Creating a culture of literacy. How does one do this? Maybe the better question to ask is, Why create a culture of literacy? Read & Succeed is a phrase my husband and I say frequently. There are a lot of things to be learned in school, but the bottom line is that when one can read the world opens. So if you can create a Culture of Literacy in your school or even in your classroom then you are creating an environment for reading to be appreciated and encouraged. This will then lead to circumstances for supporting our students to become life-long readers and learners.
When I was first hired to consult with my K-8 school, one of the aims was to increase the reading scores of the students. I set out to do this by making reading a priority in the school. I sought to create a culture of literacy. As I enter my fourth year at this school, I am happy to say it seems to have worked. Even in last year’s Covid school year, our progress monitoring scores showed a steady growth even in our reluctant readers.
So, let’s go back to my first question, How do you create a culture of literacy? Let me discuss some of the initiatives I began at the school and some ideas from others that support a culture of literacy.
When I started at the K-8 school, I learned that they had monthly assemblies. I spent some time thinking what I wanted for my role in these assemblies. When February rolled around and I started reading about upcoming March Madness Book Competitions, I thought that I could could do a monthly reading challenge starting at one assembly and ending at the next one. The idea was to reach some of those reluctant readers by calling it a monthly challenge. In the years since, I have done individual challenges (Read 20 books and get a prize); classroom challenges (currently each class must read 30 books at home for a popcorn party- by the way, 1st grade was the first do this just this last week); or whole school challenges (build a tower of books on Mrs. Wladis’ door. Each book read was a tower block).
The monthly reading challenges are announced at an Assembly and a description is sent home in the weekly school news. Reading logs are sometimes kept just as a means to keep track of what has been read. Or parents will email teachers or I send home slips of papers to be filled out after reading a book. There is no set number of pages per night or minutes to be read or an assigned genre/book for the challenges. It is voluntary on the part of the kids but the talking about reading and the talking about books that the kids have read for the challenge can definitely be heard in the hallways. These challenges are meant to encourage pleasure reading in whatever form that takes. For younger readers, parents are encourage to read to their children as an option. I will often tell kids to read a picture book to younger siblings and that counts, so is reading to a stuffed animal. The point is for kids to see reading as a pleasurable activity. If their reading improves, BONUS!
At my previous school, the librarian had started a program called Birthday Books. Basically, she would buy a slew of books she wanted in the library. Then at the start of each month, she would send home a letter to parents that reads,
Celebrate your child’s birthday by purchasing a book for the Library!
- Your child will be invited to choose from a special assortment of new books.
- The birthday book will have a permanent bookplate placed in the front cover with his/her name on it.
- The selected book will be sent home for you and your child to read for a week and then return the book to be placed in the library.
- Your child will be highlighted on the Lobby TV and announced in the School News.
- A picture of your child with the book will be sent home.
By doing this program, she set a tone that reading is a way to celebrate and this puts books in the hands of some students who rarely read. Nothing beats being the first to crack open a new book and be the first to read it. This idea resonated with me and in my second year I brought this program to my current school.
My office library
When I started at the K-8 school, the Library was basically a room with some books. But I had a ton of books that I had used when I was teaching and had bought for my own children. Truthfully I have a habit of buying books, mostly picture books, because I can always see so many ways to use them in a class. In my previous school, teachers used to borrow my books all the time. So why not at this new school? My office as a adjunct library started slow. It really began as a way to encourage a particular reluctant reader. Soon she was book talking the books she borrowed and more kids asked to borrow my books. Good thing I stamp the inside cover with my name. But I am happy to see books leave my office in the hands of kids (and mostly come back)! I have a variety of genres and have gotten to know most of my “customers” so that I am always on the lookout for new books they might like. The kids have also come to trust me when I suggest a book that I think they might like. I often have kids come into my office asking for a book that a classmate was seen reading, especially at the start of our monthly reading challenges.
Let’s talk books. How many do you need when creating or sustaining a culture of literacy? LOTS! You need books of all genres. Fiction, non-fiction, graphic novels, non-fiction picture books and chapter books. Cross-curricular books are a must and broaden the ways to read to students each day. To create a culture of literacy you need books that showcase all types of students, voices, communities, traditions. Students should recognize themselves in the books they find in your school or classroom but they also need the opportunity to learn about other classmates. Books can allow for learning about others without spot-lighting a certain classmate.
A special mention of graphic novels. Let students read graphic novels. Put them in your classroom library. The benefits of graphic novels include: great for visual learners; mentor texts for dialogue; reading the pictures; can build reading confidence; and demonstrate another way to tell a story.
O.K. you get it. But how to get the books? Try websites like https://bookshop.org that supports local bookstores, you can even select one in your area. https://bookoutlet.com is an outlet store for books. Scholastic book flyers can quickly add up to free books for your classroom. Used bookstores, garage sales, and library sales are other ways to get books inexpensively. Even your own school library may have books they would like to weed from their collection to make room for newer books. If your school does not do a Birthday Book program, maybe start one in your classroom.
Place your guided reading books, or other curriculum literature that may have come with your writing or science programs, in your classroom library. Students often like the security of reading something that has been read to them or with them. This will increase their reading confidence.
World Read Aloud Day
This is a world-wide day held each year in early February. To celebrate it, the Principal and I split the classes and do a read aloud in each class on World Read Aloud Day. Since this day comes not around any holidays, it gives us a reason to celebrate and what better way than to read. I always have a bookmark for each student, either store bought or one downloaded from the website, https://www.litworld.org/worldreadaloudday, associated with World Read Aloud Day.
Cross Curricular Reading
Adding cross curricular books to your classroom library is one way to address the different interests of your students. When establishing a culture of literacy, attending to the diverse interests of readers is vital. Students need to see reading as more than a way to do schoolwork. Reading mentor texts about different curricular topics also brings reading out of just the purview of English lessons. Reading books with math topics as a way to introduce money or time sequencing demonstrates to students that reading is integral to everything. Autobiographies are great readalouds. There are lots of autobiographies with short chapters for younger learners. Once a book, particularly picture books, are read they are prime for being used as mentor texts for skills such as word choice in writing or punctuation examples. I have been highlighting a variety of genres in my recent Instagram posts (@edtechease). Check out the posts for ideas, in fact many of my Instagram posts are about books.
Literature Lassos in weekly email
So creating a culture of literacy usually starts with one person but it can not grow or be sustained by one person. My current team of teachers and my fellow administrators have joined me in encouraging this culture of literacy. On top of the computer cart in my office is a rotating bookshelf of picture books. These are usually themed, such as Back to School or Winter. I also keep my social emotional books there. The teachers know they can grab one, or two, any time to read to their classes. I love watching them pop in and grab a book or ask for a recommendation. In my weekly email to the faculty I will highlight one Literature Lasso.
What is a Literature Lasso? It is my term for a book that can link to curriculum, a specific theme, a skill for reading or math. Literature Lassos are fun way to introduce STEAM challenges. Basically Literature Lassos are mentor texts. I also include a Literature Lasso or two in my monthly newsletter, sign up here to receive Bits & Bytes: https://edtechease.com. Or check out my Instagram for a lot of Literature Lassos.
Creating a culture of literacy in school is great. But to be effective, we want the idea to spread, especially to our students’ homes. To do this we need to enlist parents. Letting parents know about your initiatives such as monthly challenges will give them the opportunity to support the program. When they receive a picture of their child holding a Birthday Book donation or when they see other families supporting the program, literacy takes on meaning as part of the school’s goals for students.
Another way I encourage this culture is when I do my grade-level coffee and conversations with parents. I often quote statistics about the importance reading and encourage reading as part of a bedtime routine. When I suggest a new book to a student I will often let the parents know about it so they can ask about the book. It also gives parents ideas for when they take their kids to their local library. Posting pictures of the Birthday Book donations in the weekly school newsletter helps as does listing the monthly reading challenge.
Let parents know at Back to School nights that read alouds are vital part of your schools schedule. Include the books you read in your weekly emails toparents. Talk books at your parent conferences. Show them a book their child has red recently and reccomend another one.
So as I previously mentioned, the school library at my current K-8 school was not great. The teacher who ran it tried really hard to make it appealing and to invite classes in. Two years ago, I was told that a donor had come forth who wanted to donate to enhancing the library. YAY! I was given the opportunity to design the updated library. I brought in a librarian friend and she helped me with the design for the room and even gave me suggestions on shelving (which ones and how many) as well as furniture to purchase. My vision was to create a library that was used for a multiple of purposes. To be used as a library for sure, but also a study room, small group space and even for meetings. This was so needed as the culture of literacy in the school was definitely growing to be an integral part of the school identity. Over the summer of 2020, the reconstruction of the library took place and as last year’s Covid year began, we unveiled to students a brand new library. I was also able to get the library/teacher assigned to the library in the mornings and she began library classes and weekly check outs of books! In May 2021, we were able to have a small Grand Opening with the donor and a few guests.
This is not a new idea but definitely one that adds to a culture of literacy. Pairing a younger class with an older class to have the older students read with and to the younger kids. This has benefits for growing a culture of literacy but also a school community. Watching this happen this year with a 1st and 5th grade class has reinforced the beauty of doing this program. Each Friday I have seen the 5th grade class almost running to the 1st grade room with stickers and notes for their 1st grade reading buddies. Even for the more reluctant 5th grade readers, there is joy and confidence in reading with their 1st grade buddies. One other activity they did recently was play a cooperative board game. The twist was the teachers did not tell the groups how to play the game and it was up to the 5th graders to read the directions and explain the game. Another way to demonstrate that reading has value. This year we paired all our elementary classes and they are having Reading buddies at least evey other week.
This is an initiative that has not gotten off the ground (Covid) yet. I do offer myself as a guest reader any time that a teacher wants. I think it is important ot hear other reading voices. I am hoping to eventually get a guest reader in each classroom each month. Grandparents, other teachers or administrators, visiting friends and even community helpers. This is definitely a work in progress and I will write more about this in the future.
This is a new initiative I am encouraging this school year for teachers. #classroombookaday is an Instagram hashtag that I follow. Seeing teachers all over the world find time in their day to read a book with their class inspired me to encourage my faculty to do this. We have adjusted it slightly for older grades as the English teacher was already reading a chapter (or two) a day and I think this is great! This is also a great way to read books that will later become mentor texts. Keeping a well-stocked classroom library and rotating the books available makes this idea a bit easier. Grab a book and read.
Carrie Friday is a librarian I follow on Twitter (@CarrieFriday). She recently posted a post about Book Speed Dating, “Day 1 of Book Speed Dating was a success! I’m bringing in all the Reading classes and helping them find their perfect book and it helps them see all our library has to offer.” I have seen this idea before but I liked the reason she was using it at the start of school. Carrie Friday is definitely worth following for more ideas to creating and sustaining a culture of literacy.
This idea coordinates with the First Chapter Friday that I have seen librarians and teachers use. This idea being that a teacher may read the first chapter of a book to generate interest in the book. Sometimes I have seen on social media that a class will have the option to choose a new to them book from the classroom library and read the first chapter to see if it piques their interest. They may have the opportunity to try several first chapters before choosing their next read.
Reba Gordon (@Reading_Reba) is the librarian friend I have mentioned several times in this blog post. She brings authors to her school virtually and in person throughout the school year. What an awesome way to connect books to real people and their stories about being authors! A great curricular connection between reading and writing too. Follow Reba on Twitter for lots of ideas about author visits and new book launches. Virtual visits tend to be less expensive as this does to entail paying for travel and accommodations. I brought an author into a school several years ago and shared the travel expenses with another school in the area.
Don’t forget the popular DEAR Day. DEAR = Drop Everything And Read. This does not have to be a full day, or require pajamas or pillows or stuffed animals. It can be a reward for something you are working towards in your class. Do it for a half hour. Everyone spreads out and reads. I know a teacher who does DEAR weekly or twice a week to help students increase their stamina for reading. She starts with a five minute DEAR time and this grows throughout the school year.
Ready to start creating a culture of literacy in your classroom or school? Take the first step. Choose one of the ideas I discussed and implement this one piece. You will soon find yourself adding others as you see the joy of reading flourish in your students.
Let me know how you create a culture of literacy in your school or classroom. Reach out via Twitter/Instagram (@edtechease) or Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/edtechease/) or email me, email@example.com. Want help designing a plan to create a culture of literacy at your school? Reach out and I would be happy to help you with that plan!
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