An Interview with Francie Alexander: Summer Reading

Apr 12, 2012 by

Francie Alexander, Chief Academic Officer, Sr. VP, Scholastic Education.

Michael F. Shaughnessy –

1)What is the “summer slide?”

The “summer slide” is how researchers describe what happens when children take a break from reading – they can lose weeks or even a month of the reading progress made during the school year. Like any skill, reading requires practice, it’s critical that students take the time to read during the summer in order to keep their skills sharp.

2) Why is it so important for students to read over the summer months?

When students don’t read over the summer, teachers typically need 4 to 6 weeks in the fall to re-teach material students have forgotten!

3.) What is the recommended reading amount for students over the summer?

Reading “four or more” of grade appropriate books can halt summer slide. Of course, for kids who are already behind their reading grade level, reading MORE than four books can actually help them close the gap during the summer months.

4.) How do you recommend making the transition from reading at school to home?

During the school year, kids need to do homework and that may mean reading books assigned to them. Families can make reading “homefun” by letting kids choose their own books. Scholastic’s study of kid’s reading (2010 Kids & Family Reading Report, Turning the Page in the Digital Age) found that children are more likely to finish reading books they selected for themselves.

5.) Any tips for parents to encourage their children to read?

Parents may enjoy some summer reading too by setting aside a time for everyone to read and then talk about what books are being read. Our study also found that parents are important reading role models for their children and that when parents read more, so do their kids.

Families can try to incorporate reading into whatever may be going on at home.

Cooking? Recipes can be read and meals cooked together. Travel? Audio books can make car and plane trips more enjoyable. You need to actually read to avert the summer slide but listening to books also helps kids keep up and be more ready to go back to school.

6.) Does Scholastic offer any summer programs?

Scholastic Summer Challenge, a free program to encourage students to have fun reading during the summer. Students can log minutes to win prizes and help set a new world record in Summer Reading. The 20 schools that log the most minutes will be featured in the 2013 Scholastic Book of World Records. The campaign encourages teachers and parents to work together to keep kids reading outside of school and battle this year’s “summer slide.”

With the Scholastic Summer Challenge, educators can:

●Sign up their entire class with bulk registration at

●Register by June 30 to be entered to win the Summer Challenge Teacher Sweepstakes.

Prizes include: a custom classroom library, $250 gift certificate to the Teacher Store, and one year subscription to Scholastic Administrator and Scholastic Instructor magazines.

●Use a personalized classroom dashboard to track reading minutes for the class and individual students

●View a virtual map with a list of top schools and find participation statistics for an entire school, city, state, and country

●Make the transition from reading at school to home easier then ever — The Summer Challenge website includes free resources for the home such as printable reading logs, letters to send home and a new reading list for parents to help their kids find books they will enjoy reading, and much more.

●Sign up their class for 2 different webcasts, Series Favorites: Heroes, Scamps, & Sidekicks, and the WordGirl Definition Competition

●Get students and their families excited about the new Scholastic Reading Timer mobile app (for iPad, iPhone and Android Smartphones). Launching May 1, kids can upload their reading minutes for the Scholastic Summer Challenge to earn virtual prizes and parents can track their child’s reading stats all summer long.

7.) Many teachers monitor e-mail and some teachers even have voicemail and e-voicemail to remind parents about the importance of reading. Should these devices and technology be used? When do they become intrusive?

Whatever works as a reminder to keep reading can be helpful because kids want to please their teachers too. I used to send home calendars for June, July, and August, with recommendations to read everyday and to keep track of reading by jotting down books and time read in the boxes for each day. Parents appreciate the reinforcement and when teachers and parents are working together it sends a powerful and consistent message about summer reading to kids.

8.) I know that my local schools have books put on reserve for gifted kids in the local library, and that teachers of Advanced Placement classes, also have books on reserve in the library- good idea or are there other ways ( for example e-books)?

I can tell you from my years as a classroom teacher that parents want to help. Libraries, bookstores, and the website can provide great resources for giving parents the support they need for keeping their kids reading all summer long, including cool incentives for reading and access to great kids’ e-Books through Scholastic Storia, a free eReading app designed to help kids learn and love to read in a fun and interactive way. Storia comes with FIVE FREE eBooks, and offers a collection of quality, digital children’s picture books, early readers, chapter books, and YA titles, many enriched with vocabulary and comprehension games, that kids and parents will love.

9.) Tough question, but one that has to be asked- what about accountability? How will teachers hold parents accountable for encouraging reading over the summer?

I would stress appreciation over accountability. Kids want to learn, teachers want to teach and parents want to help, and when everyone pulls together, student achievement goes up and no one has to go down the summer slide

10.) What have I neglected to ask?

It is estimated that the “Summer Slide” accounts for as much as 85% of the reading achievement gap between lower income students and their middle- and upper-income peers. During the school year, lower income children’s skills improve at close to the same rate as those of their more advantaged peers – but over the summer, middle- and upper-income children’s skills continue to develop. We want to be sure ALL children read over the summer months as an important way to close the achievement gap.

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