There are children without access to books.
How did I find out that there were children without access to books?
I became a teacher.
In my hometown.
Less than ten minutes from the school that I attended as a child.
I had children in my classroom who could not read. There were also students who could read, but said, “I hate reading. No one in my family reads.” It was gut wrenching! Most of them came from broken homes, where their parents struggled to pay rent. Reading books with their children, taking their children to the library-that was the least of their worries. I came home many nights asking myself, “How do I help these children?” I wanted to do more, and take an active role in becoming an advocate for literacy, particularly in homes where reading and books had yet to become a central focus. It had taken me 20 years to realize that these children had always been there, but that I had been the lucky one to have parents who had the means to give me books. It was my gateway to success, and I wanted the children I work with to experience that same success.
This year, I moved from a classroom teaching position into a Reading Specialist position. It has been the most spectacular experience watching children at my school begin to read, understand the nuances of books, and find a passion for reading. I know I have been given a gift when I sit on my chair, at the foot of the rug, with 12 pairs of expectant eyes looking at me for the read-aloud. They listen intently to hear what will happen next, and laugh when the character does something silly. It seems cliche to say that books can change your life, but they CAN because, “books contained powerful amulets that could lead to paths of certain wisdom” (Pat Conroy, My Reading Life, Doubleday, 2010).
This year, after reading The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller, I became charged to start a reading challenge at my school. We asked each of our students to read 40 books this year. I set up a table in our front office, and decorated a small poster with Junie B. Jones in a Halloween outfit. I bought six books, and told the students that if they read a book, they would receive a raffle ticket to enter for a chance to win the book of their choosing. After the first raffle, the students were so excited, and teachers began asking for more tickets. It was thrilling! I continued to decorate the table as each new month passed, and now we are on our fifth month of the “Reading Challenge.” The satisfaction, for me, comes with knowing that this year, students will read more books than they did last year. Maybe they read ten more, or twenty more. Either way, our school will reap the benefits of having students who are enjoying reading, and who are loving the prospect of winning a book.
The charge, reader, is to do what you can. It is not just to do what you can, it is to do more than what you are doing. If each of us took an extra step for the children in our classrooms, and in our libraries, imagine the possibilities! We live in an ever-changing world, filled with T.V., and video-games, texting, and computers. You simply cannot “passively read” to your class. You must make the book come alive, to dance in their heads, to leave an indelible mark on their souls. Make them want more, make them crave it. They will see the illustrations and they will UNDERSTAND what the author was trying to say. They’ll tell you what they think while you smile to yourself because they get it! Choose the books you read that will not only inspire your students to be life-long reader, but will inspire you as well.
I have used the internet and books to help inspire me to start the 40 book challenge, but there are other things you can do to promote reading. Here are three things you can begin at your school site on Monday. You do not need any fancy resources to help the readers at your school site to want books in their hands.
- Watch book trailers on YouTube, or read only the first few pages of a picture/chapter book in your classroom library. Then, place it innocently back on the shelf. Most students have no idea how many wonderful books are right under their nose. I showed the book trailer for False Prince by Jennifer Nielsen at our district’s “Parent University,” and every parents wrote it down to buy the book for their children. It is fantastic!
- Make reading aloud, partner reading, and reciprocal classroom reading into a game. I use dice and playing cards. I look to reinforce math skills while choosing a reader from my class. Think about finding the largest sum/difference/product by using either dice or playing cards. Face cards are equal to ten, and jokers are equal to zero. If it’s read-aloud time, I may announce “Table 5, Seat 1: If you have the largest sum, I will be the reader. If I have the largest sum, you will be the reader.” Keep in mind, I always let them practice first before reading aloud to the class! Some teachers have sticks with student names on the them. You can pull a stick to decide which student to play the game with. It brings novelty into the task of deciding a reader, or partner reader.
- Everywhere you go at your school, bring a book to read aloud. You may not finish the book, but herding your line will become a much less daunting task! As a bonus, if you don’t finish the book, you will have students wanting to find out what happens at the end!
Melody Simons is an Elementary (K-6) Reading Specialist, and Staff Developer in Southern California. She was a pre-school and elementary teacher prior to becoming a Reading Specialist. She has been teaching since 2002. www.lilmommareader.blogspot.com, and on Twitter @lilmommareader.