ON LIBRARIES: Reading is at the Core

A recent article in Time magazine, “A Third of Teenagers Don’t Read for Pleasure Anymore,” caught my attention and it made me wonder about how in the midst of our other commitments, we are bringing reading to students. I note that reading of comic books wasn’t mentioned so I’m not sure if the researchers felt graphic novels counted. And of course the flip side of that statistic is that two thirds of teens do read for pleasure.  Nonetheless it seems kids are reading less.

Our various digital devices have cut into all our free time.  Teenagers themselves are concerned about how many hours they spend on their phones.  But knowing there is a good reason for the decline in leisure reading doesn’t take away from the problem nor the need to find a solution.

The new AASL National School Library Standards for Learners, School Librarians, and School Libraries spells

out the importance of reading in our fourth Common Belief. “Reading is the core of personal and academic competency.” The explanatory paragraph concludes, “School librarians… provide access to high-quality reading materials that encourage learners, educators, and families to become lifelong learners and readers.”

 

How can you turn the tide?  Many of you have budget problems making it difficult (some would say impossible) to have current high-quality literature, but we can’t let our students down.  If you look long and hard at your collection, you will likely find lots of good books.  The challenge is to get them in the hands of your students.

YALSA (Young Adult Library Service Association) sponsors Teen Read Week which runs from October 7-13, 2018 with this year’s slogan, “It’s Written in the Stars – Read.”  Their website has forums which will give you ideas to get started.  An easy one might be a tie in recent films based on sci-fi books.

If you have a popular makerspace, create a frequently-changing display of non-fiction related to the activities kids like most. Consider starting an Entrepreneurs Book Club with students reading bios on the lives of entrepreneurs current and past.  Discussions can revolve around what made them successful. What ideas can students use to become entrepreneurs themselves?

Short-term book clubs around a theme can be a draw.  It’s not much of a commitment and makes reading a social experience.  Check any of the various library-related Facebook groups or your state’s listserv for book club topics that have worked. Most of these Facebook groups have librarians sharing ideas that have worked for them from book-tastings and blind date with a book, to bathroom book blurbs.  A Knowledge Quest article from last year on Reading Promotion for Middle and High School has a long list of suggestions.

Many state library associations give annual awards to books and students are the ones who get to vote.  Find out how to have your students participate. In some places, the website has activities you can use in coordination with the award.

“Get Caught Reading” is great if you are allowed cell phones in your school.  Post pictures you or someone else takes (selfies are OK) of teachers, administrators, — and you, reading a book.   If at all possible, display those books nearby. Encourage kids to take pictures of them reading.  It’s always best if they see adults value reading.  I’ve seen a few librarians post signs saying “I’m reading ……  What are your reading?”

Books in series and “read-alikes” are a good way to keep kids reading.  Put up a display of “first in the series” books to get them started.  You know what titles have been popular with your students, and you can find lists of read-alikes online to promote other similar books.

Family Reading Nights are very effective in some communities.  Scholastic has a Facilitator’s Guide to help you start one.  A Google search will give you additional ideas for hosting one.

I love what school librarians are doing with coding, makerspace, and genius hour.  Yes, it’s vital we know the latest apps, websites, and resources so we can show teachers how to integrate them into the curriculum, but you also want to create a reading climate in your library. To attract readers, you need to keep things changing.  Encourage kids to come up with ideas and don’t keep any one idea for more than a month.  No matter how much you do with technology, remember Reading Is Core.

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ON LIBRARIES: On The Level

reading is a windowThe very first “Common Belief” in the AASL Standards for the 21st-Century Learner is “Reading is a window to the world” noting that it’s a “foundational skill in learning, personal growth, and enjoyment.”  I want to focus primarily on the last word—enjoyment. As school librarians we are committed to guiding our students to become lifelong readers. We recognize the habit only develops when they find reading is a pleasurable experience.

Over the past years a few developments in education are making it difficult for us to carry out this critical role. Most recently, Lexiles and leveling have invaded the library and students are being steered away from what they want to read and are being directed toward what they “ought” to read. Elementary librarians are being told to “level” their libraries in the misguided belief it will improve student scores on tests and make them more college ready.

What many don’t realize, is this is a giant step backwards. In the mid-20th century, library shelves were labeled by grade level and students were required to only select books from the appropriate shelf. It didn’t work. Some students read above or below their grade level and others wanted different books.  And libraries changed.window to the world

Now we are heading back to those times. Granted teachers determine individual levels for students so students are expected to read at their current Lexile level, but tit overlooks the core reason the old system didn’t work.  Restrictions on reading, interferes with enjoyment.

I have no problem with teachers using Lexiles for instructional purposes in the classroom.  I recognize the underlying reason Common Core assigned Lexile ranges for each grade level.  Students do need to be challenged and encouraged to stretch. That is what learning is about.

What is being overlooked is enjoyment.  Reading for pleasure should not be work.  It’s about relaxing, choosing what is of interest to you, and learning without being aware it is happening.  I have never liked the “5 finger rule” for choosing a book.  If I had difficulty reading five words on every page, I would read the book.  Reading should be fun (an alien concept in schools today).

When having freedom to choose, students for the most part select a book below their instructional level. This makes perfect sense.  There are students who also want a book far above their instructional level. If they love a sport, for example, they don’t care how hard the book is. They will struggle through it to get what they want.  They may not finish it.  There is no requirement to finish something chosen for fun.  How many young people read Harry Potter books even when it was “too hard” for them?

are you there gdice magicForcing students to always be “stretching” when reading for pleasure, is a sure way to turn them off reading.  It is especially true for those who aren’t fond of reading in the first place.  I can remember the books that enticed my own children to become readers.  Both of them developed the reading habit because they read the one book that “spoke” to them.  For my daughter it was Judy Blume.  For my son, it was Ice Magic by Matt Christopher, which was at least one year below his instructional level.

Accelerated Reader and similar programs, while not as damaging to developing lifelong readers, also interfere with pleasurable reading. Students seeking to earn as many points as they can, will pass over a book that interests them if its point value isn’t high enough.  They will ignore books they might like if it doesn’t have an assigned point value.  Reading for points is not the way to make reading a habit. The purpose from the student’s perspective is not pleasure it is competition.

When parents read to their children, the association of reading and good times is built.  When librarians make story time a pleasurable experience the connection is reinforced.  When a librarian helps a student find the perfect book, the habit of a lifetime begins.

What can you as a librarian do if you are told to level your library?  Be the leader you need to be. Don’t accept the directive without explaining why it isn’t in the best interest of students.  Show administrators Keith Curry Lance’s studies on reading.  Share this blog also. If they still insist, see if you can get them to agree to leveling shelves for teachers who can direct students to them and keeping other shelves open.  This way students can take one leveled book and at least one of their own choosing.

We are all about creating lifelong readers.  Is your library leveled?