Read It Forward by Linda Kay
“I don’t like to read.”
“My child does not like to read.”
I hear those phrases more times than I like to admit. Every time I hear it I pause to consider the reason. I have liked reading for as long as I can remember. My mother used to devour books. In fact, she still does. My husband loves to read. My children love to read. So, the phenomenon that people do not like to read is a hard one for me to fathom, but that is one of the major reasons that I decided to become a librarian. I want to help everyone to become a lifelong reader. I know that it is a lofty and possibly unattainable goal, but it is my mission to affect one person at a time. Now, my former ideas of making this happen were NOT unsuccessful, but they were not getting as much bang for my buck as I had hoped. After years of being a librarian, I found that I was not able to spend as much time with students to recommend books for them. I lamented to one of my colleagues, and she agreed. We began brainstorming about what we could do for our individual libraries and other libraries in our school district.
A few of us were at a workshop together when we heard the phrase–Read It Forward. We began developing this idea into a program that has been quite successful. There are many programs out there with the same name now which goes to show you that it is a winning idea.
With Read It Forward, we purchased books and passed them out to students with the understanding that they would read it as quickly as possible then pass it on to a friend/parent/teacher/community member who would read it as quickly as possible and pass it on, etc. etc. It is an easy process, but I learned many things from years of doing this with various groups of students. Through this experience, I can boil it down to a few essential steps so that you, too, can replicate this reading phenomenon in your community. Below, I want to share the steps we used for our program. I strongly suggest going in this order for the most success.
Choose a Great Book
I know that seems like a very simple idea, but I cannot stress it enough. If you don’t spend time on choosing a really great book, you will not yield the results you would like. Our first year, we chose Schooled by Gordon Korman.
If you have not read that book, you are missing out. It is appropriate for elementary and middle school. Cap, the main character, has been homeschooled, but his grandmother is hurt. He has to go to public school for the first time as an 8th grader. Cap does not understand the politics of public school, and the other students are very hard on him. But, in the end, every character learns from him, and as readers, we all learn from him as well.
Obtain Buy-in from Colleagues, Administrators, Teachers, Parents…
this will lead to buy-in from the students.
Have different people read the book before you put the books in the hands of the students. This will ensure that you have cheerleaders/planners/readers in your corner to help you along the way. I would encourage you to put together a committee to help you with the steps. These people should know your community of readers so that they can help you think of any possible challenges you may encounter. They may also be able to help you obtain the books in a cost-effective manner.
Kids love a surprise. I like to start with a quick video telling them that something big is coming on the date when we distribute books. I don’t tell them what it is…just that it will be big and epic. Then, I will put posters around school telling them to get ready. I send out emails; I look children in the eye and tell them that I cannot wait to share something with them. About a week before the reveal, I tell them that I will be putting books around the school for them to find and read and pass on to their friends as quickly as they can who will pass it on to their friends who will pass it on to their friends, etc. etc.
To be most successful, you need a way to keep track of who has read the books. I let the students write in the book before they pass it on to a friend. I usually write a message on the right hand corner so that they know it is okay to sign it. But, it is also helpful to have a visual to show who has read the book. I ask the students to complete a quick survey monkey or Google Form. Then, we add them to the display. I also give them a little prize that signifies a theme in the book that they can wear as a badge of honor for being in the club. With Schooled, we had pencils specifically designed to say–”I’ve been schooled”. We also got cheap peace sign necklaces. We added the necklaces to our IDs so that you would know who had read the book.
Programming or Makerspace Before Makerspace Was Cool
We found that we needed to continue the excitement to read the book through various extracurricular programs. For Schooled, we set up sessions to make tie-dye t-shirts, headbands, and cupcakes. We also made friendship bracelets, snack mix and recycled t-shirt shopping bags. These after school sessions kept the discussions going about the books to ensure that they were still circulating. For middle school students, their attention span for a program like this can be short, so it is essential that you continue with different connections to the book. Then, you can end with a culminating event. We have done various things, but the most successful one is bringing in the author for a visit. We were fortunate to do this with Gordon Korman on our first year, but he also does great Skype visits–as do many authors.
Those are the major components to running a Read It Forward program in your community. Below are titles that we have used.
Schooled by Gordon Korman
Independence Hall by Roland Smith
Take Me to the River by Will Hobbs
Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie and After Ever After by Jordan Sonnenblick
The Hunt for the Seventh by Christine Morton-Shaw
Found by Margaret Peterson Haddix
Wonder by R. J. Palacio
Your community can be as small as your neighborhood, your grade level, your school, your school district, your city, your state, or your nation. The one thing that I would say about Read It Forward is that it starts with one title, but that is not the main thrux of the program. The beauty of this program is sharing the love of reading, and showing students how to effectively share their reading with each other. This program was completely voluntary, and many students ended up purchasing their own copies of the books because they wanted to read it again. And, they came up begging for more titles. Lifelong reading…affecting one reader at a time.
Linda Kay has been an educator for over twenty years. She is a middle school librarian in Round Rock ISD and is the author of Read It Forward. You can be one of the few people to read her book reviews on her blog at http://thegoodbookladyreads.blogspot.com/. She encourages you to follow her on Twitter @goodbooklady.