Regular reading is vital to improving students’ literacy skills and their overall academic performance. So what can schools do to ensure that students are getting that practice? At Lifelong Literacy, literacy consultant Maria Losee describes strategies for creating a culture of reading across classrooms.
Make sure classroom libraries are engaging: Surround students with diverse and interesting material, and add new titles to your classroom collection with an eye toward a wide range of interests. “I cannot just buy what I like to read, I have to buy what I know will get my readers excited to read,” teacher Amy Heno told Losee. Pay close attention to student interests to better match reading selections with topics they enjoy.
Beyond observation, Losee suggests educators consider offering “written or online surveys, asking students to take a quick genre poll, or taking data from an activity such as speed dating with books” to determine what books would be best suited for them. For speed dating, set a timer and let students peruse a stack of books—allowing students to sample books before committing can alleviate pressure and make reading more fun.
Employ visual displays: Design displays for classroom walls or hallways to show the importance and fun of reading. “Keeping reading visible sends an unspoken message that reading is important and valued in a school,” Losee writes. Large artistic depictions of books or their contents can offer a hook for students. Teachers at a Chicago school partnered with a photography studio to transform the halls into a “giant motivational tableau to encourage reading.”
Model a love of reading: Losee carries multiple books with her wherever she goes to demonstrate her love of reading. She likes to carry the book she just completed, one she is presently reading, and the next one in her queue. It’s helpful if students see that their teacher not only reads but is interested in a range of topics or genres.
Let students lead: Turn the tables and ask students for their recommendations for great reads for both teachers and their peers. They can offer their views through book talks—concise presentations that serve as an advertisement for a particular book. Unlike a book report, these quick talks are designed to pique interest rather than summarize the plot. Students, teachers, and other staff can share their thoughts on a book they’ve read and why they would recommend it to others. More introverted students can try “writing a review on a sticky and leaving it inside the front cover or putting a book on a special shelf with a recommendation.”
Highlight individual authors: Use the narratives and biographies of individual authors to promote interest in their work. Losee suggests sharing authors’ websites with students. She shared the personal story of popular author Jason Reynolds, who didn’t read a book until he was 17 years old, and students were aghast. She used their shock as a springboard to boost interest in Reynolds’s work.
Make reading a priority: Time designated for reading should be a non-negotiable in schools, Losee says. For upper elementary, middle, and high school students, she recommends setting aside an hour a week for independent reading. “If we care about reading and we want our students to read more, we have to make time for it,” she writes. “It’s that simple.”