By Deborah Eades
We’ve all heard the claims and read the reports. Reading is good for you. As English teachers, we witness first-hand the increase in empathy, understanding, perspective, and--oh yes-- test scores that accompany reading. Sadly, however, as students move through from primary to secondary school, many of them stop reading for pleasure. Let’s face it, many of them stop reading even for school.
One of the best ways to learn a foreign language is immersion study. People sign up to live and study in a foreign country, and they learn the language faster. Living in the culture of the language shifts the brain into turbo boost. The scholars begin thinking in a new way that facilitates the acquisition of language. A similar experience can happen when schools create a culture of reading.
I noticed this for the first time when I moved to a new district. From what I could tell, nearly all the staff at my new school were readers. Lunchtime conversation often centered around someone’s latest book haul. A book shelf in the teacher’s lounge invited us to take a book and leave a book. Teachers set their email signatures to note their current reads. Some staff members met every summer for a long-standing book club. Even staff Christmas parties culminated in a gift exchange of books. Reading was everywhere, and because of this, students were exposed to reading as not just a classroom requirement, but as a passion.
When students are immersed in a positive reading culture, it makes a difference. They carry their personal reading material with them and turn to it rather than cell phones during down time. They discuss plot and character and tone like they’re bantering about the latest Tik-Tok craze. They ask teachers and librarians for recommendations and offer recommendations to their peers. When students read for pleasure, they come to those complex texts we force on them with minds that are more open and willing.
Because I believe in the benefits that reading can have on students, I wanted to share some different ways to help engage your students with texts they love. Listed below are three ways to create a culture of reading in your school.
We already do this in class, don’t we? We read the book, and at some time during the unit, we show at least parts of the movie, if not the whole thing. However, sometimes we are guilty of sending mixed messages. We chastise students for watching the movie or teachers from other departments for showing the movie before we study the text in class. If we believe that a movie version can offer insight and clarity, why not fully embrace it? In fact, a colleague and I recently discussed this very idea. You can read our conclusions on the value of movies in the classroom here.
Our librarian, Heather Hawkins (who blogged for KATE about Skype), welcomed students back this year with a giant wall display advertising all the book/movie combos our school library has in stock. Those movies had been hidden away in a back room, accessible only by teachers for years. Why? What’s the point of restricting student access to book-inspired movies? By embracing the book/movie connection, she has offered students an welcoming doorway back to reading for pleasure. The message is if you liked the movie, you’ll love the book. We have both right here waiting just for you.
Show and Tell Shingles
You know how businessmen, lawyers, and barbers hang out a “shingle” to advertise their services? Staff members can utilize this same technique by hanging a shingle to advertise their current reading interests. Imagine the power of students seeing a “Currently Reading” sign on nearly every classroom they enter. The message amplifies when the shingles showcase current reads of office staff and lunch ladies and coaches, too. Students get it pretty quickly. Adults at their school value reading, and not just the English teachers.
Sharing your reads with the student body creates other connections, too. Students know who the avid readers are, but they also know which teachers take forever to read a book. Slow readers start to realize it’s okay to not be a fast and furious reader, as long as they are reading. Additionally, students notice the topic trends. When a sci-fi fan student sees that his/her math teacher voraciously reads Marie Lu books, the door opens for bonding beyond the curriculum.
To get your entire staff on board, make it easy for them. Print and distribute simple “Currently Reading” signs. Tell staff you are trying an experiment, and you want to see how many kids notice the signs. Some teachers might be more willing to help with an experiment than to be told they have to hang a sign. You know how we can be, guys. If a math teacher told me to hang a sign revealing how I use math each day, I might be hesitant about possible judgment. However, sometimes students need to see teachers taking a chance in order to be willing to take a chance, too. So, print the signs, ask for the support, and when Math asks back, return the favor.
Facilitate Reading for Fun
Some of us already do this, but it’s good to remind ourselves how important it is to facilitate reading for fun, especially in times of change. A few years ago, our ELA department decided to start every class period with ten minutes of daily reading. We expected our students to have personal reading material with them, preferably hard copies. The reading material could be a novel, a graphic novel, a magazine, a book of poetry, even a cookbook if that’s what a student liked to read. We stocked our rooms to create easy access and ward off I-forgot-my-book excuses.
Immediately, students were confused. Did they have to take notes? Would there be a test? Should they turn in a reading log? Could they switch out a book if they didn’t like the one they chose? It took a while for them to realize they were reading for fun. Period. That’s it. It wasn’t long before students appreciated this reading time. They protected this time, and reminded teachers when we forgot.
Over time, some of us have tweaked the practice. Some teachers have students read for twenty minutes twice a week instead of ten minutes daily. One switched to using one whole class period once a week. I change it up if we are currently reading a novel as a class. We read that book instead and then go back to fun reading after. Some teachers moved to requiring students to at least share out casually a quick summary and recommendation, which the students loved, by the way. The approach might have morphed, but results were steady. Students appreciated the opportunity to read what they wanted, so they were less resistant to required reading. The positive effect of personal reading time outweighed the instructional minutes sacrificed.
If you find that your students aren’t utilizing this time as much as you would like, here is one tip to increase the effectiveness of this practice--read with your students. Resist the urge to answer emails or grade a couple essays. Students need to see you model this behavior.
One thing we all know for sure is that preaching to students that they should read doesn’t work. It amounts to one more adult “shoulding” on them. Modeling a passion and creating a culture of reading does work. It might be slow going at first. Teenagers sometimes equate new ideas with weird ideas. They might associate reading with nerdiness. As much as English teachers don’t mind being nerds, not all students agree. When reading becomes the norm, gradually, a culture of reading will emerge and students who read for pleasure will emerge from it. The bonus effect will be higher reading scores, of course, but more importantly a more curious, understanding, and empathetic generation. In academia, there’s not much else that can change a child’s world more than reading.
While these three suggestions are a great way to initiate a reading culture in your classroom, there are infinite other possibilities as well. Comment below some other ways you encourage reading outside the curriculum. What are some of your favorite reads? Don’t forget to check out KATE Blog Goodreads for great recommendations or join our join or book clubs for KATE members.
About the Author
Deborah McNemee teaches at Andover Central High School where a culture of reading is alive and well. She creates a culture of reading with her students by annually hosting a project based event in partnership with Big Read Wichita. She facilitates a writing culture through encouraging involvement with the NaNowriMo Young Writers Program and submitting student work to Voices of Kansas. Her favorite books to read outside of school are classics. Check out her blog about keeping classics relevant for kids at www.KeepingClassics.com.
By Dr. Vicki Seeger
If you’re reading this, chances are you are an elementary educator who is looking for a state organization that meets your literacy needs as an educator, a professional learner, a literacy leader, and a member of a connected community. If you’re like me, you have missed having an organization dedicated to the literacy needs and interests of elementary educators across the state, in our regional areas, and in our communities. As President of the Kansas Reading Association when it was determined that it was no longer a viable organization, I can assure you that I have missed my literacy colleagues. The Kansas Association of Teachers of English has served to fill the void left since that time.
KATE, an affiliate of the National Council of Teachers of English, provides avenues for attending annual conferences, writing articles for a peer-reviewed journal, honoring new and seasoned educators, and participating in professional learning like book studies and trainings.
The annual conference held in the fall each year holds opportunities to learn, to present, and to mentor. The fall 2019 conference theme was “Growing Empathy and Inspiring Authenticity.” Attendees learned from well-known authors Alan Gratz and Tiffany Jackson. They attended inspiring sessions to inform practice and expand knowledge about theory. I walked away with new ideas for the elementary classroom and was able to apply information from secondary educators to the elementary setting. And, even though the fall 2020 conference will be held virtually, the opportunities are not in any way diminished. Nic Stone will speak about her important novels. This year’s theme is “Teachers as Artists: Reignite Your Creative Voice,” and it is the perfect time for you to submit a proposal to present. You have had to be creative during this time. Think about the challenges every elementary educator has faced during the spring and fall semesters. How are you reaching your students virtually, in a hybrid format, or in person? The literacy methods you are using now are like no other time. Consider submitting a proposal and joining KATE members virtually for the fall conference. Here is a link to details about the fall webinar and proposal submissions.
Another benefit to joining KATE is access to Kansas English, a state journal currently housed at Wichita State University and edited by Dr. Katie Cramer. The quality of the journal is stellar and offers articles on a wide range of topics. It recently won the Affiliate Journal of Excellence Award from the National Council of Teachers of English for 2020. The journal welcomes articles by elementary educators and includes opportunities to be a reviewer for manuscript submissions, as well.
Looking for a way to honor a new or veteran educator? KATE has that, too. At the fall conference, awards are given for outstanding elementary and secondary educators who are members of KATE. You all know what it is like to be an educator right now. Receiving recognition for the work being done in unprecedented times may just mean keeping an educator in the field of teaching. Check out the 2019 awardees here.
Finally, there are important and inspiring opportunities for professional learning through KATE that come at no cost to members. These offerings tackle critical issues in education like racism, equity in the classroom, LGBTQIA topics, and culturally responsive teaching. This summer, I participated in a book study with Michaela Liebst. We read Untamed by Glennon Doyle. Michaela facilitated by sending out weekly email messages where we could discuss the book and ended with a Zoom session for those that participated. While this was a memoir, other book studies have included young adult literature. Safe Zone Training was facilitated by Nathan Whitman in three one-hour sessions this summer. Learning how to meet the needs of LGBTQ students is important no matter what grade level you teach. Nathan, the current president of KATE, is always open to new ideas for professional development opportunities based on the suggestions of members, and he provides leadership based on the interests of the membership.
Elementary educators, consider making KATE your professional educator organization. KATE needs the voices of elementary educators. They already have so much to offer, AND they are looking for ideas to keep you engaged.
About the Author
Vicki Seeger teaches undergraduate courses in literacy and social studies methods and in the graduate reading and curriculum and instruction programs at Northwest Missouri State University. She serves on the Executive Board of KATE and reviews articles for Kansas English.
Facebook: Vicki Seeger
By Jennifer Wolfe
In the midst of my ‘normal’ teacher-in-August anxiety, the idea of traditional teaching is out the window. Nothing about this school year is traditional, or normal, or predictable.
One of my biggest worries about prepping for my 7th grade ELA class is how to engage and entice my reluctant and striving readers when all my ‘traditional’ methods need to adjust - or get tossed out.
I can’t surround them with books to the point that they’re tripping over book shelves and boxes, and pushing away stacks to clear a space on their work tables.
I can’t have a stack of books waiting on their seat, a sly post-it note attached with their name - just because I think they’ll like the titles.
I can’t wander around the room during the first ten minutes of class anymore, clipboard in hand, looking over their shoulders, chatting about their titles and noticing what books are ‘making the rounds’ with my students.
To me, hooking kids into great books is equivalent to winning a Olympic ski race - I’m preparing all season, learning the best path to the bottom of the hill (or book stack), sharpening my equipment and constantly searching for the next great training opportunity to pump up my ‘athletes’.
And in true Olympic fashion, when we cross the reading ‘finish line’ and complete a book, we need to shout it out!
Are you with me? So what CAN we do to get kids excited about books and reading?
I’ve got a few ideas to start the year with - for opening up a world of enticing titles, for capturing thinking and discussions about books, and for sharing books we love.
Opening up a world of books
Read alouds - Global Read Aloud, picture books, and First Chapter Friday
Every year I participate in Pernille Ripp’s Global Read Aloud program. She graciously organizes educators around common books by grade level, and facilitates us to collaborate on curriculum, share teaching ideas, and connect our students across countries. This year I’m reading Linda Sue Park’s newest novel, Prairie Lotus. In a digital space, I like to start class with 5-10 minutes of reading while students settle in. They like the calming effect, the personal connection, and of course, they groan when I end each chapter!
This year I’m trying batch recording - each chapter I’ll read aloud and record ahead of time to have an independent, ‘do-now’ activity. I’m also gathering up lots and lots of picture books for quick engagements into a theme or skill.
I’m also saving each Friday for ‘First Chapter Friday’ read aloud - I’m hoping to build up the anticipation all week for the book I’ll select to read aloud. I’m curating a list for kids and parents to have as a reference, and I’ll be asking for student suggestions, too!
I challenge my students to read 25 books during the school year. We talk about setting personal goals, and what ‘counts’ as a complete book. If 25 isn’t enough, I encourage students to go higher - and even to compete with my goal (last year I set it at 75)!
I think the trick with this challenge is that it is NOT restrictive or punitive. Kids choose EVERY book they read. They can read ANY genre, and I don’t require a certain amount of anything. And it DOESN’T count towards their grade. Yes, I check their progress and help make suggestions if they get stuck, but I want them to read because they LIKE it, not because they have to.
Capturing thinking and discussions
Digital Reader’s Notebooks are my plan for curating student thinking and discussion about what they’re reading. Last year my students thought it would be neat to have a list of all the books they are reading, so I’m going to add a link to a digital form they can fill out when they finish a book. This is one template from Amy, who writes at Charmed by Challenge.
I also love to get kids blogging about books - we use Kid Blog. I set up class accounts and teach students how to write to a prompt, how to give feedback, and how to make the post appealing to readers. They love feeling like published writers!
Book Bento Boxes are another fun way to get kids engaged and talking about books. The idea is to use Google slides to create a bento box that represents the characters, plot and theme of their book. Lisa Highfill created this Book Bento Box HyperDoc - it’s perfect!
One of the most popular projects with my 7th graders is creating Instagram profiles for their book characters. I use this template, and encourage students to think deeply about who their character is, what they value, and how they would communicate that in their profile and images. Kids can’t believe they get to create this in school! This version was made by Cynthia Nixon and makes it super simple for kids to create really authentic looking pages!
Sharing books we love
Creating podcasts is one of my most favorite ways to get kids talking about books they love. Using this template, they can work individually or with a small group to script, practice, record and produce their podcast. I like to use WeVideo for this project - but even just doing a simple audio recording on a phone would work, too. Creating book soundtracks with WeVideo is another way to broaden thinking about characters and plot by curating songs.
Video book reviews are simple, engaging projects to help kids share their reading. I share this Book Review HyperDoc and have students record on Flipgrid. It could be adapted for creating a book trailer or filming a scene as well.
Finally, a project with a simple set up yet complex thinking are one pagers. These can be done on paper or digitally, with any type of reading - short stories, articles, novels, poems...and teachers can change the expectations every time. I used a Google doc to package all my One-Pager for Lit Circle directions and students created fabulous representations of their thinking! This is a great project for independent or group work.
Whatever teaching scenario you find yourself in this year, I hope that thinking about bringing the joy of reading, books, and authors into your classroom is a bit less overwhelming with some of these ideas. I’d love to hear what you do - visit my website, http://jenniferwolfe.net for more teaching and learning ideas!
About the Author
Jennifer Wolfe, a writer, middle school teacher, and digital teaching and learning trainer and coach, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously.
Jennifer publishes regularly on her blog, mamawolfe, at jenniferwolfe.net, and has also been published in Real Simple magazine as well as the anthology, I Am Here: The Untold Stories of Everyday People, The Huffington Post, The Educator’s Room, Mamapedia, Mamalode, and BlogHer websites. She was a cast member of Listen To Your Mother in 2014. When not teaching or writing, Jennifer enjoys cooking, traveling, hiking, reading, and adventuring with her two young adult children. You can connect with Jennifer on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Goodreads.
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