Summer is a time for trying new things. Summer can also be a time for falling backward on academic skills like reading fluency.
Research shows that kids in the primary grades typically return from summer break with slower and less accurate oral reading. But this doesn’t have to be the case: we can set kids up for growth in fluency, instead. A solid framework for success is what we might call “the full Goldilocks.”
Leveled reading programs can suggest that, like Goldilocks, we should be all about finding the “just right” level of text. But that skips the key takeaway for growth in the Goldilocks story. Goldilocks didn’t only partake of the “just right” chair or porridge or bed; instead, in each case, she sampled around. In summer reading, [pullquote]kids need to sample across a range of text difficulty. In their reading aloud opportunities, they need a taste of too hard, a taste of too easy and a full helping of just right.[/pullquote]
Hearing challenging text helps kids grow their vocabulary, language comprehension and world knowledge. When kids follow along at the same time and have eyes on the page, that helps in even more ways. Hearing a word as you see it contributes to your ability to recognize it in the future. That stretch forward on word recognition helps build fluency.
How can we set that up to happen? On the sofa with his grandchild, grandpa can hold the book or article where both can see it, as he reads aloud. Tracking with a finger or bookmark can help too.
When grandpa isn’t available, technology can help: get both the audiobook and the hard copy book from the library, and set the child up with both at once. Another deeper approach is “immersion reading,” where an audio-synced e-book shows a rolling highlight as the words are read aloud.
Easy books are not about stretching word recognition. Instead, make easy books all about the delivery. The child’s job is to make the reading sound great. With good phrasing and expression, the text comes alive and becomes easier to understand. Kids learn that reading isn’t about barking out words accurately and quickly—it’s about conveying meaning.
The key here is an audience. An audience could be a younger sibling, a little cousin—even the family pet. The child reader is a performer here, pumping up the humor and the drama and the lusciousness of the words.
Finally, kids do need time in “just-right texts.” Just-right can be found with good assessment, but it can also be approximated. This is where the child’s reading is a bit halting and imperfect, but not so frustrating that the book gets closed for good.
In this level of challenge, a cold read is less successful than a reread—and that is the focus here: set kids up with some reasons to repeat and practice some of the reading. An adult cooking dinner can ask to hear a paragraph in five minutes, giving the child a chance to prep. A grandmother can be sent a recording of a practiced page of reading. Give the child these chances to see how good it feels to earn that payoff, with practice.
With help, kids can grow in reading fluency over the summer and not fall behind. Even better, they can understand that they are the engines of their own growth.
Cindy Jiban has taught in elementary and middle schools, both as a classroom teacher and as a special educator. She earned her doctorate in educational psychology at the University of Minnesota, focusing on intervention and assessment for students acquiring foundational academic skills. After contributions at the Research Institute on Progress Monitoring, the National Center on Educational Outcomes and the Minnesota Center for Reading Research, Cindy joined NWEA in 2009, where she is currently the Principal Academic for Early Learning Content Design.
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