Reading is not traditionally thought of as a group activity. But, why not? People love to talk. People love to share experiences. People love to find things they have in common with other people. Reading promotions can take advantage of this human trait! Inspiring the next generation to be readers requires the socialization of reading. Embracing children and young people’s present day need for community and socialization engages lifelong reading habits. Because this generation needs, and even thrives on, social interaction, reading must become social, too.
Students’ minds today are attracted to entertainment and all things social. Just observe them in their natural habitat (outside of school hours) and witness them hanging out. It becomes obvious that socializing has become a multitasking phenomenon. Young people watch a movie while simultaneously talking and texting. They hang out with friends while keeping a texting finger at the ready so they can twitter. They talk on the phone while blogging and surfing social networking Web sites. To engage the reading attitudes of this generation, educators (aka reading motivators) need to adapt some old tricks and add new tricks to their bag to meet these Digital Natives where they live—the world of social interaction and social technology.
According to the Office of Education Research and Improvement, evidence-based education requires the “integration of professional wisdom with the best available empirical evidence in making decisions about how to deliver instruction” (2008). Educational instinct, that gut feeling that says spending time promoting and advocating the importance of reading, sets the right direction, but more proof than professional intuition is needed. In order to initiate change or validate current practices, it is also required to examine best practices and research. Research about reading and literacy emphasizes the importance of reading and its impact on the quality of life for all children, all young people, and all adults, as indicated by the following information:
- A person without a high school diploma or equivalent earns 98% less than a person with a bachelor’s degree and “educational attainment is positively related to... literacy.” (Planty 2008; US Department of Education 2007).
- A developed literacy in reading is an essential, determining factor for entry-level workplace and college readiness and success, according to the ACT Assessment. College includes trade, technical, 2-year, or 4-year colleges (ACT 2006).
- Fifty-seven percent of prison inmates began their current incarceration without a high school diploma or equivalent and “incarcerated adults had lower average... literacy than adults in the same age group living in households” (Greenberg 2007).
- According to “Reading at Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America,” literary reading is dropping, with young adults marking the sharpest decline. The report further concludes that there is a correlation between reading literature for pleasure and education and income levels (2004).
What does all this mean? Being literate and finding enjoyment in leisure reading is correlated to educational success, work fulfillment, and lifetime income. Developing a literate generation of lifelong readers is an important part of this generation’s growing into self-suffcient adults.
In 2004, Perry Meridian Middle School in Indianapolis, Indiana, engaged in an action research project to pilot a local reading intervention program, SSR with Intervention. The program proved to successfully improve student’s reading attitudes, comprehension, and state standardized test scores. What the educators learned was vital to successfully developing a lifelong reader. This process requires meeting the reader’s emotional needs through reading, developing relationships, and creating reading role models (Preddy 2007). The three R’s necessary to impact the next generation—reading, relationships, role models—are explained below.
Kids today are busy. They have time commitments placed on them socially and by home and school. Time is an important factor. Finding time to read together with friends and family throughout the school day is difficult. Finding that time to read, however, is imperative. Carving fifteen to twenty-five minutes out of a school or class day makes a difference. Most things in life require practice in order to gain skills, do it well, and establish the habit. Establishing time to read for pleasure during the school day ensures students get to practice and develop the reading habit. Promoting a home reading log also encourages families to continue the practice and experience at home while also giving the student reading experiences outside of the traditional school day.
Developing reading relationships gets to the heart of what children and young people cherish—socialization. They need to have discussions about what people are currently reading with teachers, peers, family, mentors, role models, and virtual friends. They need to get into the habit of sharing reading experiences and viewing it as common place as talking about last night’s game, movie, blog, or TV show. Reading discussions do not have to be formal or lengthy; short and sweet can be just as effective, but the conversations must occur in order to breed reading into this generation’s hearts and minds. Talk about reading in the hall, cafeteria, gymnasium, bus, classroom, bathroom, and any other place people are talking. What are you reading and how can you share it with him? What is he reading? What has he heard others are reading?
Be a reading role model. Don’t just say that reading matters; show students that reading matters in everyone’s life. Warm up class by revealing something interesting you read the night before. Read aloud snippets of something you found appealing, entertaining, valuable, refreshing, educational, or down-right fun. Put a sign up at your desk or door announcing to students what you are currently reading. Frequently take advantage of the time in class when everyone is completing a silent reading assignment to model reading by positioning yourself toward the front of the class and reading something in their presence. Carry reading material with you wherever you go so students are reminded that an effective reader keeps reading material nearby. Reward students and classes with free reading time and read alongside them throughout the reading reward time (Preddy 2007).
Millennial learners are a lot of fun to be around and are energizing to educate. Embracing student’s reading habits and motivating them is absolutely enjoyable and adds life to a day as an educator. These millennial learners are digital natives who have never experienced life without the Internet or instant gratification. Children born into generational poverty (i.e., those living in two or more generations of poverty) through necessity, live for the moment and value people (Payne 2007). Digital natives and those in generational poverty combined create our school’s millennial population. As millennial learners, they share the same values, interests, and abilities which, when met, can successfully develop uninterested students into lifelong readers. Meeting their needs requires entertainment, participation, control, auditory skills, and incentives. The millennial educators get the joyful job of finding ways to relate reading to millennial learners’ values, interests, and abilities.
Based on what is known about millennial learners (digital natives) and Ruby Payne’s (2003) research on generational poverty and the traits of an effective reader (Gardiner 2005), student traits can be used to an educator’s advantage. Students thrive on entertainment, participation in learning, feelings of control and choices, auditory skills, and appropriate rewards and incentives. Developing lifelong readers requires educators to adapt, change, or continue tactics that include interactive technology and active engagement through games, conversation, and social networking. The following are examples of how educators can promote social reading:
Today’s youth need and demand to be entertained. As a colleague says, they want a rollercoaster in the classroom every day. Find ways to make a reading rollercoaster for your school or classroom. Develop or buy reading board games that require students to talk about what they are currently reading as they play the game. Set up a schedule for a readers’ café where kids can eat, hang out, and read before school, during lunch, or after school. Provide live booktalks and reading recommendations. Create booktalk and recommendation posters and displays. Host family reading events where the student and a significant adult read the book prior to the event, then attend a party full of games and activities to celebrate the book. Host brown bag book clubs for students to attend during school. Create video and audio book promotions to publish on the Internet.
Involve students in reading conversations throughout the building: classroom, hallway, cafeteria, and library media center. Allow students to share book experiences with others students in a relaxed atmosphere by giving them the opportunity to read aloud a passage or booktalk a book that mattered to them. Set up virtual places on the Internet for students to discuss reading. Host a wiki for book review and summary postings. Find out whether your library media center’s online library catalog has the capabilities to post student book reviews, then campaign and train staff and students to utilize the service. Get students involved in schoolwide reading promotion events like author visits, one book-one school, the state’s student choice award, and reading madness month. Find ways for students to be involved in group sharing and student-led sharing opportunities. Host a book exchange party where students bring a book they loved, booktalk it, then trade with the other attendees so everyone goes home with a different book.
Feeling control over their lives also means they need freedom of choice with what they read. Get kids together with similar tastes in reading by hosting a genre book club.They can share a book they’ve read in a particular genre and feel as if they’re not being told to read one particular title or type of book. Set up a “Give One, Take One” display so students can donate books they no longer want and swap for another book. Allow options in the classroom and instead of telling them what they have to read, give them three to five books to pick from either as a class or as an individual student. Keep the library media center well-stocked with a wide range of interesting reading materials, have multiple copies of popular titles, and stay current and up-to-date with reading and literary trends.
Students have excellent auditory skills. Because their listening comprehension is higher than their reading comprehension, read aloud to them as a group or do paired reading. No matter what age, read aloud to the students while they either just listen to you or have copies to follow along with you as you read. By reading aloud you model tone, infection, punctuation, pronunciation, and pacing. In addition, you can interact with the simple and complex thinking of an effective reader, pulling on prior knowledge, asking questions, and answering questions throughout the reading. Make audio books and bookcasts available. Post audio booktalks online or find ways to have them out and available in the library media center.
Reward students, but reward appropriately. Some argue that students shouldn’t be rewarded for reading, because that is what they are supposed to do anyway, and that’s not how the real world works. It can be argued, however, that incentives are appropriate because the real world does offer rewards. The incentive could be a smile, praise, or physical reward. For this generation, remember to reward them for meeting a reading or literacy goal, or for participating in a reading event, but be sure the incentive equals the task. To appropriately reward a student or a reader, the reward should be related to what the students need to value. If students are to value reading, then the reward should relate to reading. Incentives could be a pass to the library, extra reading time, a free book to add to their home bookshelf, a gif certificate to a local bookstore, a feldtrip to a local bookstore, bookmarks, paperback book covers, etc. The external motivation derived from a school creating a culture and climate of reading helps students develop their intrinsic desires to read (Preddy 2007)
In order to reach a new generation of readers, find ways to make reading social. Find pleasure in training staff in the ways of reading engagement. Delight in finding ways to make reading socially acceptable, common-place, entertaining, and interactive in your school for yourself, your staff, and your current and future students. Read, talk, play, and have fun!
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Payne, Ruby. A Framework for Understanding Poverty. 3rd rev. ed. Aha Process, 2003.
Planty, M., W. Hussar, T. Snyder, S. Provasnik, G. Kena, R. Dinkes, A. KewalRamani, and J. Kemp. The Condition of Education 2008 (NCES 2008-031). National Center for Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences, U. S. Department of Education, 2008. http://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/2008/pdf/20_2008.pdf (accessed October 21, 2008).
Preddy, Leslie. SSR with Intervention: A School Library Action Research Project. Libraries Unlimited, 2007.
Przeclawski, Gail, and Christina Woods. “Literacy and Generational Poverty.” AASL National Conference Session 1275, October 26, 2007.
“Reading at Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America.” Research Division Report #46. National Endowment for the Arts, 2004. http://www.nea.gov/pub/ReadingAtRisk.pdf (accessed October 21, 2008).
“Reading between the Lines: What the ACT Reveals about College Readiness in Reading.” ACT, 2006. http://www.act.org/path/policy/reports/reading.html (accessed October 21, 2008).
SLJ Leadership Summit 2006. “Learning in the 21st Century: The Role of the School Library Media Program.” Chicago, November 2-3, 2006.
U. S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. The Condition of Education 2007 (NCES 2007-064). U.S. Government Printing office, 2007. http://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/2007/pdf/18_2007.pdf (accessed October 21, 2008).
Whitehurst, Grover P., Assistant Secretary. “Archived Information: Evidence-Based Education (EBE).” office of Education Research and Improvement. http://www.ed.gov/of-fces/OERI/presentations/evidencebase.html (accessed October 21, 2008).