Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Speech and Hearing Science

Research Advisor

Ilsa Schwarz, Ph.D.


Mark Hedrick, Ph.D. Carrie Mills, Ph.D. Kimberly A. Wolbers, Ph.D.


literacy, narrative, poverty


Among the academic challenges faced by students from low socio-economic (SES) homes is the loss of academic skills during the summer months. Unfortunately, the public schools are often unable to provide summer learning opportunities because limited space, funding, and teacher availability. Established community organizations frequently provide summer programs, however, there is little research to indicate that they can be used to address summer learning loss.

A summer program was designed to improve oral and written narrative skills for students from low SES homes. This program was based in a local community ministry and was designed to use thematic units that combined literacy activities with community experiences. Twenty-two students participated in the current study, with ages ranging from 7 years 8 months - 11 years 7 months (mean age = 9 years 2 months).

Based on prior research, it was predicted that the elementary school children from low SES homes who participated in this study would perform significantly lower on language and literacy assessments when compared to normative data. It was also predicted that these students would benefit from a summer literacy program focused on oral and written narratives and evidence significant improvements in narrative skills. It was also hypothesized that as a result of the summer program they would not evidence the expected summer learning loss of reading skills as measured by reading fluency and reading comprehension curriculum-based measures.

Testing prior to the beginning of the summer program showed that the participants obtained significantly lower scores on non-verbal intelligence, passage comprehension, narrative retell and vocabulary standardized assessments. However, students demonstrated decoding skills as measured by word identification and word attack assessments that were within normal limits. Therefore, language comprehension skills were the focus of the summer reading program.

The oral narrative samples gathered at the beginning and at the end of the summer program were scored using the Narrative Scoring Scheme (NSS) and compared to examine changes in both story grammar features (ex., characters, setting), as well as higher level narrative components (ex., cohesion). Written narrative samples were also collected at the onset and at the end of the program and analyzed for length (number of T-units and number of words), complexity (percentage of subordinate clauses) and number of unique vocabulary words. As a indicator of the summer learning loss of reading skills, oral reading fluency and retell fluency curriculum-based measures were obtained weekly from the students.

Results revealed a significant improvement in oral narrative skills and written composition. Students demonstrated a significant difference (t = -2.280, p < .05) between preand post-program oral narrative samples, with scores improving from an average of 22 on the pre-program assessment to 25 on the post-program assessment. Students also demonstrated significant improvements on written narrative samples. The total number of T-units increased from an average of 8.00 T-units at pre-program to 12.29 T-units post-program. In addition, the average number of words per sample increased from 30 words the beginning of the program to 42 words at the end of the program. A significant difference was found for number of unique words per sample (t = -3.199, p < .01), with students demonstrating an average increase of 12 unique vocabulary words in their writing. In addition, there was no significant change in the oral reading fluency and retell fluency measures, indicating that the students did experience a summer learning loss of literacy skills.

As the rate of poverty in the United States continues to grow, children from low SES homes will continue to challenge the educational system. To reduce ‘summer learning loss’, it is imperative to provide evidence-based programs for these students to maintain or facilitate gains in academic abilities during the summer months. Very few studies have examined how summer programs can be used to improve oral and written language skills for elementary school students, from low SES homes. This study demonstrated that a well-designed summer program at a local community center can improve narrative outcomes for students from low SES homes.