Note: This is part of a series of reflective posts that form part of a university course that I am taking. I hope that you will find something valuable in my reflections as well.
"...we teachers have an immense power when it comes to nurturing a love of reading or killing it. "
- Pernille Ripp
Kids these days have more activities vying for their attention than ever before - Netflix, Disney+, Hulu, video games, YouTube, SnapChat, Instagram, Tiktok, sports, extracurricular lessons and...reading? Are kids even reading these days?
According to book publisher Scholastic 50% of kids read books for fun 1-4 days a week and 34% read books for fun 6-7 days a week. So yes, despite all the demands on their time, kids are reading. In fact, frequent readers read an average of 43 books per year (in case you're wondering, infrequent readers read 7 books while moderately frequent readers read an average of 14 books)! That's a lot of books!
So what's driving this reading habit? The reading habits of young people correlate almost directly with the reading habits of their parents, with 45% of parents reading for fun 1-4 days a week and 32% reading for fun 6-7 days per week. Even more telling, 57% of parents who are frequent readers have children who are frequent readers, reminding us that children really do imitate their adults. And, for a good part of each day, we are their adults. If we want to create a culture of reading in our schools, we need to be modelling reading at every turn, whether that means reading a book ourselves during silent reading, actively reading and highlighting books that would appeal to our students or incorporating non-negotiable daily read aloud times. If we want our students to read, we need to demonstrate that we too are readers.
Actively displaying our own reading lives is always important, but even more so in schools that serve lower socioeconomic areas. A 2019 survey conducted by the Pew Research Centre found that 44% of adults in the U.S. with a high school diploma or less had not read a book in the last year and 36% of adults in households earning $30,000 or less also had not read a book in the last year. Kids coming from these homes are less likely to see reading happening in any form at home and therefore desperately need to see it modelled at school.
But, I can hear you say, but... the days are so jam-packed already. But...I use silent reading time to organize my small groups/mark/plan/insert other very necessary teaching job here. But...my reading block is only 45 minutes long. But...I don't really like to read myself (gasp! It's true though, there are teachers out there who rarely read for pleasure, especially during the school year). But, but, but. I know, I get it. Teaching is a never-ending job and we can all find a good use for those quiet 15 minutes after lunch. That being said, where attention goes, energy flows (thanks, Tony Robbins. I think. That quote is attributed to about 10 different people). If we value reading and believe that it is an important, we need to focus on it. We need to actively work, as a whole staff, to create a culture of reading in our schools so that students see evidence of adults reading at every turn. To make it easier for you to begin to create a culture of reading in your school, here are
5 simple ways to create a culture of reading that you can implement tomorrow.
1. Prominently display what you are reading
This simple strategy comes from Pernille Ripp, the reading culture guru herself, and it couldn't be easier to implement. Simply print up a sign that says "_____________is reading..." and post it somewhere everyone can see (mine is in the hall outside my classroom, a colleague posted her's in her classroom window. Whatever floats your boat as long as it's visible). If you want to get fancy, add a photo or your bitmoji to your sign and laminate it to use year after year. As you are reading, simply Google the cover image of the book, print it and post it on your sign. Once you've finished the book, move it to the wall around the sign. Easy peasy! Everyone will know you're a reader and will want to ask you about the books you've read.
2. Read when they read
This might be the lowest prep strategy on this list but that doesn't make it the easiest. Teachers are always looking for those extra few minutes in the day when the class is quiet and they can make a cup of tea, tidy their desk, sneak in a bit of marking or planning or meet with a small group or 1-1. This strategy requires you to fight the urge to be productive (in the conventional sense) and just read. Read whatever you want, although reading something your students might be interested in gives you the added bonus of being able to recommend it later (and get a jump on actually reading ALL the lit circle books this year!). In reality, while you will want to be diligent with this strategy in the beginning, you can probably move to conferencing with students once your students see you as a reader; read diligently every day for a month or two, then drop down to 2-3 days per week and use the other days to talk books with kids during this time.
3. Sell Sell Sell
Now that you've begun reading all these fabulous books, talk them up to kids like you are a multi-level marketer about to make the jump to the next tier. And while you're at it, talk them up to other teachers too. A whole school reading culture depends on people who are actively promoting books and reading every chance they get. Be that person.
4. Read Aloud
If you ask me, read alouds are something we get rid of too quickly in schools. We have this impression that only little kids want to be read aloud to and so we stop reading aloud once kids are old enough to read to themselves (Scholastic's Kids and Family Reading Report Canadian Edition found that only 16% of kids are read aloud to at home after age 8). But if you've seen Dead Poets Society, then you've seen first-hand the power of a read aloud at any age. Beyond being great modelling of rhythm, cadence and expression, read alouds are enjoyable. They allow the mind to relax and enjoy the story in ways that it doesn't necessarily do when reading silently. Not sure what to read? Check out The Read Aloud Revival for great recommendations for all ages. Worried about tripping over your words or not reading with expression? Try an audiobook from Audible or Libro.fm (bonus - check out the free Advanced Listener Copies for educators).
5. Get Everyone on board
Ok, so this may actually be the hardest strategy on this list (see aforementioned comment about teachers not reading, especially during the school year) but it IS doable. While the science and math teachers may not see the value in introducing a read-aloud to their class time, they may be willing to try it during homeroom, particularly if you provide them with an audiobook. Better yet, provide the whole school with the same audiobook and set aside 10 minutes each day for classes to listen to it. Just imagine the discussion in the hallways! Or perhaps they'd be willing to post what they read for pleasure outside their classroom door, even if it might not be their students' cup of tea. And don't forget the custodians, crossing guards, noon hour supervisors and any other adult in the building. Remember, the goal is to have students see adults reading, whatever that may look like.
Creating a culture of reading in your school isn't as hard as it seems. A few simple steps will get you started off in the right direction, and that momentum will bring others on board pretty quickly. Soon enough, you will find that conversations about books are happening all over the school, from the office, to the library, to the classrooms, to the hallways; adults sharing with students, students sharing with adults, adults sharing with adults and students sharing with students. The more kids see and hear books being read and promoted, the more they will benefit. So, what are you waiting for? Choose a strategy and get started tomorrow!
I'm Bryn, teacher, mom, book lover, athlete. I am passionate about living life with my family, teaching and learning something new all the time. I hope you find something that speaks to you here on my blog and would love to hear from you too!