In looking at the last post we wrote, way back when the weather still called for shorts and tank tops, sunscreen and lemonade, I realize that we have been rather negligent in our own writing. My only excuse (and it is a poor one) is that we have been very busy READING.
Even though I had seen Penny Kittle’s Book Love pop up in my Twitter feed and heard multiple conference presenters mention it as a must read, it wasn’t until this summer that I dug in…and devoured the book in four hours. It gave me the practical tools that I needed to begin helping teachers to address the apathetic behavior that I have been seeing in my high school students over the past few years.
For example, at the beginning of this year, a teacher of junior English administered a reading survey to her students to gauge their feelings about reading. Some of the results were not surprising, but others led me to think more deeply about what exactly is causing our students to feel the way they do about reading. Here are just a few of the statistics reported:
Students who choose to read in their free time: 6.4%
Students who don’t choose to read in their free time: 48%
Students who enjoy reading most of the time: 71%
Students who were currently reading a book: 29%
Students who felt that reading is difficult for them: 12.9%
Students who do not read regularly: 54.9%
The most books a student read last year was 20 and the least was 2.
I find this data perplexing. We have students who don’t choose to read, but most say they enjoy reading. We have students who are confident in their skills as readers, but do not read regularly. Most students are not currently reading a book, and nobody read more than 20 books last year! What is causing this contrast in feelings versus actions?
I believe that the biggest issue is choice. In high school, we kill the love of reading by forcing students to read the books we believe they need to read in order to be educated people. This is not an original idea, I know. Penny Kittle, Kelly Gallagher, Nancy Atwell, Richard Allington, and many others have stated this as a truth educators need to embrace if we want students to like, and hopefully love, reading.
Therefore, this year my literacy coaching is focusing on ways that we can bring choice into our classrooms and diverse, high interest books into our students’ hands. Here are some of the ideas that we are currently implementing:
1. We are building out the “Literacy Lounge,” a space that has flexible seating and a large classroom library.
2. One of the teachers has created an Instagram #staplesreads so that students and teachers can post the books they are reading and share favorites with one another. Instagram is an easy way to judge a book by its cover and hopefully begin compiling a what-to-read-next list.
3. We are using Twitter to share the reading love as well. The goal is to have the community become more engaged and informed about what students are reading and learning in our high school. We are using the #stapleslearns to compile learning around the school, including reading.
We are very much in the infancy of these projects and welcome any and all ideas as to how to engage students in finding great books and then reading them. Please leave comments for us and we promise to post more frequently and update our progress, both the wins and the losses.