Create a Culture of Reading

To build a school-wide culture of reading, it is vital that everyone gets involved—students, parents, teachers, the principal and other administrators, the school nurse, cafeteria staff, the safety officer, custodians, and office staff. Although not all community members consider themselves readers (yet!), the inclusion of everyone strengthens the effect, resulting in a more dynamic, inclusive, and vibrant reading culture. While creating and nurturing this reading culture is a collaborative effort, the teacher librarian is the bridge connecting everyone. Working with all students, content areas, teachers, and staff requires leading by example. "In their role as reading advocates, teacher librarians may be uniquely situated to provide valuable insights into the factors that enable and constrain the development of a whole school reading culture" (Merga and Mason 2019, p. 1). The positive energy the librarian puts into the community is an essential tool and component for bringing even the most hesitant or reluctant individuals on board. "Teachers [and librarians] who create a culture of reading consistently reinforce a mindset, system, and set of habits that draw students into rich lives as literate citizens" (Dawson 2016, p. 12).

In order to build your own culture of reading:

  1. Set both short and long term goals. Remember that you can't do everything at once and you need to consider your personal limitations and the limitations of the school. Don't get caught in a "squirrel" mentality—getting distracted with each new shiny idea to come along. It's okay to start slow and steady. Develop some strategies for keeping track of all the ideas you discover along the way, but stick to the goals you have set.
  2. Develop relationships with the other adults in the school community. We often default to the English language arts teachers, but branching out is important. Do not underestimate the power of a math teacher sharing what she is currently reading with her classes. If you notice many of the adults in the building are aliterate—individuals who can read but choose not to—don't despair! Start with those individuals who value and love books and reading. Focusing on the positive energy is both vital and contagious. At some point, someone who you had not observed or considered a reader will catch the book love bug.
  3. Survey the different groups about their experiences and attitudes about reading. Include both formal surveys, using tools such as Google Forms, as well as informal tools such as casual conversations and observation. Go into classrooms, pay attention to the books on the desks of the students AND the teachers. Make an effort to engage in a brief conversation with individuals about their choices.
  4. Create a literacy team and invite any other adults in the building to be part of it. Include a few students to represent each grade-level.
  5. Reflect regularly and celebrate the small victories. When my school's literacy committee planned a live streaming event to celebrate World Read Aloud Day, six people volunteered to share a favorite book and/or read a short excerpt aloud. Instead of getting frustrated because the majority of individuals were ELA and reading teachers, we celebrated the fact that the sixth grade math teacher volunteered. We were excited to have someone from another department who was on board and could model the life of a reader.

Make the Reading Lives of EVERYONE Visible

Teachers

When teachers, principals, and other adults in the building make their reading lives visible by sharing their passion and love for books, it naturally spreads throughout the entire community. Just as children need to see their parents reading in their homes, students need to see the adults in the school carrying books with them, hear them talking about them, and feel the energy created when books are available everywhere.

Invite faculty and staff to dedicate a section of their white boards or walls to share what they are currently reading, what they have recently finished, and what they are hoping to read soon (see Figure 1). This practice provides a visible, clear message that reading is important to the teacher, as well as providing an open invitation to start a discussion about reading.

Another strategy we use is the "What Am I Currently Reading" poster. All the adults are invited and encouraged to hang up a poster (see Figure 2) outside their classroom or work area. Remember to include all members of your community—having the adults in the main office display their current reading (see Figure 3) spreads the message to every visitor that reading is important to us! It also invites open dialogue and is a great ice-breaker.

Students

Students also can post what they are currently reading on the outside of their lockers (See Figure 4). Each morning during our Scholastic Book Fair, a few random lockers with book titles displayed were picked, and the lucky winners won a new book of their choice.

You can stockpile books for giveaways such as this by taking advantage of the $1.00 deals from the Scholastic Book Club orders, book fair incentives or profits, websites such as Book Outlet (https://bookoutlet.com), secondhand stores, independent and used bookstores, tag sales, and ARCs from conferences.

Collaborating with the Classroom Teachers: Activities and Strategies

Book Talks

One of the most effective and engaging classroom strategies for getting community members excited about books is a one-minute book talk, followed by ten minutes of independent reading. When the sixth grade ELA teachers implemented this practice at the beginning of the school year, students received a compelling message about the value and importance of reading. The teachers planned and delivered these talks every single day for the first couple of months. Through a gradual release of responsibility, they guided students to take over and provided the scaffolding and tools (see Figure 5) required for preparing an effective one-minute book talk. All students were invited to sign up on a calendar (See Figure 6) to plan and deliver the daily book talk. The teachers also invited guest book talkers such as the librarian, the principal, and other teachers. Eventually, the book talks were recorded with an iPad and tripod checked out from the library. These recorded book talks were uploaded to a location where everyone could access them, serving as a tangible part of our reading community. One of the resources the classroom teachers utilized in helping students plan their talks was Brad Gustafson's "Booktalk Hooks A-to-Z" handout (http://bradgustafson.com/booktalktoolkit). Over the course of the year, the one-minute book talks nurtured the culture of reading across the entire grade level, and by the spring, a few of the seventh and eighth grade teachers began incorporating them into their daily schedules as well.

Book Tastings

Student voice and choice are two essential components when nurturing a culture of reading. "Building a culture of readers involved taking the risk of ceding power to the students. It means empowering students to manage their own learning and measure their own progress" (Dawson 2016, p. 14). Giving readers a choice in both the titles and formats is one form of empowerment. A fun strategy that will empower students to make choices is to plan a book tasting. Book tastings may be as simple as curating a short list of books with a common theme or genre, putting them in a pile with a sign, and doing some quick book talks from each pile. If you want to get a little more involved, you can rearrange the classroom or library to reflect a fancy restaurant complete with tablecloths, flowers, and electric candles and invite students to rotate around sampling different books from each table. When we have done this with students, we also give them an "order" form (see figure 7) modeled after what a restaurant uses to take orders. Students loved writing down their top choices and then having an opportunity to choose one of those titles to read. Work in collaboration with classroom teachers to develop book lists in various genres including memoir, historical fiction, fantasy, and mystery. Alternatively, we have curated titles based on themes such as empathy, finding yourself when faced with challenges, love and loss, and raising civic voices. (You can find more information on my website: http://melissathom.com/book-tasting-workshops.html.)

Mobile Libraries

One of the frustrations for secondary students, librarians, and teachers is the limited amount of time students have to visit the library and browse for books. A solution is to bring books out into other parts of the school, including classrooms and the cafeteria. When the sixth grade ELA teachers asked if I could fill a cart with my recommendations for their historical fiction genre study, I jumped at the chance. I filled a two-sided book truck with titles separated by time periods, and delivered it to the teachers. The cart was kept in the hallway between the two classrooms making the books easily accessible for book talks and checkout. Since students and teachers are able to utilize self-checkout from any device, they were able to check out titles directly from their classroom. And, for anyone concerned about books getting lost, only five titles were missing at the end of the year when inventory was taken.

Literacy Committee

Sparked by encouragement from the principal, a literacy team was established last winter. It began with nine official members, but as activities were planned and carried out additional individuals pitched in to help. The original members included five classroom teachers, the gifted and talented teacher, the reading specialist, and the principal. Since our principal views the library as the heart of our school, he thought it made sense to ask me to head the committee. Learning to delegate was both challenging and very rewarding! It was amazing to see individuals take the lead and initiate things I would never have thought of myself. It spread responsibility and enthusiasm throughout the building, creating a natural conduit for communication. The committee decided to plan three events for the second half of the year since we didn't get organized until mid-October. Focusing on specific events made planning much easier and less overwhelming. We planned for World Read Aloud Day in February, a school-wide read-a-thon in April, and our first annual literacy night in May.

Book Review Club

For the past few years, I have been working on setting up a book review club. The idea is to get advanced reading copies (ARCs) of books before they are officially published so that students can choose titles to read and review. Students either write a short review or record a video about their thoughts using Flipgrid. I then send these reviews to both the publisher and the author. All parties involved are very enthusiastic. Students appreciate having access to books before they are available for purchase, and publishers and authors love to hear the feedback from readers. Some of the methods I have used to get ARCs include attending library and author events, emailing publishers directly to request specific titles after watching a webinar and reaching out to authors and publishers via social media. A tip I share with all librarians who attend conferences far away from home is to ship ARCs back to themselves. When I attended ALA Midwinter in Denver a few years ago, I shipped back seventy pounds of books to my school!

Conclusion

Although there is no one-size-fits-all or recipe for implementing a plan to develop and nurture a school-wide culture of reading, starting with enthusiastic and passionate readers is something that every building can do. Relationships are at the core of creating a change of any type. If you are new to the building, new to the position, or even if you are experienced, take some time to observe and get to know the existing culture. Be open and flexible in your thinking to allow for new ideas. Focus on the positive things happening and start with people who have similar goals. Eventually, those individuals who are hesitant or not quite there will see all of the good things going on and will want to become more involved.

Works Cited

Dawson, Gerard. Hacking Literacy: 5 Ways to Turn Any Classroom into a Culture of Readers. Times 10, 2016.

Merga, Margaret Kristin, and Shannon Mason. "Building a School Reading Culture: Teacher Librarians' Perceptions of Enabling and Constraining Factors." Australian Journal of Education (April 2019). doi:10.1177/0004944119844544.

Further Reading

Bishop, Rudine Sims. "Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors." Perspectives 6, no. 3 (1990).

Gordon, Berit. No More Fake Reading: Merging the Classics with Independent Reading to Create Joyful, Lifelong Readers. Corwin, 2018.

Merga, Margaret K. Reading Engagement for Tweens and Teens: What Would Make Them Read More? Libraries Unlimited, 2018.

Miller, Donalyn, and Colby Sharp. Game Changer! Book Access for All Kids. Scholastic, 2018.

Paradis, Judi. "Building a Reading Culture." School Library Connection February 2018. https://schoollibraryconnection.com/Home/Display/2137087.

"A School-Wide Reading Culture." National Library of New Zealand. https://natlib.govt.nz/schools/reading-engagement/understanding-reading-engagement/a-school-wide-reading-culture. Accessed July 3, 2018.

About the Author



Melissa Thom, MA, is a teacher librarian at Bristow Middle School in West Hartford, CT. She earned a master's in elementary education from Northern Arizona University and a master's in educational psychology with a concentration in gifted and talented development from the University of Connecticut. She spent twelve years teaching grades 4-6 as a classroom teacher, and three years ago, she earned her library media specialist certification from the ARCLMS program. She is active the national school librarian community and serves as vice president of the Connecticut Association of School Librarians.

MLA Citation Thom, Melissa. "Create a Culture of Reading." School Library Connection, October 2019, schoollibraryconnection.com/Home/Display/2230284.

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Entry ID: 2211572

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