Working Toward Literacy in Rural New York

I made a commitment to read and write with my students this semester. Here is a list of books that I've read since February of this year.

I made a commitment to read and write with my students this semester. Here is a list of books that I’ve read since February of this year.

Most educators know that reading is good for students and their schools. After all, independent reading helps students build background knowledge and vocabulary; strong reading habits are also associated with higher scores on standardized tests.

How then, do educators turn “non-readers” into devoted bibliophiles? The English department at my school is currently tackling this question by working collaboratively with librarians and teachers to promote a school-wide reading culture. We are one semester into our Donalyn Miller-inspired reading initiative, and the results thus far have been promising.

Completed

  • Our wonderful librarian created “what I’m reading” posters for all teachers to display outside their doors. All teachers are showcasing books that they’re currently reading.
  • English teachers are instituting independent reading programs in their classrooms to ensure that all students are engaged in reading throughout the year.
  • Students in grades 9-12 completed a reading survey that will help teachers and librarians track their reading habits and interests. Librarians can use this data to inform book purchases.
  • English 12 students created a space in the library for “English 12 recommendations.”

In Progress

  • We are working toward making this literacy initiative student-centered. Ideally, students will be generating ideas and helping to facilitate & coordinate programming.
  • Summer book read program: Several students in middle school will read R.J. Palacio’s “Wonder” over the summer.
  • We are piggy-backing off of SUNY Oneonta’s Common Read program. Up to thirty of our students in grades 10-11 will have the chance to read “A Long Way Gone” by Ishmael Beah and attend a lecture at SUNY Oneonta in the fall of 2015.

Making it Data-Driven

Here are a few ideas for measuring outcomes of independent reading programs, and for ensuring that efforts to promote reading are, in fact, meeting their stated objectives:

  • Use reading assessments like the Scholastic Reading Inventory to consistently monitor student progress throughout the year. Teachers can compare data and work collaboratively to overcome challenges.
  • Teacher reflections: What do teachers see as potential challenges or areas for improvement? What successes have they seen in the classroom? What obstacles in implementation have they faced?
  • Student reflections: Ask students to write about their own reading habits at the start of the school year. Collect these writing samples, and then repeat at the end of the year. Allow students to compare these reflections, then ask students to decide for themselves if they’ve grown as readers.

Final Note: The Need for Silent Sustained Reading in the Classroom

I’m an advocate of providing in-class time for reading (see: “An Argument for In-Class Reading Time“). It’s not enough to simply “assign” reading as homework and hope that those reading logs reflect a genuine devotion to literature. I tried this in the past and got dismal results, particularly among students who lack support at home. As one student in my class put it bluntly: “if you didn’t give us time to read, most of us wouldn’t do it.” If we truly want our students to become readers — that is, if we want to instill in them the desire to read, to explore new genres, to seek out new ideas and new authors — we need to provide the space and the encouragement for this to happen.

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