“Kids who read succeed,” was a slogan AASL used years ago. It’s still true. There is a reason why the first Common Belief in the AASL Standards for the 21st-Century Learners is “Reading is a window to the world.” It explains “Reading is a foundational skill for learning, personal growth, and enjoyment.”
We can’t ever let reading become an “outdated” element of what we do. Elementary librarians focus on it, but by middle and high school it often takes a back seat to tech and research. But are we tuned into how students’ ability to read affects the quality of their research along with their attitudes about learning?
I was on ALA’s Committee on Literacy for several years, and one of the truisms of the committee was “the House of Reading has many rooms, (health literacy, digital literacy, information literacy, political literacy, etc.) but the entrance is through reading.” And the first Common Belief recognizes all these literacies saying, “The degree to which students can read and understand text in all formats (e.g. picture, video, print) is a key indicator of success in school and in life.”
Because technology is a large part of students’ lives and the school environment, it is easy to forget that being a good reader is at the core of effective use of tech (even if students and adults prefer to learn by experimenting rather than reading instruction). Our students—and we as well— often turn to Google for a quick search rather than delving deeper. Then they open the first two results and use it. Whether it is only partially on the topic and not as relevant as it should be.
Remember reading is not limited to fiction. While it’s my favorite recreational choice, many students and adults prefer nonfiction. Magazines are still reading. So are comics and graphic novels. Indeed, the last two require readers to combine both visual and text literacy to make meaning.
I am not telling you anything new. As librarians, we are all aware of the importance of reading. I raise the topic today because I have gotten the sense that many middle and high school librarians are not making time for it. They have heavy teaching responsibilities, virtually all of which are tied to research or teaching use of new tech resources.
It’s not easy to carve out space for reading. But you owe it to your students to do so. Middle school students are still likely candidates for a Battle of the Books competition. Book clubs have been proven to be successful in many places. But you usually must find a hook that will attract students. While reading is a solitary activity, most readers enjoy sharing what they read as shown by the success of Good Reads and other such online groups.
Have a “Books for ….” Club. Use an interest group or pick a theme and, with your guidance as necessary, let students choose what they want to read on the topic. Then they can share it with the others and discover how they all inter-relate. This is another way to connect with the “specials” teachers that I mentioned in my blog last week. “Read with The Principal/Art Teacher/Gym Teacher/etc” can be a fun way to have these teachers and professionals use books as a way to connect them more with the students. You could also consider an “Eat, Read, Stay” club with students bringing their lunch and reading while eating. (Do make cleaning up afterward a requirement.)
School-wide reading programs can be effective- again you need a hook at the upper grades. You could consider connecting it to a fundraiser. Whether it is a give-back to the community or for something the school needs (not the library), students respond well to being able to give back when it’s fun. And that promotes good citizenship.
Some librarians have been successful with “Caught Reading” campaigns. They photograph teachers and students who are reading and post their pictures in the halls. To get kids interested, you need to spotlight those from the many different “groups” in the school.
It’s pricey at $199, but with ALA’s Read Design Studio starter pack you can make your own Read posters featuring student and a book they selected and favorite must have read. Consider having it a Makerspace activity where students use it to create Read bookmarks and posters and whatever else appeals to them.
Then there is the One Book, One School program. Go online and look for success stories to see the best way to launch one. Or post it as a question on LM_NET and the other places you go to for help from your colleagues. Some towns do this a well – there may be a way to link with your public library for this and get parents and administrators involved.
By making reading a focus along with the other components of the language program, you bring it into kids’ awareness. They, too, have been inundated with the demands school places on them. Help them incorporate reading into their lives.
Have you kept reading a part of your program? What have you been doing?