners, and Scholastic, for its work to help prevent summer learning loss.

Recently, Michael Haggen, Chief Academic Officer, Scholastic Education, contributed a story to Language Magazine titled “Year-Round Reading.” The article explores how summer reading is an integral and achievable piece in a district’s comprehensive literacy plan, with Make Summer Count 2016 as an example.

As part of this discussion, Michael highlights four essential factors that he believes significantly contribute to the positive results of programs such as Make Summer Count 2016, which can be replicated across the country. These factors include family engagement, professional learning opportunities for educators, promoting choice, and increasing access to books. Below is an excerpt from the article which outlines the results of Make Summer Count 2016, and highlights specific ways that districts can make literacy a priority while school is out of session.

You can read the full-length article here.


Year-Round Reading

Michael Haggen explains how summer reading is an integral and achievable piece in a district’s comprehensive literacy plan

With the end of another school year nearing, we must remember to keep the imperative message of reading over the summer top of mind, even as we look forward to end-of-year activities. Because the summer slide—the common loss of academic skills while students are not in school—is responsible for as much as 85% of the reading achievement gap between higher- and lower-income students (Allington, McGill-Franzen, 2009), we cannot risk entering summer without a plan to make the home-to-school connection around literacy. 

I have been re-energized around summer learning thanks to incredible work I have seen in districts across the country, and also because I’ve been reminded there is still much work to be done. The Scholastic Kids & Family Reading Report™: 6th Edition, a national survey of children ages 6–17 and their parents, revealed that only 48% of parents have heard of the summer slide. There is also an inequity of information: only 38% of low-income parents are aware of the summer slide, and one in five kids from low-income families told us they did not read any books over the summer. This is a problem that we need to address. 

Overall, we found that for parents who have heard of the summer slide, teachers and schools are their number-one source of information about it. This is a strong call to action for educators to ensure all families in our communities have access to the information and resources they need to make summer count and turn the summer slide into a summer leap. 

An excellent model for this can be found in Greenville County Schools in South Carolina. Last year, local nonprofit Public Education Partners (PEP) released results of a new research study examining the effects of Make Summer Count 2016,a reading initiative supporting summer learning for 18,000 students in grades K–5 across 29 higher-needs elementary schools. PEP and Scholastic provided participating students with the opportunity to select 11 books of their choice to take home for summer reading, and hosted 23 Family Reading Night events to foster family engagement. 

The research findings indicate that with increased access to books and family engagement, a majority of students maintained or increased their reading levels over the summer of 2016, and also that the program had an overall positive impact on students’ reading habits and attitudes. In October 2017, Make Summer Count was awarded the Dick and Tunky Riley WhatWorksSC Award for Excellence for demonstrating successful strategies to help prevent summer learning loss, in large part due to the research around the program displaying an overwhelmingly positive impact. You can find the full results in the report Addressing Summer Reading Loss: A Public Education Partners and Greenville County Schools Initiative, but here are a few incredible highlights: 

  • Seventy-eight percent of students in grades 3–5 maintained or increased their reading levels from spring to fall 2016.
  • Students read an average of 14.7 books, compared to the national average of 12 books—a statistic reported in the Kids & Family Reading Report: 6th Edition.
  • The percentage of students who read for one hour or more without stopping grew from 13% to 26%.
  • Eighty-two percent of students agreed that they were better readers after the summer.
  • Ninety-eight percent of families agreed that their children were better readers because of summer reading.
  • Ninety-nine percent of families agreed that the program contributed to their children reading more books over the summer.
  • One hundred percent of families found Family Reading Nights valuable for learning about how to support their children’s reading.

While reflecting on the powerful results of the work done in Greenville, I want to call attention to four essential factors that I believe significantly contribute to the success of programs such as Make Summer Count, which can be replicated across the country.

Excerpt and cover image from March 2018 issue of Language Magazine printed with permission from Language Magazine.


Avoiding the Summer Slide: Encouraging and Celebrating Reading

The Meriden Public Schools, centrally located two hours from New York and Boston, is an urban district with 8,600 students, 67% minority and 71% of students qualifying for free or reduced-price meals. For the past five years, we have been actively engaged in transforming the district into student-centered learning environments. (Learn more about this transformation: Meriden Public Schools: Here, Students Succeed.)

Integral to this process was the district’s embrace of 1:1 devices, personalized learning, student ownership and anytime, anywhere learning. With strong union support, coupled with extensive professional learning, teachers have become comfortable in their role as facilitators, rather than standing in front of the room delivering lessons to rows of students sitting quietly at their desks. Students are no longer passive or bored. Rather, they are enthusiastically participating in learning, either researching a topic on the Internet, working collaboratively with their classmates to solve a problem, or benefiting from direct instruction.

Challenged to take charge of their learning in a culture that promotes a "no zero" policy and open access to all higher-level courses, students are succeeding. Scores are the highest in history, referrals have dramatically decreased, chronic absenteeism has declined and student, teacher, and parent satisfaction on Climate Surveys are at all-time highs.

Yet, while Meriden’s elementary students continued to show substantial gains on standardized testing measures, we were still concerned about a lack of learning over the summer months. This "summer slide" was a challenge that needed to be addressed. If all students were going to have the best opportunity to experience success, we knew we needed to create summer learning opportunities for our students. The key to a successful school experience lies in a student’s ability to learn how to read in the early grades and, most importantly, to enjoy reading.

So what did we do?

Meriden created MPS Summer Learning Adventure, a K–3 summer school program that combines high-interest reading with personalized learning and use of technology as an educational tool. Students in all grades had personal reading goals. All students participated in daily small group guided reading instruction with appropriate instructional level text. A concerted effort was made to select interesting, exciting illustrated books that captured children’s attention and promoted a love of reading. Comprehension strategies were practiced and monitored at all grade levels. Students followed a personalized reading pathway and worked together to create visual presentations that focused on main idea and details, as well as story summaries. Students demonstrated their learning in a hands-on, fun and engaging way that allowed them to share their reading with their classmates. 

All students read preselected adventure book sets based on their Lexile level. Students set Lexile goals, graphed their Lexile progress and journaled about their reading. Students were able to personalize and take charge of their own learning.

The Summer Learning Adventure culminating activity was one of the most unique and exciting activities of the session. All the students were invited to the gymnasium to join the Superintendent in his “reading nook” furnished with a large rocking chair, a lamp and a small braided rug. He read a Scholastic book and interacted with over 300 students. After the read-aloud, every student received a backpack filled with Scholastic books to take home. Students received books that would be highlighted in their classrooms the following year. Students were thrilled to receive their own personal books to read at home. They were eager to meet their favorite character, Clifford the Big Red Dog, who high-fived each student as they left the gymnasium.

Seeing the students' excitement when they received their own backpack full of books was proof that our summer program had clearly met its goal of supporting and encouraging reading. While building a love of reading is reason enough to launch a high-quality literacy summer program, pre-test and post-test growth of 20 Lexile levels validated our efforts to avoid the “summer slide.”

Don't let another summer slide away; you too can create excitement for reading and launch your creative summer reading program.

Resources for educators as Scholastic responds to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida

We know that as an educator, one of the most important and challenging parts of your job is guiding your school community—colleagues, staff, students, families—through the process of responding to tragic or frightening events. One of our roles here at Scholastic is to provide educators the resources they need to do the important work they do. Yesterday, Scholastic Chairman and CEO Dick Robinson issued a letter to our teacher customers that outlines some of the resources available to them in the wake of the horrific tragedy in Parkland, Florida; you can read that letter here.

Our classroom magazines have been covering the story in age-appropriate ways as well. For grades 6-8, Junior Scholastic has published "A 'Mass Shooting Generation' Cries Out for Change," while New York Times Upfront has published news coverage for high schoolers.

Scholastic has also updated our online resources about how to respond to violence and tragedy, and one of our Top Teaching bloggers discusses how to calm fears and frustrations in the wake of tragedy.

Scholastic will continue to support schools, teachers and children every day, using the expertise we are known for.

Making Connections: A Powerful STEM Event with Capt. Barrington Irving

Elkin City Schools is a small school system in North Carolina serving approximately 1,200 students in three neighborhood schools: Elkin Elementary, Elkin Middle and Elkin High. When the opportunity arose for Captain Barrington Irving—the youngest person and first black pilot to fly solo around the world—to land his Flying Classroom at the Elkin Municipal Airport, the faculty, staff and community rallied to make it a reality.

I heard Captain Irving’s story at a conference I attended and knew immediately that I wanted my middle school students to get the opportunity to learn from him. His magnetic personality was certainly a draw, but the passion he brings to the work of striving for a better life is what really grabbed me. After all, he turned down football scholarships and, instead, pursued a career in aviation!  My goal was to put him in front of students who are exploring careers and making connections between what they are learning and their futures. I wanted them to see that big dreams do come true.

In Elkin City Schools, Our motto is Encourage, Connect, and inSpire. As Captain Irving described in his book Touch the Sky, a chance encounter with Capt. Gary Robinson, the pilot who became his mentor, inspired him to ultimately become a record-breaking pilot, entrepreneur, educator and business owner. I wanted our kids to understand that, as Irving wrote in Touch the Sky, “Regardless of where you come from, what you have or don’t have, you, too, can achieve your dream. Believe in yourself.”

In essence, I knew, without a doubt, the students would receive so much more than a powerful STEM experience. I needed someone to say to our students, “You can do anything you set your mind to! If I can, you can!” 

While the 170 Elkin Middle school students, teachers, administrators, Board of Education members, the town mayor and community supporters were standing alongside the runway, Capt. Irving swooped down the airstrip in a flyby before making a grand entrance. For many students, this was the first time they had watched a plane land and taxi the ramp. Upon arrival, not only did Capt. Irving disembark, but so did I! I now know that some students thought their superintendent had lost her mind, but for me, it was a thrill of a lifetime.

The airport hangar became the students’ classroom for the entire morning. There, they learned about Irving’s exciting and extraordinary expeditions. He took our students on a digital trip around the world, teaching them about deadly sea snakes in Koror, Palau, ecosystems in the Amazon, food waste in California, extreme temperature changes in a halo jump in Tennessee, plus a virtual tour of his very own digestive system through the use of a camera pill!  It was truly education beyond the classroom, the very definition of authentic learning. One teacher commented that the students were not just engaged in the presentation, they were mesmerized!  When a student is mesmerized, you know you got it right.

While Capt. Irving took off to Elkin’s elementary and high schools for school-wide assemblies, his instructional team stayed behind to lead the middle schoolers on an excursion of their own. Students tested their engineering and design skills in a project based-learning activity where they learned how airplanes fly. The “flight crew” (the middle school teachers) distributed materials and teams of students used their collaborative skills to think critically, and create and communicate with one another while discussing the principles of aerodynamics. Measuring flight distance, modifying their “aircrafts,” and retesting for improvements was great fun and made their new learning relevant and meaningful.

I knew, without a doubt, that this day would positively impact our students and staff. We gave a copy of Touch the Sky to every student in the middle school, to integrate a literacy component into our STEM event and continue the learning. In a culminating activity at Elkin Middle School a few days later, eighth grade ELA teacher Shannon Swaim facilitated a seminar with her students to reflect on the STEM event. She told me that she kept hearing the students discuss how encouraged and inspired they were by The Flying Classroom, Touch the Sky, and Barrington Irving himself. 

“It made me think of our mission in serving the students of Elkin City Schools, which is to Encourage, to Connect, and to inSpire. I consider myself a reflective practitioner, and I knew that there had to be one more extension activity to where the students had taken all they learned, coupled with the excitement Irving stirred within them, to encourage them to follow their dreams. His story certainly inspired them to do so, but I thought about those students who were looking through the lens and asking themselves, ‘How can that really be me?’ So, with thoughtful planning and preparation, I decided to invite a graduate of Elkin High School who had already attained his pilot’s license in the two years since graduating to speak to the entire middle school. I thought of him as a local example of someone who began as an average kid from a modest background but achieved above-average things because he believed in himself. I knew my students would relate well to a student who had sat in their classroom just a few years earlier, and now was a pilot and flight instructor at the young age of 21. He detailed his journey for the students, and suddenly, the connectivity to the encouragement and inspiration. The students saw the pathway, the passion, and the pictures of a hometown boy achieving his dreams.”

And I saw that by hosting an electrifying STEM event that was then paired with a literacy component and community engagement, we were able to provide Elkin City students with a multi-layered experience that would ultimately make a profound connection between what they were learning and their own futures.


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