An Action Plan for Building a Culture of Readers

I teach college courses on literacy and the one course that all preservice teachers are required to take is Literacy in the Content Areas. You can be working on a Masters in Teaching Physical Education, Art, TESOL, maybe science or math and you are required to take this course. For many of these teachers, the idea of teaching literacy is not at the forefront of their thinking about teaching. In fact, many question if I am asking them to teaching reading in their classes. My answer is always, YES!

Reading is an essential skill necessary across ALL content areas for learning. It is the foundation of all that we do.

This past weekend I read Many Ellis’ Lead with Literacy: A Pirate Leader’s Guide to Developing a Culture of Readers (2018) and Travis Crowder and Todd Nesloney’s Sparks in the Dark: Lessons, Ideas and Strategies to Illuminate the Reading and Writing Lives in All of Us (2018). Both books are published by Dave Burgess Consulting, the famed PIRATE educator and presenter. Ellis’ book showcases how she went about promoting the love of reading in her elementary school by transforming the school culture and building enthusiasm among teachers, students, and parents. Crowder and Nesloney highlight student work and activities that showcase the necessity of reading and writing in all classrooms to promote student voice and critical thinking. Both books are filled with practical, actionable ideas and strategies to embed books, literacy, and the reading into your school.

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Here are a few treasures to promote a love of reading in your own school and or classroom:

  1. Be a Reading Role Model – Take ownership and accountability for embedding literacy in all facets of the school and learning environment by being a lead reader. If you expect to create a culture of readers, talk about books, let teachers and students talk about books, share your love of reading, invest time in allowing students to read in school books of their own choice, celebrate books and readers, and promote a love of reading among teachers, parents, and students.
  2. Share Your Love of Reading – When students walk into your classroom or office the environment should showcase your love of reading. Display what you are currently reading, maintain a reading log, use social media to share your reading life, build a library, and share great books.
  3. Books for All – In addition to time and choice, students have to have access to books. In Mindy’s school there are reading emergency shelves throughout the school for students to pick up a book to read at anytime, even on the way to the bathroom. In her school is a clawfoot tub that is painted in school colors and filled with books for students to dive into what books to read next. Classroom libraries should be robust for students to choose books that capture their interests, questions, and curiosities.
  4. Your Physical Environment Should Mirror Your Mission – Set up a #BookSelfie station for students to snap a picture with the book they are currently reading. Comfy chairs, carpets, and reading nooks allow students to read in a comfortable place. Organize for a service dog to come to school for students to read to on a regular occasion, and set up little free libraries outside of the school by the playground if a student wants to just sit outside and read. Create book backpacks for students to take home over the weekend and share with their families. It is your responsibility to motivate students to read and see reflections of themselves and the diversity of our world in the libraries that are established. There are so many ways to bring that love of reading into your space and school.
  5. Have Fun with Reading – Reading should not be a punishment but a pleasure. Whether that means hosting a doughnuts and pajamas story time or a reading camp out for students, create events that celebrate books and reading. Gifting students birthday books on their birthday or having students share their favorite book on the morning announcements allows students to showcase their own love and fun with books.
  6. Cultivate a Love of Reading Among Teachers and Staff – Mindy shared two activities for PD that I am going to adapt for my students. The first was a Speed Dating PD where teachers had eight questions to discuss in three minute rounds. Questions like: As an educator, what book character are you most like and why? What is one book that has impacted your life? The second activity, Strangers in the Ball Pit is another fun way for staff members to interact with both light hearted and heavy hitting questions. Gallery Walks, flip a book study, and gifting great books to your teachers shows that reading is something that you value. When every teacher is on the same page, the school mission is attainable.

Crowder and Nesloney write, “If our goal is to build our students’ capacity as readers and writers, it is imperative that we participate in the process of reading and writing as well, in everything we do, in every subject we teach . . . the poetry of math, the metaphor of science, the humanity of history, and the literature of language arts combine to create a beautiful experience, all united by literacy.” (pg. 2) It is all of our responsibility to provide our students the educational experiences that empower them. Reading and writing are so important today in all of our classrooms as facts are being altered, silenced, and negated. Students need to be able to read critically and communicate effectively in order to amplify their stories, challenge, question, and inspire the words and information around them.

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