Educators can list many obstacles to independent reading. Rows of books and lists of assigned texts overwhelm students. Reading in silence feels lonely and cut off from peers. Teachers and students have to square academic expectations and appropriateness with kids’ genuine interests and cultural references. Young people may fear being called out on their ignorance, and often lack role models who prize discovery over certainty. With all these hurdles, how can schools overcome kids’ resistance to opening and finishing a book?
There’s an abundance of listicles available with good tips and strategies for organizing a classroom and school library space. But here we want to focus on educators’ attitudes and behaviors, with a little side discussion of the physical arrangements we make for books and their readers. We are talking about cultivating a love of reading: a curious, critical, and creative engagement with text and media generally. We’ll divide this task up into five big ideas – enticing, enabling, sharing, caring, and the jackpot.
- Enticing students with displays and accessible spaces shows the school community prioritizes independent reading. Turning the text-and-image landfill into an inviting, meaningful media environment is key. Take recent books from shelves and place them in thematic context of other materials (posters, video, models, games, club activity announcements, fiction and nonfiction, popular and academic, short and long), create floor-to-ceiling displays, move furniture and lighting, and risk some disorder to reach students who find the “normal” library intimidating.
- Enabling independent reading means finding every opportunity to say “yes” to students. Be agreeable to providing kids with the books they want to read. Smile when they take books from the displays. Set aside time in the school day for silent reading and peer-to-peer discussion around books. Let kids keep books longer than the check-out period. And—this is key—freely offer books that are a bit below or above the students’ measured “reading level.”
- Sharing information, ideas, and love of reading among students is natural. We adults participate in book clubs and look through favored reviews and blogs for “what’s in,” and kids are no different. Set up a library or classroom message board for students to recommend titles with sticky notes, or use a call-out card on the book shelf to announce “Read Me, I’m Scary!” or “Take a Look, I’m Funny!” Contests for student-made bookmarks and flyers build on reading accomplishment and tap creativity.
- Caring combines intention and ability. Talk with students about your own adult reading choices, and how you discover new things, educate yourself, and change your mind. This shows respect for learning and for kids-as-learners. Older students can reach out to younger ones with read-alouds, skits, and displays.
- The Jackpot. This is the educators’ goal: the moment when students who read adopt the identity of readers and act as part of a community of readers. Now it’s time to build on this success! Students can serve as “librarian for a day,” working behind the desk and guest-curating displays. Consider asking a school club or team to select titles, emphasizing connections between popular and academic materials, disciplines, media formats, fiction and nonfiction, texts and real-life participatory events. Let students choose a favorite author or illustrator and write or produce a creative invitation for a school visit.
But more than anything else, affirm every child’s initiative to choose a book and read!