On Reading Logs

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I write this post not to shun, not to rage, and not to put down. I write this post not to say what is right or wrong, but instead to add a little tiny piece to the ongoing discussion of where reading logs may or may not fit into our classrooms.  Of the damage and the usefulness of reading logs.  This is not a post with absolutes, or at least, I don’t think it will be.  Instead it is a post meant for discussion.

I have written before on my complicated relationship with reading logs; from being a teacher who demanded all students fill them out, to a teacher who threw them out, to a teacher who was asked to use them as part of their teaching, to a teacher whose students asked them to stop, to a parent who has signed them.  I have written about what to do instead of a reading log.  But I have never written about how to use them better.  Because I don’t like reading logs, there I said it, but at the same time, there are so many teachers that do, great teachers that care about children’s love of reading, and there are even teachers that have to use them.  And I don’t feel that shaming others will further the conversations.

My biggest issue with reading logs comes from the inherent lack of trust that they communicate; we do not trust you to read every night, we do not trust you to read long enough, we do not trust you to grow as a reader, so fill out this paper instead.  And while I could write a whole post on that, I think Jessica Lifshitz did a much better job on it than I ever will.

And yet, I also see the value in getting a window into the reading lives of a student.  I see the value of having students understand their own reading habits so they can figure out how to grow.  To mine their own data so to speak in order for them to discover new patterns and new goals.  So what can we do, if we have to use reading logs (or we want to) to make them better for students?

Ask the students.  Ask the students their feelings on reading logs and consider their feedback carefully.  If most of your students think this tool will help them become stronger readers then work one out with them.  For those that are opposed to them, figure something else out.  If we truly want students to fully embrace the opportunities that we say can be found within a reading log then we need to make sure they have buy in as well.  Create reading logs that are meaningful to the students, which means that they will probably look different from year to year, based on the students we teach.

Ask the parents.  I will flat out tell you that I will sign whatever I have to from school.  I will not count the minutes, I hate writing down titles because we read a lot, and I do not see much value in her logging her reading every night.  If you want proof, ask me in an email or in conversations, but do not make me sign a piece of paper.  If some parents like reading logs then by all means work out a system with them, but exempt the other parents since more than likely they will probably not be invested anyway.

Differentiate.  For the kids that do want a reading log, find out what it is they would like to gain from it.  I have a few students that love coming in every Monday and writing down the titles of the books they read or abandoned over the weekend (that is all they keep track of plus a rating).  For those kids their record keeping is a way for them to remember what they have read and whether they liked it or not.  They do not keep track of minutes or anything like that, we discuss that in our written reading reflections that we do once in a while or face to face.  So find out what it is that the students like about logging their reading, if it is the reward that is attached to it then that should be a huge warning sign.

Keep it in class.  When I had to do a reading log in my former district, we kept it in class.  Students were asked to write down title and for how long they were focused on the book right after independent reading.  That way, organization and parent follow up were removed from the equation and all kids (and me) were following the district expectation.

Stop rewarding.  If reading logs really are meant as a way to investigate ones’ own reading habits then stop tying in rewards with them.  The reward is in the reading, not the ticket, not the pizza, not the trinket.  Ever.

Make it an experiment.  If you like using reading log to find out student habits, then do it as a 2 week experiment with all students.  Have them for 2 weeks keep track of when, where, what, and how much they read and then have daily or weekly conversations and reflections on what they discover.  Set tangible goals from that.  Do it periodically throughout the year if you really want this to be seen as a learning opportunity, that way students can see a value in tracking their reading life this way.  If you have them do it all year, most students lose interest and will not see it as an opportunity to grow but just as one more thing to do.

Leave time for reflection.  Rather than log, we reflect.  My students set monthly reading goals and then at the end of the month they reflect on how they did.  The students and I will meet and discuss formally and informally and this is what I use for my vantage point into their reading life.  I ask them to tell me what they are working on and they do.

Don’t forget the purpose of reading logs.  If the purpose is to help students grow as readers then make sure that the very act of filling out a reading log, with or without parent signature, is not damaging that purpose.  It is often when we set up more processes for students in order to help them read better that we lose them as readers.  When kids spend more time doing things attached to reading, rather than the act of reading we have a problem.

 

In the end, in our pursuit to establish classrooms filled with passionate readers, we must make sure that the things we do, even little parts of our day like reading logs, do not do more harm than good.  That we fit our processes around our students, rather than the other way around.  That we continue to debate, question, and consider as we decide what to invest our time in.  And that we always, and I mean always, ask the students what they think.  Even the little ones, they have a voice that matters too.

For all my ramblings on reading logs, here is where to start.

If you are looking for a great book club to join to re-energize you in January, consider the Passionate Learners book club on Facebook.  We kick off January 10th.  

The Reading Rules We Would Never Follow as Adult Readers

Why is it all right to impose rules on children's reading lives that we would never follow as adults?

Choice.

The number one thing all the students I have polled through the years want the most when it comes to reading.  No matter how I phrase the question, this answer in all of its versions is always at the top.  Sometimes pleading, sometimes demanding, sometimes just stated as a matter of fact; please let us choose the books we want to read.

Yet, how often is this a reality for the students we teach?  How often, in our eagerness to be great teachers, do we remove or disallow the very things students yearn for to have meaningful literacy experiences?  How many of the things we do to students would we never put up with ourselves?  In our quest to create lifelong readers, we seem to be missing some very basic truths about what makes a reader.  So what are the rules we would probably not always follow ourselves?

Removing choice.   I have to start with the most obvious; removing choice in reading (and even in writing).   We know that choice matters, we know as adult readers we revel in the sheer experience of being able to choose what we want to read.  We take it for granted and will even rebel in small ways when someone says we have to read something.  Choice is the cornerstone of our own literacy life, yet it is one of the first things we tend to remove for children, especially fragile or developing readers.  And I get it, we think we know better when students repeatedly choose wrong, yet, it is in the selection process that students can uncover who they are as readers, if we give them time to discuss, reflect, and yes, even try the things they choose that may not be a great fit.

Forced reflection.  We seem to be reflecting kids to death with our requirements to write a little bit about every book they read.  Or having them keep a reading journal or having them write about the signposts or whatever else they are finding when they independently read.  It is not that we shouldn’t have students reflect when they read, it is that we make these one-size-fits-all requirements where students cannot discover how they would like to digest their reading.  How often do we as adults write a paragraph every time we finish a book?  Or summarize it?  Or make a diorama, (which yes, I made my students do)?  While I know adults that would love to do all of those things, I also know many that would not.  In fact, many adult readers I know would slow down their reading or hide their reading if they had to do all of that “work.”  When I teach the signposts (from the excellent book Notice and NoteNotice and Note) I tell my students that they are not expected to find them when they are reading at home, but that they are meant to be able to find them when asked.  There is a big difference in the way they feel about the task because it is not something they have to do all of the time.

Forced tracking.  Oh reading logs, I am looking at you here.  Yes, as an adult I track my reading on my Goodreads account.  I even write reviews sometimes.  But I don’t track my pages (unless I have a bigger purpose in mind and then it is for short amount of time), or time how long I read for, or even have my husband sign for me.  I make time to read because I love reading.  And while we can say that reading logs foster more reading because it is a check up system, it also kills reading for many.  If you want to see if the kids are reading, have them read in class and pay attention to what they are reading.  Allow students to track in a way that is meaningful to them; Goodreads, notebook page, poster, pictures of books on their phone, or even through conversations.  There is no one system that fits all and if a system we have in place is even killing the love of reading for one child, then we need to rethink it.

Points and competition.  Yes, AR, you have it coming.  Plus all of the other initiatives that we put in place to urge students to read.  And I get it; we desperately want students to become readers and to keep reading, yet this short-term solution can actually have a long-term consequence; kids who do not read for reading’s sake but for the prizes or honors attached to it.  We know what the research says regarding motivation and reading and how it can actually have adverse effects, and yet, we continue to concoct programs to try to get them reading.  How many adults though would read more because we then could take a computerized test that would give us points?  How many adults would be okay with their reading lives on display for the world to see?  Some would, while others would hate for the world to know something that they see as a personal discovery.  Why do we assume that what might work for one child will work for all?

Limited abandonment.  As an adult reader I practice wild book abandonment, passing books on when I know they are not right for me, yet as teachers, we often have rules for when students are allowed to abandon a book.  I used to subscribe to the 50 page rule myself.  Why?  If a child wants to abandon a book, they are on their way to knowing themselves better as a reader.  This is something to celebrate, not something to limit.  If a child is a serial book abandoner, and yes, I have a few of those, then we should be asking them why, rather than just stopping them.  What did they not like about this book?  What do they need to look for instead?  Help them explore their reading identity so that they can develop it rather than have them mimic yours.

Inane bookshopping rules.  My students used to be allowed to bookshop on Fridays.  That was it.  Yet, as an adult reader I bookshop all of the time.  I am constantly on the prowl for the next great read and my to-be-read list is ever expanding.  I get that book shopping or browsing sometimes becomes an escape for a child when they do not want to read, but then we work with that one child, rather than impose limits for all.  My students know that book shopping can happen anytime during our independent reading time, or even if they have completed other tasks.  I would rather want children that want to look at books, than those who abhor it.

When my students started telling me their reading truths, I drove home in shame; how many of the very things they told me had killed their love of reading where things that I had done myself as a teacher?  How many of the things was I still doing?  Yet, within the words of my students, I found the biggest truth of all; different children need different reading experiences and so that means now is I try to create a passionate reading environment, where there is room and scaffold for all of my readers.  Not just those that can work in one system concocted by me.  I know that sometimes large things are out of our control, yet, there are so many small things that are.  Think of what made you a reader or what stopped you from becoming one and then use that reflection to shape the way reading is taught and practiced in your own learning environment.  Being a teacher means that we learn from our mistakes, I have made many, and it means that we continue to strive for better.  We cannot do that if we don’t listen to the students.  And you know what; don’t take my word for it; ask your own students.  Then listen. Then do something about it.

PS:  Today I pondered out loud on Twitter how many educators tell students to read at home or over the summer and never read themselves.  Being a reading role model should be a requirement for all teachers of reading, it makes a huge difference.

If you are wondering why there seems to be a common thread to so many of my posts as of late, it is because I am working on two separate literacy books.  While the task is daunting and intimidating, it is incredible to once again get to share the phenomenal words of my students as they push me to be a better teacher.  The first book tentatively titled The Global Literacy Classroom is scheduled for release November, 2016 by Solution Tree.  The second, which I am still writing, is tentatively Passionate Readers and will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.  So until then if you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

A Parent’s Role in Protecting the Love of Reading

Protect your child's love of reading as you would their health; it is vital for a happy life pernille ripp

I have not hidden the fact that my oldest daughter has been a developing reader for the past 2 years.  That something that came so easy for me, has been a fight for her, where the words stammered and stuttered and her frustration grew.  But.  We just received word from her teacher that she is at grade level as she finishes 1st grade.  That all of her (and their)  hard work has paid off.  That it now is up to us to keep her reading to keep building on the momentum she is on.

Thea is lucky.  She has been in a school where they value creating reading experiences above everything else.  Where they work with each child at their level and try to keep reading magical.  Where each child is given time to read self-chosen books, receive one-to-one or small group instruction, and the emphasis is on reading for fun, not reading for requirement or prizes.  As a school, they have said no to so many things we know can harm the love of reading.

Our role as parents has been to uphold the expectations they have created; reading for fun, reading as a natural part of our day, reading as something that becomes part of the conversations we have every day.  We have gladly embraced it.  We have not had to protect our daughter’s burgeoning love of reading from some of the practices such as reading logs, reading for rewards, AR, or forced daily reading reflections we see around schools, but what if we did?  What can we do then?

We can ask questions.  I think of all of the well-meaning things I did my first years as a teacher that I thought would help children read more that I now cringe at; reading logs, rewards, book reports and projects, reading reflections every night and so on.  No parent ever asked questions because they assumed I knew what I was doing, but the truth is, I was still developing and learning.  I did these things because I thought that is what good teachers did.   Whenever parents ask questions, it may at first be off-putting, but in the end it always helps me grow.  It always offers me a chance for genuine reflection, a chance to re-visit the components that I teach.  This is never a bad thing even if it feels that way at first.

We can share the research.  These ideas of protecting a love of reading are not just based on momentary whims.  Research has shown time and time again how for example external factors such as points, scores, or even food negatively impact a child’s desire to read.  (For a great article on reading logs see this).  If a school has misguided practices in place, then perhaps they have not seen what is out there that can help them grow?  There are nice ways to present research that doesn’t involve chastising other people, especially since it is not always the choice of a teacher to do some of these things, but instead that of a well-meaning district.  So share research and don’t be disappointed if it makes no difference, sometimes even the best research only plants a seed that we will not see come to fruition for a long time.

We can lie.  I know that sounds terrible, but as far as Thea’s kindergarten reading log, I decided to sign it every night and not show her.  She didn’t need to know that she was working toward anything, nor did she need to know that I had to keep track.  So I didn’t tell her and I didn’t keep track, instead I rummaged through her backpack every night and simply signed so her teacher could in turn sign off every morning.  Thea was a reader but even readers take a night off her and there.

We can say no.  No one wants to be THAT parent but sometimes we have to be.  Saying no to a school-wide practice such as reading logs or the use of AR can be a daunting task, but we have to remember the bigger picture; protecting a child’s love of reading.  In Thea’s first kindergarten class,  she was presented with a reading log on the 2nd day of school, all in order to be included in a pizza party.  When I asked questions about it, I was told that in later years the reading log would be a part of her grade for reading and that if she didn’t do it, her reading grade would suffer.  Her grade!  While, at first, this startled me  I soon realized that I was fine with that.  So be it if her grade was lower because she didn’t participate.  Her grade didn’t matter as long as she found reading enjoyable and not something you did to earn something.  Sometimes change will not come until parents speak up, so be the voice of reason and if you see something changing your child’s reading habits for the worse, then do something about it.  Don’t just expect it to be ok in the end. Protect your child’s love of reading as you would their health;  it is vital for a happy life.

We can create our own enjoyable reading experiences.  Sometimes we have to be the counterpoint to the environment our children are in.  If we know that self-selected books are a major component to creating pleasurable reading experiences then that is what we should strive for.  While the parent in me often felt panicked that Thea was not making the necessary gains as a reader, the teacher in me knew that it simply would take time.  That forcing her to read more books every night, or even write more about her reading, would only make the experience miserable for her.  So keeping reading fun, making it a family event (see this blog post for lots of summer reading experience ideas) and making it a natural part of your day are all choices we can make, whether or not our child’s school believes in it.

We have been so lucky as we look back on Thea’s short reading life.  As she switches school this coming school year, I can only hope that it will continue.  We may sometimes wonder about the policies that directly influence our children, but we should never feel powerless.  As parents, we have a right and a responsibility to protect our child, we must ever forget that.

If you are wondering why there seems to be a common thread to so many of my posts as of late, it is because I am working on two separate literacy books.  While the task is daunting and intimidating, it is incredible to once again get to share the phenomenal words of my students as they push me to be a better teacher.  Those books will be published in 2017 hopefully, so until then if you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

 

The Questions to Ask When The Kids Aren’t Reading

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I met my first book abandoner my very first year of teaching.  Yet, he was not your average run of the mill book abandoner.  No, he was the “look you straight in the eye and ask you what you are going to do about it” kind of abandoner.  So I did what I knew best; forced him to read the book and not allow him to abandon it.  And he did what he knew best; fake read for a good amount of time, skimmed a few pages, and failed the book report as well as the presentation.  Repeat with every book.  I don’t think he ever read anything beside Diary of A Wimpy Kid that year.

Everyone has these types of readers.  The ones that abandon because they hate to read.  The ones that abandon because they cannot find a great book.  The ones that abandon because they get bored.  Some years we have a lot, others not so many.  So how can we heal break the abandonment cycle?  How can we help these kids help themselves.  Well, there are a few questions we can ask.

Do they have choice?  Because if they don’t, then that is the very first place we start.  And not limited choice based on levels or lexiles, but real honest-to-goodness choice where they get to pick their reading materials.

Do they have time?  If little time is given to reading then we are expecting them to do something they may not like outside of school.  The chances of that happening are pretty slim.

Do they have access?  We know that students need great books in their hands.  We know students need great libraries, but they also need books in our classrooms.  And not old, worn out books, but new, enticing, high interest books that they can check out easily.

Do they have people?  Is it cool to not be a reader in their friend group?  Who do they have to talk books to?  Do they have reading role models that extend beyond the teacher?  Get them connected in a meaningful way with others that read.

Do they have reason to read?  And by that I don’t mean because of a prize or a reward.  Do they see any kind of gain from reading?  Is anything positive connected to the art of reading?

Do they have different ways to read?  Reading is not just done with our eyes but also with our ears, so if a child is constantly abandoning books get them hooked with an incredible audio book.  This has changed the reading path of several of my students in a profound way.

Are they hiding their true ability?  I have taught several students that could ace their reading assessment, mostly because it had been given to them so many times, and yet had a large gap in their skills.  So is their book abandonment masking a larger problem?

Are we making them do things that kill their love of reading?  When students abandon books a lot, it is a sure sign that we need to reflect on our own practices.  And not just skim over that reflection and pretend that everything must be ok.  Are reading logs killing their love of reading?  Are programs liked Accelerated Reader or LLI?

Have we asked them?  This is the biggest because too often we try to figure out why a child is abandoning books and we never ask them why.  Not beyond the “What didn’t you like about it?”  So instead we must give  the students a chance to discuss or reflect and really start to study their own habits.  What patterns do they see?  What types of books might they like to read?  What can they do to change their habits?  Students need to feel empowered in their self-reflection because otherwise their pattern won’t change.  They also need to set goals and then be able to honestly assess their own progress.

Do they see themselves in the books?  Such an important question asked by Dr. Jenn Davis Bowman.  Because we need diverse books for all of our kids and if students cannot connect with what we have in our library then they will not read.

If you are looking for a great book club to join to re-energize you in January, consider the Passionate Learners book club on Facebook.  We kick off January 10th.  

 

Some Rules We Need to Break In Our Reading Classrooms

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We seem to be run by the rules of what came before us.  We seem to be trying to uphold traditions that were started all in the spirit of becoming better reading teachers.  And yet, I think it is time for us to break some rules, to become reading warriors, and to speak up and say no; this is not what reading will look like in our classroom.  This is not the reading experience that my students will have, this is not what will make students fall in love with reading.  So I present you with some rules that seem to perpetuate much of our reading instruction and encourage you to break them just like I have and so many others before me.

Rule number 1:  You must read X number of pages before you abandon a book.

I used to enforce this; give it 30 pages, give it 50, then I read the False Prince and I told them to keep reading to page 88 where it gets so, so so good.  But that is not how adult readers read.  I sometimes abandon books after a chapter, after a page, after a paragraph.  I listen to the voice inside that tells me that there is just something wrong, that this book is slowing down my reading love and that it is not the right fit at this particular moment.  In our classroom, we practice free book abandonment, but we also reflect on why we are giving up on a book.  It offers students a wonderful chance to learn more about their own reading identity.  So when we see a child serial hop from book to book, don’t stop them, instead ask them why.  And when they tell you that they don’t like the book, ask them why again.

Rule number 2:  You must read a book from every genre.

I used to have students read books from certain genres so that they had been exposed to them all, and yet, most students hated it.  So now instead I make sure that our book shopping is varied, that I book talk many genres, and also that they have access to many genres.  There is no requirement to read outside of a genre, but only gentle recommendations.  We need to celebrate the students that have identified themselves as lovers of a certain genre, after all we do as adults, rather than force them into thinking that somehow they are not true readers because they are not exposing themselves.

Rule number 3:  You must fill out a reading log.

My biggest problem (and I have several!) with reading logs is that it inherently shows students that we do no trust them.  By asking them to record how much they have read outside of our classrooms, we are telling them that their word is not enough.  When we ask parents to sign, our message is even stronger; you may have said this but I only know it is true because your parents agreed to sign this.  Is that really what we want to tell our students?  And as a parent who has forged her signature on a summer reading challenge, I can tell you, I would do it again if it means that my child does not have to distill her love of reading books into minutes or pages.  Her reading love deserved better than that.

Rule number 4:  Reading is only something you do with your eyes.

I used to tell students that for a book to count for their book challenge that it had to be read.  And reading means they do it with their eyes.  Now I know that reading can also be auditory, whether by listening to an audio book or being read aloud to.  That students can still experience a deep connection with a text even if their eyes have not processed it, and that audio books level the playing field for so many of our students who feel like they are bad readers.  Reading is many things, let’s make sure that in our rush to define it, we do not alienate the students that need alternative methods the most.

Rule number 5:  You must only read books at your level.

Levels were never meant to confine or define a child, but instead meant as a tool for a teacher to select text for guided reading instruction.  Yet our obsession with placing children in boxes has made levels prevalent in our schools and in the minds of students.  If our goal is to create students who identify as readers outside of our classrooms then they need to know themselves as readers.  They need to know what they prefer, what they can read, and also what type of book they need at that very moment.  That changes based on their life, and not just their growth, just like it does for us adults.  Having students select books based on a level robs them of the chance to figure this out, and in turn, counteracts everything we are trying to teach them.

Rule number 6:  You are too old to read this book.

If I only read books that fit my age then I would never read a YA or children’s book again, and that goes for our students as well.  Reading books that may be too young is a way for students to relax, to build confidence, and to read a book they feel like reading.  How often does our helpful rules really just hinder a child from reading?

Rule number 7:  You must create something after you finish a book.

When I finish a book, I often hand it to a friend.  Sometimes I book talk it to my class, sometimes I write a review, other times I quietly place it in a bin.  I do not write a journal entry, I do not create a book report, nor do I make something to show off the theme.  When students finish a book they should have an opportunity to discuss the book, to recommend it to a classmate, to share their love of it with the world, if they want.  They should not have to choose from a long list of projects to prove that they, indeed, did read it.

Rule number 8:  Picture books are for little kids.

Every day, almost, we read a picture book in our classroom.  In fact, picture books are  serious business here, as I use them to teach students how to infer, how to closely read, how to think deeply about a text and then be able to discuss it with others.  We use them as mentor texts as we work on our writing craft.  We use them as we build our community.  And yes, we use them because picture books make the world a better place and they remind students that reading is meant to be fun and magical.  A student told me the other day, “Mrs. Ripp, I am not so sure picture books are for little kids anymore…”  And I knew exactly what he meant, because a text that rich should not just be reserved for young kids.

Rule number 9:  Graphic novels are not real books.

Graphic novels can be just as complex as the hardest chapter books.  In our classroom, graphic novels can be a lifeline; a way to reach the kid that swears they will never love reading, a way to reach a child that cannot get through a chapter book.  I have students using graphic novels to find the signposts from Notice and Note at the moment.  I have students finally connecting on a deep level with a book that happens to be in the format of a graphic novel.  I am so thankful to all of the authors out there creating these magnificent books that prove once again to my students that great books do not just look like one thing.

Rule number 10:  You must reward reading.

Reading is it’s own reward to quote the fantastic Teri Lesesne.  The minute you attach a reward to reading you have diminished the act of reading itself.  Think hard about the stickers, the prizes, the special events based on pages read and instead find a way to celebrate the very act of reading by getting more books, by finding more time to read.

Rule number 11:  You must not judge a book by its cover.

I do it all the time.  We all do.  What we need to teach kids though is that covers are not the only way we should judge a book.  That even if a book has a terrible cover, which some amazing books truly do, that they then should move on to checking it in other ways; by reading the back, by skimming a few pages, by asking a friend.  For students to see us as reading role models we must not hide the true habits we have but instead celebrate them and share what we do.  Students do not need to see how we pretend adults pick books, instead they should see how we really pick books, and that includes judging a book by its cover.

I could have gone on, but these are the rules that stood out to me.  I shudder at how many of these I have had in my own classroom and am grateful to the people that have shown me a better way.  We can create classrooms where students fall in love with reading, the choice is ours.

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!) just came out!

What Administrators Can Do to Promote a Reading Culture

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Dear administrators,

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!