Closing the summer learning gap for vulnerable junior kindergarten students
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Under current academic calendars across North America, summer vacation creates a significant gap in the learning cycle. I t has been argued that this gap actually decreases student achievement levels over the course of the summer. In a synthesis of 39 studies Cooper, Nye, Charlton, Lindsay, & Greathouse (1996) indicated that summer learning loss equaled at least one month of instruction as measured by grade level equivalents on standardized test scores whereby children's test scores were at least one month lower when they returned to school in the fall than scores were when students left in the summer. Specifically, Cooper et aI., (1996) found that the summer learning loss phenomena may be particularly troublesome for less advantaged children including those with speech and language delays, children at-risk for reading disabilities, children from lower socio-economic backgrounds, and children learning English as a second language. In general, research illustrated clearly that the summer learning gap can be particularly problematic for vulnerable children and furthermore, that literacy skills may be the area of achievement that is most affected. A foundational pillar to this research project is including primary caregivers as authentic partners in a summer literacy program designed to support their children's literacy needs. This pillar led the research team to use the Learning Begins at Home: A Research-Based Family Literacy Program Curriculum designed by Antoinette Doyle, Kathleen Hipfner-Boucher, and Janette Pelletier from the Ontario Institute for the Studies of Education. The LBH program is designed to be flexibly adapted to suit the needs of each individual participating family. As indicated by Timmons (2008) literacy interventions are most powerful when they include authentic family involvement. Based on this research, a requirement for participating in the summer literacy program was involvement of a child and one of their primary caregivers. The participating caregiver was integrally involved in the program, participating in workshop activities prior to and following hands-on literacy work with their child. By including primary caregivers as authentic partners, the research team encouraged a paradigmatic shift in the family whereby literacy activities become routine within their household. 5 Participants in this study were 14 children from junior kindergarten classrooms within the Niagara Catholic District School Board. As children were referred to the program, they were assessed by a trained emergent literacy specialist (from Speech Services Niagara) to identify whether they met the eligibility requirements for participation in the summer program. To be eligible to participate, children demonstrated significant literacy needs (i.e. below 25%ile on the Test of Preschool Early Literacy described below). Children with low incidence disabilities (i.e. profound sensory impairments, severe intellectual impairments, developmental disabilities, etc) were excluded as participants. The research team used a standard pre- and posttest design whereby all participating children were assessed with the Test of Preschool Early Literacy (Lonigan et aI., 2007), and a standard measure of letter names and sounds. Pretests were administered two weeks prior to the commencement of the program and the first set of posttests was administered immediately following the program. A second set of posttests was administered in December 2009 to measure the sustainability of the program. As a result of the program, all children scored statistically significantly higher on their literacy scores at the post-program assessment point immediately following the program and also at the Dec-post-program assessment point. These results in general indicated that the summer family literacy program made an immediate impact on the emergent literacy skills of participating children. All participating children demonstrated significant increases in print and phonological awareness as well as their letter sound understanding.