I have been pleading with teachers for a few years to please help students become passionate readers. I have given as many ideas as I could and directed toward the great minds that inspire me as well. I have begged at times, sharing the words of my students as proof that we teachers have an immense power when it comes to either nurturing a love of reading or killing it. There are so many things we teachers can do that will have a lasting effect.
And yet, it is not just the teachers that have an immense power over whether children will read or not. It turns out that much of that power also lies within the realm of administration. In fact, many of you that are doing incredible things to create schools that are seen as literacy communities that cherish the act of reading and becoming readers. What are they doing? What can you do to foster a love of reading school-wide?
You can believe in choice for all. That means protecting the rights of students to read the books they choose. To help staff support this as well by speaking about choice, and making sure not to put restrictive policies in place that will hinder a child from developing their own reading identity. That will stop a child from choosing a book they want to read. Teachers should not be the only ones choosing books for students, please don’t put them in that position. Instead, they should be working with students to learn how to self-select great books based on many things, not just their levels!
You can buy books. Research shows again and again how vital having not only a well-stocked school library, but also a full classroom library, is to students becoming better readers. Students need books at their finger tips, not far away, and they need high quality, high interest books. That takes money, please help out in any way you can.
You can fight to have a librarian full-time in your building. Everywhere we are seeing libraries that have no librarians, yet a knowledgeable librarian can be the lifeblood of a reading community. I know budgets are being slashed, but the librarian should be seen as a necessity in schools, not as an unnecessary privilege.
You can celebrate books read. Not the number of minutes logged or the points gained in computer based reading programs. How about keeping a running tally of how many books students self-selected to read and then finished? How about you keep a display board of all of the picture books being shared in your school, yes, even in middle school and high school? Celebrate the right things, not the ones that can kill a love of reading.
You can protect the read aloud. When schedules are made there should be time placed for reading aloud. This should not be seen as a frill, nor as something that would be nice to fit in if only we had more time. All students at every age should encounter an adult that reads fluently with expression aloud to them every day. It develops their minds as readers and creates community. This should not just be reserved for special times in elementary school but should be protected throughout a child’s reading experience in school.
You can promote independent reading time. Students reading silently is not time wasted, it is one of the most important investments we can make in our school day for any child, any age. If you want children to become better readers, then give them the time to read.
You can hire teachers that love reading. I am amazed that there are teachers who teach literacy in any capacity that do not identify themselves as readers. This should not be happening. Years of experience shows that students will read more if we read as well and are able to create a book community where our love of reading is a cornerstone of what we do. Even when I taught non-literacy subjects, even when I taught science, the fact that I read for my own pleasure meant that our conversations were deeper, more engaging, and the students trusted me as a reading role model.
You can use levels for books and not for children. Too often the levels that a child reads at becomes their entire reading identity. Yet, that level is meant to be a teacher’s tool and not a child’s label to quote Fountas and Pinnell. That level should be a part of that child’s reading identity but not the thing that defines them. We should not have policies in place where students can only choose books that are at their levels, but instead have policies that promote exploration of texts so that students have a natural chance to figure out who they are as readers. Confining them, even if meant to be helpful, will hurt them in the long run.
You can have tough conversations. Part of my job as a teacher is to grow and learn and while I think that most of my ideas are solid, I wish an administrator would have questioned me when I had students do reading logs and forced book reports a few years back. While the push-back may be hard to swallow, it certainly would have made me think. However, within those tough conversations, please do listen to the teacher as well. What are they basing their decisions on? Perhaps they are the ones who are right, perhaps not, but ask the questions and keep the bigger goal in mind; students who like to read!
What else can you do to create a school where the love of reading flourishes?
You can be a guest read alouder.
You can have books in your office for students to read.
You can share your own reading life by displaying your titles outside your office.
You can make assemblies and other fun events celebrate literacy.
You can bring in authors.
You can promote reading literacy projects like The Global Read Aloud or Dot Day.
You can ask students what they are reading whenever you see them.
You can institute school-wide independent reading time.
You can stand up for poor literacy decisions being made within your district.
You can ask your teachers for ideas. You can ask your students what they need and then implement their wishes when possible.
You can send your teachers to professional development with the likes of Kylene Beers, Donalyn Miller, Penny Kittle, Kelly Gallagher and any other of the incredibly talented literacy experts that inspire us all.
There are so many things that fall within your realm, please help us teachers (like my principal Shannon Anderson does) protect the love of reading that students have and nurture it as we teach. You can choose to create passionate reading environments or you can support decisions that smother them. The choice is yours.
If you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students. The 2nd edition and actual book-book (not just e-book!) comes out September 22nd from Routledge, but rumor has it that it is out on Kindle already!