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Summer Reading Intervention: Self-Care

By Justin Stygles
 | Jun 20, 2018

Summer Reading InterventionWhen I think of summer reading, I think about the scores of fifth- and sixth-grade students arriving at my makeshift, intervention-based literacy classroom, prepared to embark on a summer reading challenge. My readers do not share the same sentiment. In their minds, summer reading means, How long can I passively resist this required hour of reading intervention?

As each summer day drifts by, I can’t help but wonder if we were all set up to fail in the first place. My summer school kids know exactly why they are in summer school. They think that summer reading is what happens to kids who “can’t read” during the school year. Yet, here these students are, amid the consequence of their “failure,” while their friends are off in pools or lakes taking in the delights of summer.

Reading at the middle level is more than reading skills, such as phonics and decoding. Reading is also more than strategies and questions. Yet, when I ask administrators about our goals and outcomes for summer reading, I am told,  “We need to prove we maintained or improved their reading levels to report to the state.”

Who is reading really about?

Readers at the middle level spend a consuming amount of time figuring out who they are. Too often, reading is rejected from this identity, for good reason. Reading is often presented as an imposition, something that needs to be done for someone. When reading toward an assessment, score, or level, students know the purpose of summer reading. That purpose is not for their own benefit.

What about self-care?

There is an unacknowledged degree of self-care in reading. Many of the students who sit in my summer reading program lack basic consciousness of self-care. Still young, they live their lives at the whims and decisions of others. Their enrollment is beyond their control, making the intervention somewhat counterproductive.

Investing time to help students develop self-efficacy, self-regulation, and metacognition, as well as to reframe their self-perception, should be prioritized over skill-based reading. When readers are invested in the development of their own reading process, they acquire the skills they need to become more proficient readers. In some of my summer reading settings, we focus on supporting readers’ engagement with text. We spend time determining book selection, and discussing the feelings and emotions attached to reading. Over time, these students build the skills needed to embrace more challenging texts. Now the door is open to focus on skills.

When a reader adopts reading as a form of self-care, he or she accepts reading as a means to improve himself or herself. He or she is more likely to explore resources and avenues to overcome challenges, without fear or consequence. The middle-level reader who uses reading as self-care takes times out of his or her busy day to relieve stress. The reader also prioritizes the conditions in which he or she reads to maximize the experience.

Reading is a cognitive practice. But reading also requires a sense of security and confidence. We all know middle school readers whose minds are moving 1,000 miles per hour, whose emotions are inconsistent, and whose sense of self changes as often as the lights on the Empire State Building. When the reader’s physiology is in flux, adopting reading as a measure of self-care is a complicated task. Often these readers assume a degree of shame about their “inability” to read comfortably like their “smarter” peers.

I feel the summer reading classroom should be a substitute for what readers may not have available to them outside of school. My summer classroom is a scaffold to autonomous reading rather than a continuation of instructional situations that fueled the readers’ reluctance.

If reading was about the child’s well-being—rather than the reading level—would we have as many reluctant middle-level readers in our summer classrooms?

I think the answer is no.

In turn, rather than finding ways to remind middle-level readers of their weakness, we should help them experience the positive effects on their emotional, physical, and cognitive well-being. When our readers invest in reading as a form of self-care, they will become more receptive readers, rather than resistant.

Justin Stygles is a fifth-grade teacher in Wiscasset, Maine. He’s taught for 15 years in various settings. You can follow him on Twitter at @justinstygles.

1 comment

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  1. Sandra | Jul 10, 2018

    Justin, after reading your piece about summer school I couldn't help but notice the feelings of frustration you felt toward your summer school students and their reluctance about reading. Yes it is an important skill to have, and yes they need to have these skills. But I cannot help wondering if maybe you tried a different approach. Make it fun, there are other ways of learning after all. I myself am a visual learner and learn more by doing. You could choose a book they may be familiar with, watch a film connected with the book (Great Expectations by Charles Dickens or The Book Thief by Markus Zusak) or find out if your local library stocks audio books. If the weather is good, take your class outside.  Maybe they could write a review of the book or reinterpret it themselves having listened to the audio book or watched it on screen. Learning needs to be fun and interactive...for all. There are many interactive learning websites. If a child is forced to stay indoors in the summer months while their friends are enjoying the sunshine they will become restless, bored and worse resentful and will not want to learn. 

    If I have crossed the line I apologize, but sometimes we need to take a step back and reassess. I hope my suggestions help you a little. 


    South Kilkenny


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