Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Investigating the Summer Learning Effect in Low SES Schools

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Investigating the Summer Learning Effect in Low SES Schools

Article excerpt

Variability in the Summer Learning Effect in Years 4-6

Many school systems strive for more equitable outcomes and our knowledge of how to design more equitable schools has advanced in recent years (McNaughton, 2011). But a major barrier to generalised success continues to be the 'summer learning effect' (SLE) where students' achievement declines over summer. The effect differentially affects students from low socioeconomic status (SES) communities and from some cultural groups and creates a barrier to equity that gets larger over time.

The effect is known internationally to contribute to more than half of the overall differences in literacy achievement between low and high SES youth: after 5 years at school the cumulative effect of summer differences is greater than the differences in school literacy scores apparent at school entry (Alexander, Entwisle and Olson, 2007). Resulting achievement gaps contribute to on-going inequity in high school placements, dropout rates and college attendance. In New Zealand similar obstacles are apparent. Lai, McNaughton, Amituanai-Toloa, Turner and Hsiao (2009) identify the 'staircase shape' of achievement levels, which show reading gains within school years tempered by a plateau over summer, a pattern similar to those identified in the United States (Borman, 2000).

In this study we conceive of literacy development as a co-construction between learners and more expert persons that occurs through engagement in activities that define the practices of families and schools. These activities are dependent on resources in these settings. This means that forms of literacy develop at home through valued practices, but that families may differ in their focus on, their access to, and their provision of support for those literacy activities that relate to development at school. Optimally, guidance at school in how to read enables the learner to become increasingly self-regulated and engaged in valued activities such as independent reading, and this generalises to out-of-school reading. But because development is partly dependent on the relationships between practices across the settings, increasing the complementarity of the activities between settings such as access to, guidance for, and engagement in high-interest texts appropriate for literacy development at school is predicted to contribute to the developmental potential of both settings (Bronfenbrenner, 1979).

Three general sources of influence on literacy development over summer can be predicted from this view of development. These are, the child's engagement in literacy activities which relate to school learning; the school's contributions to that engagement through direct guidance to students (e.g., in developing strategies for 'independent reading') and indirect influences with the student and significant family members (e.g., providing access to engaging books or advice on how to access and use the local library); and home and community contributions, such as providing activities which contribute to engagement. This study sought to identify the contribution of each of these sources to students' learning over summer.

There is research evidence that substantiates the role of the aforementioned sources on summer learning differences. In terms of students' practices, Heyns (1978) demonstrated that volume of summer reading is an indicator of summer loss or gain. According to her calculations, for every four books read over summer one month's achievement gain occurred. Importantly, volume of reading was associated with income level and access to a library.

A necessary condition for volume of summer reading is access to engaging texts. Disparity of access has been described in communities and homes (Allington & McGill-Franzen, 2009, Neuman & Celano, 2001), and programmes have been implemented to address the disparity, often, providing books for disadvantaged children (e.g., Duffy Books in Homes, n. …

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