We are a community of readers. It snuck up on us as it usually does. Last week, as my students sat with their chosen reading adventures and I tried to figure out who to confer with, I noticed the silence. That beautiful silence that comes from a large group of kids totally immersed in the task they are doing. The concentration only broken by the quiet ding of the timer. And they came back up for air and I wished that I could give them more than the lousy ten minutes we start with every day.
I know the research and what is says about independent reading. That students, no matter the age, need time every single day to sink into a self-chosen book that will hold their attention and propel them toward better reading. That reading more will make them read more. But I also know that giving them time is not enough.
That all students will not just fall in love with reading simply by someone saying “Read.” That we must be intentional when it comes to building our community of readers in such a way that it does not feel contrived, but will grow on its own.
Many of us who love reading know this, but there are so many more that do not as Donalyn Miller so eloquently writes here. So what is it we need beyond the time? Because the time to read is really just the first step, what else is there to creating a community of readers?
There is a passionate teacher. We must love our books. We must love the act of reading. Students look to us for the passion they may lack and we must live it. We must be the reading role model that some students have never had. And not just the English teachers, but as many adults in a building as possible. Celebrate a culture of reading to show students how reading can enrich all of our lives.
There are high quality books. There is no magic number to how many books a library must have to be considered great, but there is a level of quality that needs to be present. Yes, weeding books can be painful but if students cannot see the books they want to read they will not dig through the piles to find them. Display books like they do in the book store, be mindful of the books that call out to students and change it up.
There must be books in many places. Every classroom should have a classroom library. It does not matter how well-stocked the school library is; students need immediate access to great books so that when their mind wanders and they abandon a book they can get another one right away. Partner with your school librarian; together we are stronger and spread the books out. Put rain gutters up with books for students to grab throughout the school, hold a school wide book drive to get more books in the hands of students, set up a Little Free Library. Make books a presence not an afterthought.
The books are accessible. Too often the systems we put in place, such as the way students check out books, stand in the way of reading. Find out what works for you and make sure it is easy for students. I gave up my checkout system several years ago and now function on trust, I have not regretted it.
There must be choice. And not just choice in what they read, but also choice in where they read and how they read. Audio books have made the biggest difference from some of our most adamant non-readers; they finally have a chance of having rich book conversations like their peers. Allowing students to lie on the floor or get comfortable while reading has helped as well. How many of us choose to read behind a desk when we are at home.
There should be picture books. Picture books are one of the biggest gateways to sustained reading progress in our classroom. Every child can read a picture book, even the ones that say they hate reading.
There should be trust. No more reading logs for all kids to prove that they are reading. No more parent signatures that probably are not truthful anyway.
Reading should be its own reward. No more trinkets, toys, or stickers. No more stars, points, or yo-yos. When a child finishes a book, hand them another book or even better; have them find one on their own.
There should be student talk. Students should have the opportunity to discuss the books they love so much, to hand favorites books to others, to explain why they abandoned a book, to discuss why they may not be reading.
There should be room for all readers. Our emphasis for celebration should be on all of our readers, not just the ones that read the most books or pages. We need to reclaim the term “slow reader” and help students realize that being slow also means that you are careful and that is thing to be proud of.
There should be uninterrupted time to read. Not continual interruptions by the teacher to ask questions or teach another lesson, not a continued quest to get as many post-it notes in our pages read. Let students read and then think. Let students read and then jot if they want. If they do not have anything to write, let them have a conversation instead.
There should be goal setting. True reflection where the students can see what they are strong in and how they need to grow. Where they have the time to ponder their own reading habits and figure out what else they need. And it does not have to be on paper or be silent; built in time to discuss with others should be a part of it as well, and that includes conferring with the teacher.
Creating a reading community; one that allows students to fall in love or stay in love with books should be a priority for us all. And it truly starts with us; we can give them the time, but we must give them so much more. What else do we need to do?