What Summer Slide Actually Means—and 5 Ways to Fight it

Diversity and Equity

What Summer Slide Actually Means—and 5 Ways to Fight it

By Ariel Goldberg     Jul 12, 2018

What Summer Slide Actually Means—and 5 Ways to Fight it

Last September, a friend from graduate school forwarded me a Brookings Institute article written by David M. Quinn and Morgan Polikoff. The article begins with a series of disappointing—but unsurprising—statistics about the summer slide, a term used to describe the academic regression experienced by students over the summer.

In their overview of the summer slide, Quinn and Polikoff offer a few key facts:

  • Learning and achievement are perishable. The average student loses a month of academic-calendar learning each summer.
  • The impact of the summer slide contributes to a more pronounced achievement gap.
  • Research has found a link between socioeconomic status and the loss of reading skills experienced over the summer.
  • Studies show older students lose more over the summer than younger ones.
  • Students see greater academic dips in math than in reading.

All this academic data correlates with my experience as a teacher. My colleagues and I budgeted substantial amounts of time to reteach our students the skills that they had learned the year before; it was no secret that summer vacation led to rusty skills and forgotten knowledge.

The impact of summer vacation has garnered interest beyond school practitioners. Researchers have explored this topic for more than a century, and many companies make the summer slide a priority when creating editorial calendars, launching sales and contributing to field-wide discussions. Yet for all of the attention it receives, the summer slide has continued year after year. The question is, why?

The Faucet Theory

After mapping out the summer slide and its impact on students, Quinn and Polikoff go on to describe the “faucet theory” from the book “Summer Learning and Home Environment.” This theory provides a hypothesis as to why the summer slide hits lower-income children harder.

The “‘resource faucet’ is on for all students during the school year,” Quinn and Polikoff explain, “enabling all students to make learning gains. Over the summer, however, the flow of resources slows for students from disadvantaged backgrounds but not for students from advantaged backgrounds. Higher-income students tend to continue to have access to financial and human capital resources (such as parental education) over the summer, thereby facilitating learning.”

By recognizing that the summer slide is a problem and accepting the faucet theory as a plausible explanation, then the next step should be identifying reasonable and sustainable steps teachers can take to combat the slide.

How To Keep the Faucet Running

Assuming that more resources help prevent the summer slide and fewer resources exacerbate it, teachers need to make a point of helping students gain access to resources throughout the summer. Below are 5 ways that teachers can keep the resource faucet on over the break.

Get ‘em to the library. Make sure students and their families know how to access their public libraries and the resources that libraries provide such as programming, knowledgeable librarians and multimedia resources. Additionally, direct families to Epic!, a digital library with more than 25,000 books and learning videos designed for students. Epic! gives kids immediate access to digital versions of classic books like “A Wrinkle in Time” and “Bridge to Terabithia.”

Keep the communication going. Quinn and Polikoff bring up “human capital resources” to emphasize that home-school connections remain crucial over the summer. Teachers can help families understand how their children can develop and maintain academic skills throughout their vacation. By using free and secure platforms like ClassDojo or Remind to communicate with families all summer long, teachers can share a reading strategy of the week, suggest local educational opportunities, or assign work.

Invite students to join you…digitally. From Facebook Live to more traditional LMS systems like Canvas and Schoology, technology has made it possible to teach remotely. Over the summer, teachers can teach their students new material, hold refresher sessions, and be available for office hours.

Assign work. Summer vacation is long and students hungry to learn may complete their summer packets within a few days. Use programs such as Newsela and Flocabulary to maintain a stream of educational activities.

Find the version for home. Many of the programs that teachers use in school have versions designed for families. If you use a digital teaching tool that you think moves the needle, see if parents can use a variation of that tool over the summer. Storybots, BrainPOP and IXL Learning are just a few of the tools teachers use, which offer family subscriptions.

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