The “Summer Dip”, or “Summer Slide”, is the term we use to refer to learning lost over the long summer break. It is a phenomenon almost every teacher, and many a parent, will be well aware of; however I wondered if students knew? Furthermore, I wondered if they knew that they could “beat the dip” by reading a few books? I decided to do some research, and from that research grew last week’s assemblies.
I began the assembly by re-capping my previous assembly on reading, boiling those ideas down to three points:
- Every book will teach you something – whether it is something about the world you live in, about you as a person, or just about the kind of books you do or don’t enjoy;
- Books give you access to emotions and experiences you’ve never had – so, you can go places you’ve never gone, and be people you’ll never be;
- Reading makes you smarter.
I recapped the National Literacy Trust’s table with the cold hard figures: of students who read every day, nearly a third were achieving above their expected little. Of students who never read, over a third were achieving below their expected level.
I then introduced the idea of the “Summer Dip”. Admittedly, most of my research is American-based, and so imagines a summer holiday which is, inconceivably I know, even longer than British schools’ ludicrously long holiday (6 weeks for any international readers out there). That said, I think obfuscating this worked well, as clearly students do lose learning over the summer, and my message wouldn’t have been as useful if I’d caveat-ed every statement to year 7 with “however, we should allow for the data being slightly unreliable because…” I find assemblies deal better in certainties.
That said, this document does uphold the evidence that children make the most progress during the Summer term, and the least in the Autumn term. Terrifyingly, it also tells us that “In reading, nearly 40% of children go backwards between the end of year 6 and the beginning of year 7,” though this of course may well be a by-product of the expectations of teachers and modes of assessment changing between primary and secondary school. Nonetheless, anecdotal evidence tell us that, for most teachers, the student who is comfortably on a 5c at the end of the year does not usually begin the following year on a level 5. The scary American research puts the learning lost for students at between 2.5 and 3 months. Obviously, I opted for the latter, asking students to imagine that everything learned between April and July would just… Disappear. Terrified faces looked back at me.
Now came the kicker: research, albeit research conducted in the states, has shown that reading as few as four books over the course of the summer can help to prevent the dreaded slide. Four books! Some students looked genuinely relieved, and I iterated my understanding that many of the students before me would read far more than four books over the course of the summer.
But how? I showed them a map of the libraries, and shared the link to their opening hours. I explained that for building your own library (I think I put it: “for books you can take home with you forever, and hug them and love them”), the Oxfam bookshop nearest us sold second hand books for only £2.50 each; and the (admittedly slightly evil) online seller Amazon sold books for one penny, meaning that including postage you could have a book of your own from their for £2.81.
I diverged for a couple of minutes from reading to share some ideas for staving off “achy hand syndrome” – you know, the first week back when you can’t even finish the date without it hurting (or for teachers, when the first set of books to mark takes an unreasonably long time).
But then back to reading.
I shared with students 5 of the books I’m hoping to read over the summer, which allowed me to refer to many of the reasons we choose books to read. I began with Plainsong, which a sixth former recommended to me. I moved onto The Edible Woman, which a parent governor had told me to read. I referred to Murakami’s After Dark, explaining that as someone who had never visited Japan, I loved the opportunity to walk Tokyo’s streets through Murakami’s prose. I mentioned Will Grayson, Will Grayson, as the book-du-jour my year 9s are all reading. And then poems by e.e. cummings, explaining that I need to read more poetry (and giving me the opportunity, in alluding to cummings’ peculiar views on punctuation, to share my favourite cummings quote: “since feeling is first/who pays any attention/to the syntax of things/will never wholly kiss you.”
To finish the assembly, I shared tailored recommendations for each year group for reading, which were also on a hand-out given to tutors. And for the final piece, I read the first page of one of those books to the students (some thing I have written about before and do weekly with my own classes). I will never grow used to the reverent silence of children when being read to. The power of the story is a beautiful thing.
And the results? So far, so promising. My own children bounced up to me, proudly saying they liked the assembly and would definitely be reading four books at least over the summer. I hoped as much, given they have also had me banging on about reading to them four to five times a week. What I love, though, is the students I don’t know coming to talk to me about reading. It allows me to know a much larger proportion of the student body. I even had a student say she was going to see if she could volunteer in her local library over the summer, which was especially wonderful, and another student who raced straight to the library to take out Wonder, the book I had read to year 7 from.