Research has found that two-thirds of the 9th grade reading achievement gap between low-income students and middle- and high-income students can be attributed to the skills they lose during their elementary school summers. The New America Foundation and the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop this week co-hosted a discussion, “Anytime, Anywhere Summer Learning,” in partnership with the National Summer Learning Association and the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, to explore how educators can push back against this phenomenon.
Two key themes emerged during the June 10 event in Washington. First, the speakers talked about the need to involve parents and community members in improving students’ reading skills.
“We won’t solve this problem by putting every child in an eight-week, comprehensive summer learning program,” said Sarah Pitcock, the CEO of the National Summer Learning Association. “Every city can’t afford to do that for free for all the children who need it, but it’s also not the best fit for every family. Instead, we need a variety of solutions—ways that turn settings that might not typically be educational into learning settings and ways to turn staff who might not be teachers into competent educators.”
“The concept of anywhere, anytime challenges us to broaden our view of how and where learning takes place,” said Sandra Gutierrez, the national director of Abriendo Puertas/Open Doors, a Los Angeles-based program that trains Latino parents to promote school readiness. “It’s something we have to share with parents who might have a traditional view of learning equals school.”
Librarians, after-school program staff, and church volunteers are among the community members who can be mobilized to help students retain and improve literacy skills, other speakers said.
Second, the panelists agreed that technology like smartphone apps, programs that allow parents to follow what their children are learning online, and digital libraries (like we covered recently on this blog) can help prevent summer slide.
“What we’re trying to do with out-of-school-time learning and particularly summer learning is keep them in the practice of learning and know that learning is something that doesn’t stop in June and start up again in September,” said Michael Fragale, the vice president for educational programming and services at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. “A way to do that is through the use of media and technology, because that’s where kids are. And that’s where parents are.”
Technology can help transform spaces outside school, like homes and recreation centers, into learning spaces, Pitcock said.
However, access to technology remains a problem, several speakers noted. Public housing communities may not have broadband access. Libraries in low-income communities often have waits of more than an hour to use a computer. And parents need guidance in understanding how to use technology to promote learning.
“There are so many tools and apps out there, parents don’t know even where to begin,” Fragale said.
There’s also the problem that some parents think digital games or books take care of the job of educating their children.
Susan Neuman, a professor of early childhood and literacy education at New York University, said she worries that vital learning time is being lost to time spent with technology, including parents’ focus on their own smartphones.
“I often say to parents, put down that cellphone, look at your child and have a conversation,” she said. “What will enable them to learn about reading and to love reading is that caring adult who is sitting next to that child” reading to them.
Watch an archived stream of the event here.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Time and Learning blog.