Prevent Summer Learning Loss with Orton-Gillingham

Parents can enhance the effectiveness of Orton-Gillingham instruction by applying it at home over the summer months.

What Exactly Is Summer Learning Loss?

Summer learning loss has been a topic of discussion for decades and is sometimes referred to as the summer slide or brain drain. It is a concern for educators, researchers, and parents alike. And while everyone agrees that children deserve a break from school during the summer, it doesn’t have to mean a break from learning. 

It is important for students who are learning to read to maintain educational progress during the summer. Although all students may experience some regression, our concern should primarily be focused on those who are at-risk and already face learning struggles.

Why Worry About Summer Learning Loss

Most sources addressing the summer slide indicate that students may encounter a learning loss ranging from one to three months during a single summer.

However, what is more concerning is the cumulative impact of such losses over the elementary school years. In 2020, the American Education Research Journal published a study documenting students from grades 1 through 6 and their learning growth. 

The sample (18 million students from 7,500 school districts) revealed that 52% of these students experienced an average loss of 39% of their total learning gains over the summer months. 

The consequences can be even greater when we consider the accumulative losses over multiple summers. This is a significant contributor to the 9th-grade achievement gap between students from middle to low-income homes, accounting for two-thirds of the disparity.

Those At-Risk of Summer Learning Loss

Summer learning loss commonly affects students with reading difficulties or disabilities and those from income-disadvantaged homes. English language learners are also at-risk, as research suggests they may need more opportunities to practice reading and speaking English outside of school. 

Students falling into any of these at-risk categories are particularly disinclined to engage in independent reading activities during the summer. Students with learning disabilities, in particular, spend ten months grappling with the daily challenges of learning and tasks that leave them defeated and exhausted. 

The summer months provide opportunities to focus on activities that rebuild confidence and highlight their abilities. This population is especially susceptible to summer learning loss. The learning that occurs during the school year requires guided practice, explicit instruction like Orton-Gillingham, and multiple opportunities for the application of learning skills. The student may be put in a position to start all over again if the learning process is interrupted. 

Committing to ongoing assessment can help identify learning regression in students. Researchers have examined student achievement gains from fall to spring and observed that those who make the most progress during the school year are also at the highest risk of losing the most over the summer. By carefully monitoring student progress and identifying those who show significant learning gains during the school year, we can effectively target students vulnerable to summer learning loss.

Using Orton-Gillingham to Prevent Summer Learning Loss

Educators and parents play a crucial role in preventing summer learning loss and ensuring that students continue to make progress in their reading and language skills during the summer break. By incorporating Orton-Gillingham activities into summer learning routines, educators and parents can provide targeted support to students and help them maintain and strengthen their literacy skills.

First and foremost, educators can collaborate with parents to create summer reading plans that incorporate Orton-Gillingham instruction. They can recommend Orton-Gillingham-based reading materials, such as decodable books or texts emphasizing phonetic patterns and word families. Additionally, educators can provide parents with resources and guidelines on implementing Orton-Gillingham activities at home. This may involve sharing lesson plans, activity ideas, and recommended online tools or apps that align with the Orton-Gillingham approach.

Parents can encourage their children to read aloud, emphasizing phonetic patterns, and providing guidance when needed. They can also engage in word-building exercises, such as making word cards or playing word games that reinforce phonemic awareness and decoding skills. By incorporating multi-sensory components, such as using sand or clay for letter formation, parents can enhance the effectiveness of Orton-Gillingham instruction and make learning engaging and enjoyable for their children.

Educators and parents can prevent summer learning loss by incorporating Orton-Gillingham instruction and activities into students’ summer routines. By recommending Orton-Gillingham-based reading materials, providing resources and guidelines, engaging in multi-sensory activities, and exploring other learning options, they can help students maintain and strengthen their reading and language skills during the break. By investing time and effort in Orton-Gillingham instruction, educators and parents can support students in their ongoing literacy development and set them up for success in the coming school year.