Story Shares and the Summer Slide
By Priya Minhas
As summer vacation rapidly approaches, there is no doubt that students and educators alike are looking forward to a few months of downtime to relax and recharge before September rolls around.
However, one of the major concerns that arises from this downtime is the ‘summer slide,’ describing the cumulative effect of not actively ‘learning’ over the summer period.
This is a particularly pressing concern when it comes to reading. Literacy skills improve with practice and so for those students who are currently reading below grade level, two months of practice can do wonders. On the other hand, however, two months without any practice is detrimental and ultimately leads to these students falling further and further behind.
There are a growing number of creative solutions in place to address this issue, such as library meet ups and book swaps. These are largely made possible by passionate educators and parents attempting to make resources accessible and exciting to students. Organizing activities such as these require initiative and motivation on both the part of the student and family. For those who have the access to the necessary resources, and parents who are able to encourage regular reading practice over vacation, the summer months are a wonderful opportunity to instill a love of reading.
However, the sad reality is that for many this is not the case. According to research:
“Low-income children and youth experience greater summer learning losses than their higher-income peers… Low-income students experience an average summer learning loss in reading achievement of more than 2 months.” 
This is primarily due to a lack of literacy resources available to this demographic of students. While they may have access to books thanks to schools or local library initiatives, an overwhelming majority of the low literacy content that is readable by these students is not interesting or relevant to their age group. As one teacher said: “No matter what, students want to read about characters their own age.” 
One of the biggest underlying issues is around engagement -- wanting to read. For avid readers, the thought of having two months of uninterrupted guilt-free reading time is bliss. But for many students this is not the case. Despite educators and libraries making books accessible to students, the students must want and choose to spend their time reading.
For those students who read below grade level, a lack of engagement is often deeply rooted in a negative relationship with reading itself. When you struggle with reading, it is not just an academic issue, but also an emotional one. These students are unlikely to identify themselves as readers. If they do read, it is out of obligation. They often read because they have to, not because they want to.
Prioritizing engagement is therefore at the heart of the solution to the ‘summer slide.’ For any student, regardless of ability level or access to resources, they must be able to enjoy the activity.
In order to make texts inviting to students, the stories themselves must be diverse. This means diversity in terms of the story itself, as well as cultural relevance in the context. The plot, characters, and language should all reflect a wide range of perspectives and experiences. Diversity also applies to the ability level of the texts on a more technical level.
Story Shares’s approach to improving literacy outcomes is particularly relevant in light of this topic. We focus specifically on creating and sharing content that meets students at their individual intersection of interest and ability. Our free, community-generated library includes high interest, high readability stories that are accessible and relevant on both a technical and emotional level.
We are proud that many of the writers in our online community are educators and parents themselves, meaning that they have firsthand experience of working with struggling readers. They are able to identify with some of the experiences and emotional needs that come with learning to read at an older age.
Story Shares is also working to develop our tool in order to personalize the learning process, and to offer a social sharing aspect alongside the reading experience. Students will be able to use a selection of features such as text-to-speech and an illustrated dictionary. They will also be able to interact with their peers, by sharing, reviewing, and recommending stories.
In light of the rapidly approaching summer, Story Shares offers those parents, educators, and literacy professionals working with struggling readers a collection of FREE digital stories. If you’re looking for engaging stories to share with middle and high school students reading below grade level, check our newly designed library here. You can also sign up for our mailing list to stay up to date with our new features.
 http://www.rif.org/us/literacy-resources/articles/keeping-kids-off-the-summer-slide.htm  Teacher testimonial.