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The summer slide: Not exactly good for learning

slide-336318_640In my final session with third-grade student, Eduardo, I asked if he had any plans for the summer. In his thickly-accented child’s voice, he said that his family was going to Mexico to visit, and they might stay this time. This sweet boy and I had worked all year to help him grasp word problems, and he was beginning to make headway in May. He was the only 9-year-old I had ever known that spoke with an accent, and now, to hear that he was going to spend at least three months immersed in Spanish, the accent was no longer a surprise. I wondered at whether he would practice word problems over the summer, already knowing the answer.

The summer slide is a well-documented phenomenon, with students going soft under the summer sun. The three-month break from math and reading means that students start the new school year worse off than when they left, requiring at least a month to get back into the groove. Now, imagine how the summer slide impacts English learners, considering that “use it or lose it” is a language classroom litany. Summer vacation for ELs features little exposure to English and little exposure to academic themes, so the achievement gap is extra wide every September.

Susan Gonzalez talks more about the effects of the summer slide on English learners here. Despite the ample data on the summer slide generally, most of the information on ELs specifically anecdotal, which means there isn’t enough evidence to compel the development of summer initiatives geared toward ELs (like this one). As much as we educators should–and do–promote involvement in the home culture and community, when ELs are out of school, they may socialize significantly less with English speakers and in fact, may be barred from such opportunities because of the cost of summer programs.

Free summer programs that are accessible to English learners (if not geared toward them) require the support of school district and municipal leaders, which, though slow-moving, is not impossible to win. With increased awareness of the summer slide and its impact on various student groups, perhaps it can be mitigated in the coming years.

How does the summer slide effect your students? Are you aware of any summer programs in your area that keep young brains from turning to mush?

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