Saturday, January 17, 2015

Can Teachers Cultivate Life-Long Readers?

As a teacher or librarian, your reading habits were set long ago.  It’s been ages since your last homework assignment, yet you’re currently embroiled in a great read, and the next one is already chosen.  (In fact, it’s queued up in your Kindle or in a pile by your side of the bed.)  For you, reading isn't just fun; it's a way of life. Over time, certain reading behaviors permanently claimed their spots in your daily, weekly, and monthly routines.  


    This, I think, is how we make life-long readers of our students:  We don’t assign them materials to read.  So often, they’re not ready for or just not interested in the books we teachers require. Don't take it personally.  Let them read what they want, but integrate the behaviors and attitudes of life-long readers into their daily routines.

Step One of this process is for you, the Language Arts teacher, to borrow or buy The Book Whisperer, a real career-changing read.  In just one weekend, Donalyn Miller convinced me that self-selected reading is the only way to go with my LA students, a conviction that continues to grow.  Self-selected reading is a much more authentic reading experience, and -- even better -- getting the right book into every students' hands becomes their responsibility! 

If The Book Whisperer doesn't persuade you, then take a peek at Scholastic's Kids and Family Reading Report 2015. As far as I'm concerned, this is the most important finding in the survey:

Ninety-one percent of children ages 6-17 say "my favorite books are the ones that I have picked out myself."

Step Two, one that involves a great deal of time and effort, is teaching your students a variety of ways to make successful independent reading choices.  (See "So Many Books, So Little Time" for a list of preliminary ideas.) This step, for some students, will take the entire school year.  You cannot give up on their learning this skill, though, and you cannot let even one student give up.  

Step Three:  Keep Silent Sustained Reading (SSR) at the heart of your LA curriculum. Make reading, and writing about reading, and talking about reading the number one priority in your lesson plans. Even after four years of structuring my lessons around SSR, I'll find myself "borrowing" time for less important activities. But it doesn't take long for the kids to snap me back in line.

"SSR? Yay!" 


One never tires of hearing this instead of [groan] "We have to read today?" 


Step Four: Litter your classroom with books: Fill up shelves, line whiteboard trays and window sills, snag an unused book cart - find any way you can to display books. Because students are more likely to investigate a book when they see its cover, I've invested in a bunch of those plastic book stands you see in your school library. Eventually, I'd like to have one classroom wall covered with book display ledges:




Unbelievably, every online image I found for this idea is shown in nurseries, or it features books for elementary-age kids.  Why?  Middle school kids would love this!

     Step Five:  Think like a grocer and move around your products.  You know the psychology behind that practice -- it works with books, too.  Every month I feature a different genre of books on the rolling cart.  We research the genre.  We watch trailers about books from the genre.  I buy new books from the genre and display them at the front of the room on the whiteboard tray.  This year, in the crazy two weeks before Christmas vacation, I neglected to make that change.  Kids started asking me why.

     Step Six:  You want students to borrow your books?  Ask if you can borrow theirs.  Then recommend the good ones to your classes.

     Step Seven:  Convince your colleagues to keep a bookshelf of nonfiction books and magazines about their content area as an option for students who complete assignments quickly.   Students shouldn't associate reading with Language Arts alone.  Content materials should be displayed in every classroom!
      Step Eight is one I'm currently trying to negotiate for our middle school hallway.  In the years before my arrival, a huge bulletin board has been exclusively used for PTO projects, but the current display has been up there for at least three months!  What better place for an ever-changing display of colorful student and teacher book recommendations?

Step Nine?  I bet you've already thought of it as you've been reading this list.  Put it into action this week -- and don't forget to Tweet it to me @paula1mchale.