Summer is right around the corner. Here’s how teachers can engage students over the break.

In the past year, parents have had more access to teachers than ever before. During the height of the coronavirus pandemic, teachers interacted with virtual classrooms filled with students —often with parents observing nearby.

“In comes cases, I think access to families and family engagement has increased,” said Jenny Nordman, an associate professor of reading and literacy at Regis University. “You can have quick, face-to-face communication with parents using Zoom or Google Meet, and you can do it without having to set up a formal conference. That’s one of the benefits to remote access.”

As summer break approaches, the virtual engagement that has become ubiquitous during the past year will come to a stop, and the summer backslide in student achievement will begin.

“Research has found that the average student will experience some achievement decrease over the summer,” Nordman said. “However, for at-risk students, that can be up to a four-month backslide in achievement over the summer if they don’t have access to books. That is significant, especially for our disadvantaged students.”

So, what can teachers do now to keep the momentum going — both in achievement and family engagement — during the summer? Nordman offered the following advice:

Look into programs that offer free books. The best source of free books? The library. Nordman said teachers should encourage parents to get a library card for their children and make regular summertime visits.

In addition, teachers can check if their school qualifies for programs that provide books. “One of them is RIF – Reading is Fundamental,” Nordman said. “They actually donate books, brand-new books, to every single student in low-income schools, as long as the school is part of the program. It’s a great way to get books into the hands of kids. Scholastic Publishing also has programs.”

Encourage parents to look at summer activities as fun opportunities for learning. As families make summer plans, they should help their children to learn more about the activities that interest them. It’s equally important for parents to engage with students as they’re reading.

“Another thing that teachers should really encourage parents to do is dialogic reading, which is to read together and have a dialogue about it,” she said. “And that doesn’t require any specialized expertise other than reading and talking.”

Nordman offered an additional piece of advice for teachers: Remember to take time for yourself. “I would also say that teachers have to take some time for themselves and just refuel,” Nordman said, “because it has been a challenging year for teachers, for parents, and for students.”

Teach life-changing literacy skills with graduate education programs designed for licensed teachers. Explore Regis University’s reading programs.