A new study in the Journal of Educational Psychology finds that students who read more books over the summer are not necessarily better readers when they come back to school in the fall.
Of the 331 children grades 1-5 who participated in the study, about half received 10 books in the mail to read during the summer. While those children did read more than their peers who did not receive books in the mail, they did not score any higher in a reading achievement test in the fall, reports James Kim, a researcher from the University of California, Irvine.
Small effect sizes from the intervention for grades 1-2 suggest that those children are too young to benefit from a voluntary reading intervention in which they receive no assistance in decoding unfamiliar words and monitoring their comprehension from teachers, parents or tutors. However, Kim says, except for Grade 4, students in the intervention group did read more. In Grade 4, Kim says there were baseline differences in reading attitudes between the treatment and control groups. He says this underscores the importance for future researchers to match children not only on cognitive measures but on affective measures on reading.
On average, children in the intervention group read 3 more books than children who were in the control group. Supplying children with books over the summer may address one of the possible causes of “summer reading loss.,” the researcher says. Children from lower-income families may lose ground in reading over the summer because they simply do not have enough access to books, he says. In this study, children from low-income homes reported owning fewer books than their middle-income peers–18% said they owned as few as 0-10 books for kids compared with 3% of their middle-income classmates.
“If print exposure were increased over multiple summers, the cumulative impact might be larger for low-income and minority children who own fewer books and have fewer opportunities to read at home than for middle-class and white children,” Kim writes. However, claims about the efficacy of voluntary reading interventions will require evidence from a larger experiment that addresses the instructional and methodological limitations of the current study. Ultimately, findings from this study support an agnostic stance on the effectiveness of voluntary reading interventions and offer guidance for future research.”
One of the unique features of this study on summer reading was that students were mailed 10 books from the last week of June to the first week of September. The books, a mix of fiction and non-fiction texts, were suitable for the children’s reading levels and matched to their reading preferences. Teachers encouraged children to read the 10 books over the summer in their end-of the-school-year reading lessons. A letter from the teacher was included when each book was mailed. Children were encouraged to answer questions about the books on postcards and to return a postcard after reading each book.
In the spring, children were pretested with the Stanford Achievement Test (SAT10) and tested again with the SAT10 in the fall. Children also took the Elementary Reading Attitude Survey (ERAS) and completed a 20-item preference survey. About 23% of the children qualified for free lunch and 23% had Spanish as a primary language; the sample was 50% female.
At the end of summer, the researcher surveyed children about the number of books they read and the frequency with which they engaged in 10 literacy activities at home over the summer. The survey also included a question about the number of books children owned. After the experiment, 32% of low-income children in the control group reported owning 0-10 books. Only 3% of low-income children in the intervention group reported owning so few books. (Children in the control group received 10 books in the mail after the completion of the experiment).
On average, children in the control group in grades 4-5 reported reading 4-6 books over the summer, which correlates to results obtained from other survey research.
To make voluntary reading programs more effective, teachers may have to play a greater role, by scaffolding silent reading activities during classroom lessons and by instructing children how to monitor their comprehension of text, Kim writes.
Some studies suggest reading gains on standardized tests are larger when teachers combine instruction with independent reading activities. Another issue is whether voluntary reading interventions are more developmentally appropriate for older children than for young children. “If children cannot decode words on their own, there is no reason to believe that a voluntary reading intervention, in which children receive no support or feedback from teachers, would improve reading achievement,” Kim writes.
“The Effects of a Voluntary Summer Reading Intervention on Reading Activities and Reading Achievement,” by James Kim, Journal of Educational Psychology, Volume 99, Number 3, pp. 505-515.