It Takes a Village by Emily Pendergrass

Reading is a social practice. Reading could be viewed as something that people do in private – like the iconic image of curling up with a good book. However, for others, and me curling up with a good book, while solitary in that particular moment, is embedded in social purposes. I curl up in a hammock swinging between two trees on a cool day to read a book so that I can escape reality for a short while and at a later time engage in conversations with my friends. Reading facilitates interaction, communication, and collaboration in our communities.


Pendergrass_HammockPromoting a love of reading is one of the best parts of my job. Twice a month, I work with Patterson Read and Play Saturdays (RAPS). Throughout the school year, local middle school students are recruited to come to Vanderbilt University and read and play with a huge variety of books. These students experience college life through attending football games and playing instruments with the band. They also get to explore the campus and interact with college students through the occasional scavenger hunt. They read many, many books and the excitement around reading builds each week as students share their recent reads. Through this program, students are encouraged to read, ask questions, and share in a friendly environment. They are not expected to only sit and read silently, but rather they are encouraged to read aloud, discuss their thoughts, and find books that are interesting to them. The students also have the chance to see so many others (their peers, instructors, and volunteers) engaging in reading for pleasure—on a Saturday. I can only believe that this helps to promote reading as something that is “cool” to do.


This past summer, we hosted a summer reading camp. A reading camp? Yep. A group of middle school boys (and one brave girl) spent everyday for an entire week participating and interacting with each other and books. We read aloud Patrick Carmen’s Skeleton Creek, and the campers chose to read either James Patterson’s Middle School the Worst Year’s of My Life or James Dashner Maze Runner. The campers created book trailers, played games, and interacted with Vanderbilt University graduate and undergraduate students. Getting Nashville’s middle school boys reading, and actually enjoying it, is exciting as all of the campers chose 2-3 books to take home and read between the end of camp and school starting.




Both RAPS and the summer camp also encourage students to use higher order thinking skills through the use of various activities. Recent research reports find that the majority of middle and high school students are able to read at a basic level, but far fewer are able to use higher order thinking skills to read more challenging material. Additionally, research shows that the few students who can read at more proficient or advanced levels were more than likely students of European American descent living in suburban areas. In other words, minority students and those from poorer geographic areas are often cut off from engaging literacy practices. Urban, diverse teenagers from all walks of life participating in Saturday morning and summer reading camps run counter to this research. Our RAPS readers are hungry for literary experiences that are different than school’s short passages and multiple-choice questions. Their eagerness stems from the opportunities to participate in a reading environment that is rooted in collaboration, communication, and fun.


Rise up and read.


Emily Pendergrass taught elementary and middle school students for eleven years. While working alongside middle schoolers, she finished her Ph.D. in Language and Literacy Education at the University of Georgia. While at UGA, Emily worked extensively with the Red Clay Writing Project, part of the National Writing Project. Currently, Emily teaches courses in Teaching Reading with secondary students and directs the Reading Education Graduate Program at Vanderbilt University.