Saturday, February 28, 2015

Building a Community of Readers

On the first day of class, many English teachers will begin by asking students about their favorite books, a sort of innocuous ice breaker to get to know the readers sitting in the classroom. But all too often, I've had students respond to this question with:

"I dunno. I don't read." 
or worse 
"I'm not really a reader."

In the teachers' workroom, you'll sometimes hear similar statements: "I wish I had more time to read," "I don't really get a chance to read during the school year." So many teachers and students don't see themselves as readers.

One of my favorite writers on the topic of reading is Kelly Gallagher, and in an interview with Education Week a few years back, he stated:
"Schools have put all of their emphasis on academic reading and functional reading and completely abandoned the idea of trying to turn kids on to the kinds of reading we want them to do 10 and 20 and 30 years from now—and that’s recreational reading. We have forgotten that we want them to be readers, not just people who can pass a test. There are studies showing that adults who read regularly are much more involved in their communities and civic life generally, so I don’t think this is just a curriculum issue. I think it’s a cultural issue."
Reading, a real love of a good book, does not involve a multiple-choice test. The way that I read for pleasure is very different than the way that I read for class. And we are doing a lot to help our students read for class, but what are we doing to help our young readers discover the pleasure of reading? How do we build a school community that defines themselves as readers? How do you build a reading culture?

Okay, so I don't have all the answers, but I do have a few ideas.

After attending last weekend's Delaware Valley Reading Association conference, I came home inspired to find ways to encourage students to voice their interest in reading. So I quickly put together a Google form and emailed my students and all the teachers in my high school building, asking them to share their favorite books in order to build a March Madness Book Battle bracket. And in no time at all, I heard from all sorts of readers in our building. The quick response from our community, with teachers, students, and parents sharing over 250 book recommendations, got me thinking about other ways to encourage our community to see itself as readers.

Teachers are models of what successful readers do, of what readers look like. If students see us as readers, they come to understand that reading is a joy that continues throughout a lifetime. So, teachers need to share what they are reading. Students need to see their mentors reading, need to see that reading is done for purposes other than simply to take a test.

I quickly put together a little poster for teachers to share what they are currently reading, ran off copies, and will have them laminated Monday morning. Why laminate them? So that teachers can easily write on the posters with a whiteboard marker and erase it to add their next book!

Here's the little poster I created on Canva:

I'm curious to hear what others are doing to build a community of readers. What are the ideas and strategies you are using in your school?

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