10 Ways to Establish a Reading Culture

This year I’m teaching 5th grade, and I enjoy developing the curriculum for all the subjects. I feel like it’s my second chance to deepen my understanding of certain content areas such as math or science. However, as a former 6th grade content teacher of Language Arts and Reading, I take great joy in transforming my classroom into a reading and writing room. There are certain strategies that work with both contents so I will focus on each. Let’s begin with reading for this week’s post.

First, I’ll say that I love Donalyn Miller’s work, and she has influenced me a great deal, or maybe it’s just that she affirms everything I already believed about reading. I’m always surprised though at how many teachers have never heard of her work. Visit http://bookwhisperer.com/ to learn more. The following are some fundamentals I’ve found effective in creating a reading culture.

1. Develop an awesome classroom library. : Many teachers have classroom libraries, but they are sad….very sad. They are sad in the sense that their shelves contain outdated, dusty, torn books that wouldn’t entice the most avid of readers. Why have a classroom library if no one wants to read the books in it? Money can be an issue. However, the answer to that is strategic thinking. Every summer I’ve worked to get exciting novels of all reading levels that my students will read by visiting garage sales, consignment stores, the dollar tree, and calling on recently retired teachers. I require certain standards for the books I purchase or take even for free. The books must not be damaged or smelly. Also. beware of buying books in a series. Make sure it’s a series that students will connect with, and is appropriate for their age. Then, create a great way to display your books that will appeal to students in the classroom.

2. Get a book in their hands on day one.: In most schools, the school library does not open until two-three weeks into school. This is bad news for developing a reading culture. So, on day one, discuss what you as the teacher are currently reading, and check out a novel to every student from the classroom library. Then, find a time to read together, only fifteen minutes is needed. Finally, discuss as a class. Beyond having a book in their hands on day one, it’s also important to discuss what they read in those fifteen or twenty minutes. As a teacher, there will not be time to get to every reader. But, you can hit a few readers, and then ask throughout the day, when moments of transition arrive or as an extension activity.

3. Introduce an author and his/her work: I’ve learned that one of the most motivating ways to grab potential readers is to show a video of an author discussing his books, then pass around some copies of the author’s works. Just enjoy the discovery of learning about someone new together as a class. This is a great thing to do right before going on library trips. By doing this, the students get pumped! They want to read that author’s work! I believe this connection demonstrates the humanness of reading, and our desire for connection to the writer.

4. Set Visual Goals: I am encouraging my students to read 40 books this year. That on average is four books a month. Students have their own chain link at the back of the room, where every link represents a book they have read. Now, I’ve instructed that this is not a race, and forty books means different things to different readers, so I determine who has met their goal on a case by case basis. Students do read in class, so I know who is really getting it done. Some areas are up to the teachers discretion. The point is that the goal is there, and we must encourage each other to make it happen. Once a monthly reading goal has been met– Celebrate!

5. Keep the Reading Going Despite Obstacles: I’ve found that once I’ve established momentum in student reading, it’s time that I must let go a bit. Some students are faster readers than others, and will need to go to the library more often to check out a new book. This can be overwhelming! However, if I suddenly say, “No!” I’ve just killed their motivation. The solution is to have a certain time that works for you as the teacher to send students for a new book. Also, as the teacher, you will know who’s truly read their book, and who’s just trying to get out of class. Make judgements accordingly.

6. Discuss Reading Daily: In my experience, nothing creates more accountability than classroom discussion of books. I do believe reading logs as an accountability measure are effective to a point. (I do utilize reading logs w/daily comprehension question) However, nothing is more effective than asking random students about their current book in front of the classroom. They must discuss what they read. I know whether they are reading, and being accountable in front of the entire class keeps them on their toes.

7. Create a Reading Instinct: From day one it’s important to teach students to read as their backup activity. As soon as their done with an assignment they should be reading. This is a great habit to form, and it gets them that much closer to their reading goals.

8. Conduct Read Alouds: Find ways to include picture books to introduce subjects across content areas. There are many wonderful books on math, science, and social studies contents. Students love to be read to at any age. Honestly, I love to be read to, and I’m pretty old. (Ha!) It’s a comforting and loving act. It creates less tension and stress. Many students will grow closer to you as their teacher and the content by incorporating read alouds. It becomes part of the classroom culture of learning.

9. Never Fear About Wasting Class Time: All of these ideas actually take a small amount of time. It’s about sprinkling it in over the school day, and establishing routines. All this effort is needed though if you, as their teacher, want to create a classroom reading culture. It’s never too late to create and foster a love for reading. It will always be necessary in life, and the more joy students get from reading the more sophisticated they’ll become as readers, which will lead to greater achievement and lifelong prosperity.

10. You Can Still Teach the Classroom Novel: I’m not against the classroom novel. However, it does hinder individual reading goals. After all, there is only so much time in the day. The ideal situation would be a novel for every child, so that they could read at home, and be prepared for daily discussion in class. Until that happens, I’d say continue the classroom novel if desired, just make sure to find time to sprinkle in personal reading discussion, and continue trips to the library. Keep talking to kids about their reading.

Reading enriches lives, and it’s magical to see students fall in love with reading. It’s worth the effort to make what is hopefully a lifelong impact.

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