I have been at the profession for a lot of years and I sometimes feel that I am no closer to figuring out how to get kids to read than when I started. What I do feel is that I have developed a better sense and explanation as to why we should read, especially as I let go of my snobby notion that only certain types of literature constitute viable reading material.
It was on the hunt of trying to communicate the answer to the question “why do we have to take English?” inevitably posed by a frustrated student, that I came across this video series hosted by John Greene, yes that John Greene. Though aimed at the study of literature, the reasons behind reading can certainly be more broadly applied.[For a short view, his list at the five minute mark for the list of reasons.]
Students have an incredibly wide variety of reactions to reading and we see them all at our school. Being in the library for the majority of the day, I have had the great fortune of being able to talk books and reading with a goodly portion of our school population. Every student’s input and reaction, positive or negative, is important in developing an approach that will develop a school-wide strategy that will help create and sustain life-long readers.
In a previous blog post, I discussed changing the definition of what is acceptable reading material. Students should read what they want. Students have access to information in an incredible number of ways and their strategies to approach it must change as well. In “Reading Multimodal Texts in the 21st Century,” Frank Serafini reminds us of this and the numerous skills that readers must bring with them to read text critically. With that said, teachers and teacher-librarians must also develop and change ways in which they demonstrate and teach these skills. There is no better or more accessible time to do this as the BC Ministry of Education is adopting a definition of “text” in their curriculum for English Language Arts that is just as broad as what our learners will come across day to day.
This point is important because we need to recognize a shift in the material that constitutes text. With this shift, we will need to acknowledge that what we recognize as “reading” will have to shift as well. Students can be caught reading a novel, on-line news source, magazine or graphic text. This shift may bring a more positive attitude toward reading as I have heard students self-deprecate the activity by echoing the words of adults; “I wasn’t reading, I was looking at a comic.” With this shift, then teachers need to change their perceptions about what constitutes “literature.”
Our libraries already reflect this change in attitudes. I am old enough to remember libraries only housing books that you had to find by thumbing through a card catalogue. Now, access to the internet through wi-fi, bring your own device policies, borrowing laptops, graphic novel selections and databases have supplemented library collections. This is important, because as we recognize our shift in the definition of reading, what fosters a reading culture in a school shifts as well.
By keeping this shift in mind, there are numerous actions by which the school library can model and influence the whole school’s attitude toward reading. I have learnt that proceeding subtlety is probably going to give you more results, though patience and understanding that it will take some time are requisites. There are so many great ideas floating around out there that a quick search can provide far too many. What follows are a few that I believe can be quickly applied to my specific situation at the school I am in to yield results.
- Seek to have members of the school community show that they are (still) readers. In a successful, school-wide reading culture, members should be able to approach anyone and ask, “What are you reading?” Everyone would have something on the go, obviously not right in front of them, but at home, in their office or backpack. Ideally there would be no hesitation in saying the title, making a recommendation or having a conversation about reading material. It is stunning how many adults in my building have responded with “I would love to read, but I just don’t have the time.” If the adults are not reading, then why should students? I have started to put a “currently reading” section on my email signature. Book reviews and recommendations focusing on staff are another strategy I have been trying to apply around the library. Influencing adults is hard.
- Creating an active library culture through clubs and groups involved in reading, writing and communicating. Hosting events and clubs such as book release parties, book clubs and creative writing groups are also on the agenda for implementation. By giving acknowledgement and space for those who are involved with reading then the visibility of readers and their preferred activity will only increase the acceptability of what it is to be a reader. Extensions through events around free comic book day, movies based on books and games would extend the audience, as well as reinforce the broader definition of what it is to read and what a text is mentioned above.
- This active library culture should be extended through social media. This blog will eventually be linked to a smaller, school-based blog to produce information, resources and book reviews in a dynamic fashion. Finding tools that will help staff and students is another factor to bring attention to the library and, therefore, reading. Displays that make the reading culture visible and get a wide-variety of people involved, perhaps even through friendly competition, such as a series of challenges for staff and student to undertake or a “Been Caught Reading” picture display, would draw attention to the reading done by members of the school.
- A formal introduction to our library management system is also overdue. We use a district-wide system that is very robust and staff and students have a lot of abilities to find, collect, record, hold, renew and review books, databases, websites through their individual accounts. We have not even scratched the surface of what this can do, because no one knows about it. Communication is key and our library management system is a unifying piece that can connect staff and students with a virtual library. To further and broaden this aspect, enhanced connection with the public library is also in order to access their website and on-line books.
I realize that this is only scratching the surface of what we can do to foster a reading culture, but it enough to put into place right away to see some results. A mentioned, some have already been put in place and need to be reconsidered in how they are presented. Some are on the agenda for next year. At the core is the belief that any action around the idea of supporting students to read would not be a waste of time.
Serafini, F. e. (2012). Reading Multimodal Texts in the 21st Century. Research In The Schools, 19(1), 26-32.