Today we’re talking about reading and how we can move beyond just telling kids reading is important to creating a culture of literacy in our schools.
Recently, I watched a video of a presentation on creating a culture of shared literacy in schools for one of my classes. At the end of the video the presenter, Patrick Higgins, asks his audience the following questions,
“If you say you are an advocate of reading, how are you building culture around this in the work you do? How are you showing students that you value this?”
Good question Patrick (and not one I can answer in less than 500 words as you’ll soon see). When we talk about culture we’re talking about the behaviors and beliefs that characterize a particular group. We’re talking about something that is ingrained into our lives and who we are to the point it is almost inseparable from us. That is no small feat and it is certainly not one that will happen overnight. But I absolutely believe it can happen and it is a goal that is worth the effort to make happen. So, without further ado, here are some of my thoughts and ideas on creating that culture of literacy:
To begin with, you need to honestly in what you are championing. As librarians and future librarians, it probably goes without saying that you believe reading is valuable and important. I’m talking about your selection of reading materials to be championed. Yyou should make sure you start off your efforts by championing types of reading and genres of reading you love and believe to be important. If you truly believe the classics are some of the greatest reads and still have things to offer today’s youth, then tell them all about it, every chance you get, every way you can imagine.
But, if you found the classics boring as a kid and you still haven’t kissed and made up with them, DON’T use them in your early efforts to get kids interested in reading just because “they’re the classics”. Kids will sense your lack of sincerity and not only will you turn them off from the classics with your disingenuousness, you risk turning them off reading all together.
On the other hand, if you talk to them about reading things you actually like to read, your passion and enthusiasm will leap out at them. It wont matter as much if they also like the classics (or mysteries/science fiction/graphic novels etc), the enthusiasm and the idea that reading can be fun and exciting is what will stick with them. Not to mention the fact that they can come to you with questions about what to read because you clearly enjoy it so much you obviously wont mind talking to them about books and helping them find something they are interested in reading too.
Please note, I’m not saying you should only talk about books and genres you like. I am just cautioning that, especially when starting out trying to establish a culture that supports and promotes reading, it will be best to stick with what you truly find exciting and inspiring. As you get more comfortable promoting reading and have established a rapport with your students, you can move on to discussing other genres with them. And remember, if this is truly a culture of literacy, then other teachers and adults in the school community should also be spreading the word that reading is great as well. Between all of you, you should have the genres pretty well covered with your students.
Okay great, we’ve talked about the importance of believing in what you’re promoting and having enthusiasm for the cause when creating a literacy culture in your school but through what venues are you letting this genuine enthusiasm shine?
I suggest a two pronged approached. First, you want to build a foundation where reading and literacy are everywhere in the school, but no one draws special attention to it. You want the students constantly exposed to the idea of books and reading for fun but you want it to seem like a normal part of their day/life and not something that is out of the ordinary. Some ideas for exposing them to reading and books at every turn:
- Staff and student book picks. Have staff and students submit their new favorite book titles to you and each month do a display in the library, or better yet, in one of the school display cases, put the list on the library web page, etc. Put on the announcements when the new picks are out each month.
- Staff and student book reviews. Highlight a book review in the school newspaper, on the website, tape it and make a video review for the website or have it available as a podcast on the website. Try to put them up monthly as well.
- Come up with foods that relate to books and work with the cafeteria to have book themed meals weekly, every other week, monthly, what ever you can manage. (“Cheese Touch Free” grilled cheese sandwiches anyone? Older crowd, maybe you can special “District breads” served with the meals during the month of March) You can make a poster promoting the book and encouraging kids who don’t get the connection to check out the book in the library
- Booktalks-if you’re in a school where you still read aloud to kids, finish up the session with a few quick book talks promoting similar stories. Did someone’s class just start reading about the Civil War? Find some books about the topic, create some book talks and pop by the class to deliver some book talks. Like the book reviews and pick lists, get the book talks up on the library website as videos and podcasts. Feeling creative, make a book trailer instead. You can make trailers or record book talks for new arrivals at the library as well for the website.
- Talk about reading with the students. Have conversations with students, formally and informally, where you ask them what they’ve read recently and tell them what you’ve read. Don’t feel like you have to stick with discussing books either. If you read an interesting article in a magazine, or online, share that with them. Let them know that reading has many forms and encourage them to explore and share their adventures with those varied forms by going first.
The second prong in this approach is the opposite of the first: every now and then, reward students with books/reading opportunities and make a big deal about it. By treating books as rewards or prizes, you’re reinforcing the idea that books and reading are something to be enjoyed and to get excited about it. Two great ideas for treating reading and books like rewards came from my classmates in my Information Management in School class last week:
- Idea #1: On their birthdays, have students go down to the library and select a brand new book for their present. Maybe have a stamp made that says “This book belongs to” and write their name inside.
- Idea#2: When students reach academic milestones, recognize the accomplishment with another trip to the library to choose a brand new book of their own. This time maybe write the accomplishment as well as their name inside (“This book belongs to: Joe Smith. Awarded for receiving perfect scores on all his spelling tests the first quarter”).
So there you have it: some ideas for promoting reading at every turn and hopefully, turning students into willing, eager readers. (A librarian can dream can’t she? :-))