Some teachers like to get back all their classroom library books before the school year ends. I was not that teacher. Check 'em out, read 'em, and share 'em. A dog-eared, weathered book returned in fall (or not) is an ideal book in my book.
And we all know this: when kids independently read during June, July and August, it works wonderfully against what's known as Summer Slide.
And here's another reason why I didn't mind checking out books over the summer, and even not getting some returned: I've had the opportunity over the last two years to ask about a hundred students at an urban middle school (many who are English learners) how many books they have in their homes. "Oh, lots!" some will answer. When I ask these students how many books exactly, they will answer at most 10, maybe 15. Sometimes they answer less, or they tell me "none." Often times these are books they've already read or are books for small children.
This is a problem.
For many underserved children in our poorest communities, advanced reading skills, and literacy in general, will help free them from the limits placed on them by poverty. So when it comes to education, and equity and access, it's not just the great digital divide we are at war with -- illiteracy is also a worthy and very real enemy.
And many of us find ourselves at our schools advocating to principals and those in charge to continue purchasing new popular fiction and non-fiction books for the school and classroom libraries. They do their best, but we've got to convince students to also seek books off campus as well. Here's some suggestions how:
1) Invite students to give Book Talks to the entire class. Who influences kids the most? Their peers, of course, so providing children opportunities to pitch books to classmates can be incredibly effective and powerful.
2) Introduce kids (and especially those reluctant readers!) to a book series. This will inspire them to seek out the next book, and the next, and the next.
3) Provide your students and their families with the "Latest and Greatest" in fiction and non-fiction for the grade level you teach. I've had students come back to me the next year, and there are x's by several book titles (they used the reading list I gave them as a check list!)
4) If teaching older kids, set up a Facebook page all about books. Students will then be able to share with their classmates (and you!) updates on what they are reading and post their book reviews.
5) Start or end class with a Read and Tease. This means you read a few enticing lines from a book (it can be the opening words, or midway through). For my students, I'd give a dramatic reading of the opening paragraph and then place the book on the rim of the whiteboard. At the end of class, at least 2 or 3 students would ask to check it out.
6) Advise families to take children to the library and bookstores on a regular basis. Send a letter home or an email with a list of neighborhood libraries and bookstores. Possibly include some inspiring quotes or a bit of research, giving some evidence to why reading is so very important.
7) Encourage your students to register for the Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge. You can even make it a homework assignment. Scholastic also offers creative suggestions for classroom lessons using the Summer Challenge. Once a student does register, she will be able to enter a contest with prizes by simply logging in her reading minutes. Consider sending the Scholastic link to parents where they can download reading lists and get some tips for supporting their child's summer reading.
Kids need to become lifelong readers early on. Be an advocate, guide and a reason for a child discovering the book that hooks him, inspires him to keep reading, and to continue seeking more and more enriching text. Developing strategic, savvy, critical readers is one of our great charges (and challenges) as teachers. It's also one of our greatest rewards.
I've shared the following quote with many students. It's from a guy we all know of, and in fact, if it weren't for him, who knows, the laptop I'm using to write this might not exist: "I really had a lot of dreams when I was a kid, and I think a great deal of that grew out of the fact that I had a chance to read a lot."