Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Avoiding the summer slide

by Rachel

A couple of years ago, before moving to New York, I worked as a Kindergarten teacher in San Francisco. I can remember quite well the day before summer vacation began—almost every teacher was complaining that the time spent away from school during the summer would have students forgetting everything they had learned that year. That’s not to say teachers wanted to stay in class and teach all summer, but the “summer slide” was definitely apparent on the first day back at school, and so something to cause a lot of worry. So, come the last day of school, I sent my students home with their backpacks full of books—they thought Christmas had arrived (and how happy I was to see 5- and 6-year-olds excited about reading!).

David Brooks’ article in the NY Times last week was an interesting read, as he touched on the effects of books on a child’s learning, especially in regards to the power of books over the summer period. According to results, students who took home 12 books over their summer vacation had significantly higher reading scores than other students (to be expected, I would imagine), but that having books in the home also produces other significant educational gains.

Another study brought to our attention in the article illustrates the effects of the internet and the declining math and reading scores of students. Though the internet helps one become knowledgeable about current events and trends (and what our friends are up to every second of the day), it is the literary world, says David Brooks, that produces better students right now.

I’m going to agree with Mr. Brooks on his opinion. As I saw with my young students, the class computer was fun (and incredibly popular during free time), but reading books gave my Kindergarteners something more, and there was such pride on my students’ faces when they had finished reading a book that I never saw when they had finished a game on the computer. Seeing my students beaming from taking home a backpack of books on the last day of school—and having a love of books themselves—was definitely worth all the headaches of being a Kindergarten teacher.

While reading the comments following the Times article, it seems there are many people who feel as though the internet has affected our attention span, and so made it more difficult to sit down and enjoy a good book with all the distractions out there—breaking news, twitter updates, constant email notifiers etc.

So, my question is: do you think books and the internet are two different worlds and able to complement each other? Or, do you think the internet really is the downfall of our students and their love of books?


  1. It really depends on how it is used. Like television, the internet can be used for licentious entertainment, or for real educational content.

    What surprised me the most with my own kids (two boys), was that they skipped reading children's books almost entirely. At twelve, my oldest prefers to read Louis L'Amour novels, and the younger brother usually has his nose in a Popular Science magazine or an art book.

    They use an internet-based homeschool curriculum, which requires them to read more than play games, and when school is over for the day, they are ready to something other than look at the computer screen.

    So, I really think that most kids, given the opportunity to choose, will find books that they like, in spite of having the internet to distract them. If given adequate structure to their internet use, it can be a tremendous tool for developing creativity, and add to their knowledge and skill. Without structure, just like television, they will tend toward the baser nature, and rot their brains. Just like we would...

  2. A teacher-blogger I know raised a good point: we see ourselves differently depending on the media we use.

  3. Somewhere in between? I think the internet makes the sound-byte nature of our culture more prevalent, and that does affect our attention spans. But I think the internet can be used to help learning. For children, I'm sure there are great interactive encyclopedias and the like, and as a library worker, I can attest to the fact that many people of all ages are able to access more information through databases and the like.

    But I think we must encourage children to read longer works, and that we need to make sure their curriculum is structured well so that their education does not became based around one tool (such as the computer).

  4. I'm a poster for either side. Or rather my 16 year old son is. He's being playing computer games since he was two and is very much a child of the Internet age. He also has ADHD.

    On the other hand, he's been reading at college level since 5th grade, reads a lot of books (and reads a lot), and he's working as an intern at a microscopy lab working with (and adjusting) an electron microscope this summer.

    So, he supports both paradigms: "too much" internet "causes" ADHD and reading "a lot" makes kids smarter.

    Of course, maybe ADHD kids are drawn to the internet, rather than the internet causing ADHD. Maybe smart kids like reading, rather than reading making kids smart.

    Or maybe it's a mix of both, or something else :)

  5. I think the younger the kid, the less they need computer time. I would rather that my k'er (and his younger sibs) spend their time reading (or looking at) books, being outside, doing art, and playing board and card games. My kids get very little screen time overall, and I think it's done them a world of good. I've noticed that when we do watch something on TV or play games on the Internet, it has a deleterious effect on their behavior.

    My kids are surrounded by books. We regularly bring home massive canvas tote bags filled with books from two different libraries. I love to see the 5 yo, 4 yo and the 1 yo all sitting on the couch in a row, "reading" books (well, really reading in the 5 yo's case :)).

  6. Both of my teenage daughters used to do all the social media to keep up with their friends, but after time it became a lot less important to them. They both enjoy reading (the 13 year old especially), plus both have other interests. My 17 year old plays the clarinet and saxaphone while my youngest is a pretty good artist. If there's anything that they do which I wish they did less of is text message. They are lost without their cell phones.

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