Summer Brain Drain

Kristin D. Gigliotti, M.Ed

It’s that time of year to start looking forward to summer break. As much as parents and guardians might not be excited for the change in routine, teachers and students alike both need time to recharge. Despite all good intentions to keep up with reading during those off months (you know, things like summer reading calendars or scavenger hunts, book logs, summer school or learning camps, etc), summer reading loss is nearly inevitable.

I get it. I was a teacher for a long time, and I always had a list of things I wanted to get accomplished during my time off, but MAN ALIVE did those months fly by… and NOPE, my house never got the tender loving care that I had planned for. So, I understood why children and their families may not have kept up with reading activities; life happens, right? It certainly happened every summer for me, and every August I had unfinished chores as proof.

But unfortunately, according to Scholastic’s reading report, summer break can lead to children forgetting or losing skills that they learn during the school year. In some cases, 1-3 months of reading skills can be lost. At that rate, 3 years of skills can be lost by the end of 5th grade. YIKES. No wonder the beginning of the school year tends to be a challenging time for educators.

Several weeks into the new school year, teachers are trying to get a handle on where their students are. I was a Reading Specialist in a K-3 building, and I always felt bad for the classroom teachers. They would get their roster and have no idea just what their year was going to look like. Some students come in ready and able to receive grade-level instruction, while others need to have a major review of last year’s content before being able to take on anything new. And then, of course, there is the group of students who are so far behind that they haven’t yet obtained last year’s skills at all. The question arises, is this summer slide or something more?


Nationwide reading crisis

Over the past few years, those first several weeks of school have looked different than they have prior to 2020. The question regarding summer slide or something more is increasingly glaring. The group of students coming in reading and able to receive grade-level instruction is getting smaller, while that group of students who are so far behind is getting larger. And what about those who typically needed to review last year’s content before being able to take on anything new? What does that even mean? What should have been covered last year may not have been, simply because the students were not ready at the time. DOUBLE YIKES.

Cue my sympathy for classroom teachers again. Can you imagine having to teach concepts for the first time ever in your career, because much of your class is missing skills from previous years? It is a spiraling effect that will continue to have impacts on planning and instruction, not to mention general well-being, for years to come. TRIPLE YIKES. Teaching is hard enough, don’t you think?


How the pandemic has affected reading benchmarks

In my years as a teacher, I was very data-oriented. A huge part of my job was looking at the numbers. I, of course, had to know which students were not proficient so that I could provide intervention. Looking at numbers now is shocking, and I feel worse for classroom teachers than I ever have.

Curriculum Associates puts out data every fall, and the 2021 numbers speak volumes. 16 percent of 1st graders were considered ready for grade-level work, compared to 24 percent of 2nd graders and 40 percent of 3rd graders. So, what can teachers do to help support those students who aren’t ready, especially seeing as how the majority of their class is below grade level? It has become more and more evident over the past couple of years that the approach to reading instruction needs to shift, and that shift has begun to take shape.


Importance of manipulatives when teaching reading

Children learn by doing. Using multiple senses during activities helps children make connections with their experiences. If children make connections with their experiences, they will be able to recall those experiences and apply them in the future. In multisensory learning, students use more than one sense at a time, giving them more than one way to make connections. This type of approach uses different areas of the brain, and is beneficial for all students, especially those who think differently.

Multisensory instruction includes activities that allow students to gather information in a visual, auditory, tactile, and kinesthetic way. In the NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children) fourth edition of the Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP) position statement, the need for active engagement and inquiry in “ways that support the whole child” is stressed.

One way to achieve this type of instruction is with manipulatives. Moving counters around to represent the sounds in spoken words is a visual, auditory, tactile, and kinesthetic activity all at the same time. Using hand motions, body movements, and various manipulatives while working on skills will make the experiences much more meaningful and memorable for the students, allowing them to be able to recall the experiences later. Anything we can do to help students access and retain information will be a step in the right direction to preventing skill loss. And let’s be honest: manipulatives are fun.


About the author

Following 16 years as a Reading Specialist in a school near Pittsburgh, PA, Kristin D. Gigliotti, M.Ed’s experience brought her to hand2mind. During her time as a Reading Specialist, she often found herself using hand2mind manipulatives, and now she is part of the development process for these products.  In her current role as a Development Editor, she has been able to help expand the company’s multisensory product lines. When she is not working, she is usually at home hanging out with my husband and puppy, or at a sporting event cheering on her son.

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