Fostering Reading Cultures in Schools

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. Continue reading

What Constitutes Reading?

The following was a scenario outlined in the LLED 462 course of the UBC Teacher-Librarianship Diploma. The prompts that directed the response were: As a teacher librarian, how would you handle this situation?

He came down a couple of times later, disinterested and disengaged, choosing a few novels this time and then promptly returning them in a time span that indicated he had not read them. When asked: “have you given up graphic novels”, he said his teacher said no more graphic novels, he had to take out novels to better his reading…

This situation should be approached on two fronts, the most important being the first and the more delicate being the second.

The student should be asked what it is about graphic novels that he enjoys. From the scenario, it would sound like there has been conversation around this topic to begin with. Graphic novels and comics are a world unto themselves with their own unique language and strategies to engage the audience. They also have their own battery of critics and graduate courses. If the student is interested in how graphic novels work on this level, then he may be interested in pursuing this form of literary exploration and expression. I would have to argue that it is the same reason that English teachers make their students read novels, mainly to engage in some level of literary analysis. Tough to argue that pace and tone can only happen with words, when a comic reader can find the same subtleties in the use of page layouts, panel sizes and gutter spacing.

What I’m suggesting is that becoming a better reader does not depend on an individual’s ability or desire to read novels. The argument made another way, what about poetry and drama? Should the reading of these be excluded in favour of novels as they follow a non-prose format? I am a fan of graphic novels and texts. If there is any doubt of their validity in the school library, I would invite someone in our lunch hour to count the number of teenage boys who have their nose in a graphic novel and, if the guest is still skeptical, ask what the boys may otherwise be doing if they didn’t have access to this reading material.

From the scenario, it would appear that the student is engaging with critical analysis that is appropriate to his grade level in conversations with the teacher librarian.  Has he spoken to his teacher about graphic novels in this way? There is still a stigma surrounding graphic novels and comics, regardless of what the box office audience draws show (I am still selective to whom I show my comic collection to). If he hasn’t broached the topic with his teacher and only tried to speak about novels that he is not really interested in, then his teacher may be misinformed at how strong the student’s reading actually is.

The more delicate second factor of this scenario is, of course, the teacher. While I’ve discovered that the information provided by Stephen Krashen, Neil Gaiman and others are of deep interested and become guiding principles in the practice of teacher-librarian wanna-bes, there is deeply held contrary notions held by enough teachers to make the introduction of this material, including the findings of research, difficult.

A lot depends on the relationship that you have with the teacher in question. There are teachers that I could think of that I would not hesitate in approaching with my thoughts from above, coupled with Gaiman’s speech and a copy of Leading Learning because I would anticipate a great conversation about reading, pedagogy and how we could create a program that would bridge the development of this student and the rest of the class.

Others would scoff, regardless of the information presented, because a strategy based on a variety of literacy doesn’t reflect what they deem as important, usually based in a classical definition of literature and how best to teach it. If I asked, perhaps they would let me in on their criteria for reading assessment and I could help out with this student, application, or unit by bringing the entire class to the library for a book talk, perhaps to include some graphic texts.

I am pretty confident in my ability to gauge relationship and how to appeal to many of my colleagues for change through the library learning commons, though some may not be familiar with that term. My question and dilemma is: As a teacher-librarian, how do I approach the staff who are hesitant or resistant to change their practice to include me and my expertise?

If the teacher is in the first camp, chances are that they already have spoken to me about the library and how that could help their teaching practice. Teachers in the second camp may or may not know that we exist, or what the library and teacher-librarian could do for them. I should like to sell it as Stephen Krashen sells SSR, that utilizing the library will make their teaching 5% easier.

I’m willing to take small steps and work on developing a change that definitely will not be expected to come overnight. I think that, unfortunately, while I would try my darndest to make the case for our graphic novel reader, it might take more than one whack to crack this nut and change the practice of a teacher rooted in traditional reading practices. I anticipate that changing their awareness and attitude will be my biggest challenge.

Works Cited:

Books and Articles by Stephen D Krashen. (n.d.). Retrieved May 27, 2018, from
Gaiman, N. (2013, October 15). Neil Gaiman: Why our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming. The Guardian. Retrieved from
Kirkland, A. B., & Koechlin, C. (2015). Leading Learning: Standards of Practice for School Library Learning Commons in Canada. Teacher Librarian; Bowie, 42(5), 45–47.