September 25


I Think We Hit the Jackpot! Crossing My Fingers for Literary Excitement in Classrooms by Susan Knell

As a university professor I often visit elementary classrooms to read to children and also to observe what influential teachers do to promote the love of reading.  One elementary school created an after school academy for students each quarter of the school year.  Students could choose cooking, sports, math, art, book club, etc.  My friend, a veteran fourth grade teacher, was facilitating the book club group.  I was sitting in just observing her describing what the kids would be doing in her book club group when I overheard one boy say to his buddy, “I think we hit the jackpot!”

As we teachers begin to return to the classroom, whether elementary teacher or university professor, I think we all are hoping that our students feel like they’ve hit the jackpot by being in our classrooms. As a professor of children’s literature I am keeping my fingers crossed that students are going to enter classrooms where books are all around them and where the teacher just can’t wait to introduce them to the joy of reading.  Here’s what I’m crossing my fingers students will find as they walk into their new classroom home this fall.

I’m crossing my fingers that they’ll find a fabulous classroom library waiting for them. Classroom libraries aren’t an option, they’re a requirement if we want lifelong readers.  There is plenty of research on the importance of classroom libraries if you need it, but common sense tells us to just do it! (To quote Nike!)  YouTube and Pinterest contains information on designing and organizing your classroom library. I plan to develop another blog just on classroom libraries in the future, so stay tuned!  I hope students will have a classroom library that contains a lot of books for personal choice.  Jackpot!
I’m crossing my fingers that students have a teacher who loves to read personally.  Research tells us that teachers who read themselves have students who are better readers.  Makes sense, doesn’t it?  What we love we want to pass on to others.  And we can’t fool students. We can’t fake loving something. Students see through us as if we’re glass. I attended the ILA (International Literacy Association) in St. Louis in July and was so inspired by what Lester Laminack had to say. He said that “we can’t fall in love with something unless we’ve been seduced by it.”  Sounds a bit racy, doesn’t it? But you understand what he’s talking about.  One book I was seduced by this summer was Bettyville by George Hodgman.  Each day I couldn’t wait for my designated reading time to get back to his world.  And yes, I have had to make a certain time each day devoted to reading, or else life gets in the way.  My friend always says that time is the great equalizer and that everyone has the same 24 hours each day.  We do what we value.  I cross my fingers that students get that kind of teacher. I also hope that teachers will share their reading lives with their students.  In her book Reading Essentials, Regie Routman shares several wonderful ways we can share our reading lives with students. Jackpot!


Reading Essentials Bettyville


I’m crossing my fingers that students get teachers who value intrinsic motivation over extrinsic.  Rather than spending time coming up with points, prizes, etc. for reading, I hope teachers will show students that reading is its own reward. However, researcher Linda Gambrell has found that if using rewards, those most closely related to actual reading are the best, such as giving students books, bookmarks, extra reading time, or personal reading time with the teacher.   Giving students choice, social interaction with books, and reading aloud every day are just a few of the ways students will be motived to read.  Jackpot!

I’m crossing my fingers that students get teachers who value reading aloud and who make time every day to read aloud, whether their students are kindergarten or preservice teachers.  I’ve heard some teachers say that there is just no time in the day to work it in, or (this is the most absurd reason I’ve heard) “our reading program doesn’t allow any time to read aloud”!  As I said previously, we make time for what we value.  Be creative in finding times to read aloud.  When I was an elementary teacher it was my favorite time of day, a bonding time with my students. So I hope students have teachers who will make time for reading aloud every single day!  Jackpot!

So, I’m doing lots of finger crossing right now, hoping students everywhere and of all ages hit the jackpot with their teacher in a few weeks.  As Jim Trelease said in his Read-Aloud Handbook video, “next to hugging your child, reading aloud is the most important thing you can do for your child.”  I believe that’s true for teachers, too.


The Nazi Officer's WifeSusan Knell is a professor at Pittsburg State University in Pittsburg, Kansas, NOT Pennsylvania! She teaches graduate courses in literacy education, and taught children’s literature to pre-service teachers for 19 years.  Her main interests are children’s literature and reading motivation. But she also is an avid reader of adult books.   She’s an active member of ILA of which she is now member emeritus, NCTE, Kansas Reading Association, and serves on her local library friends board. She’s now reading The Nazi Officer’s Wife so right now she’s “living” in Austria with the characters in her book.  She thinks they’re real!