The Daily Read — How It Changed Our Culture by Brett Vogelsinger, Lauren Johnston, Kevin Shillingford and Michelle Ambrosini

In February of 2016, Penny Kittle came to town.  The majority of our secondary teaching staff — a big crowd in a district of 20,000 students — had the opportunity to listen to her presentation on cultivating “book love” among our students.  

What we could never have foreseen was the unbridled enthusiasm with which our district’s teachers embraced her vision for increasing choice and stamina for our middle and high school readers.  In classrooms, our practices have improved and reading workshops are thriving.  But something else changed.

Within a month of her presentation, teachers at Holicong Middle School had arranged a meeting to talk about how we could do better encouraging our kids to read, and soon our administrators were helping to carve a few minutes from each period so as to have dedicated reading time for our students each day.  Thus was born our fifteen-minute, hallowed time for silent reading, slid neatly between second and third periods.  

We started last May, and we called it “The Daily Read.” We made sure every classroom had at least a small collection of books.  A team of students and staff established “Little Free Library” outposts around the building.  

As a staff, we opted to preserve this daily routine for a second year.  To say that this unassuming change is revolutionizing our school’s reading culture would be an understatement. Seen through three lenses in this post — a librarian, a principal, and a seventh-grade English teacher — a kaleidoscope of impact emerges.  

Our School Library Culture — A Librarian’s Perspective

The influence The Daily Read has had on our school library culture is outstanding. Prior to The Daily Read, it was common for students to stop into the library asking for book recommendations.  This meant reader’s advisory that was primarily librarian-centered.   Nowadays, students initiate dialogues about books.  Conversations are now centered around students sharing what they liked or did not like about recent reads, and what they are looking for in their next selection.  They often feel passionate about getting the next book in a series or finding a title by the same author.  Students are driving the discussion about books and are learning about themselves as readers more than ever before.

From a circulation perspective, The Daily Read has increased book checkout at Holicong’s Library by eighteen percent with circulation rising about two percent each month since its inception.  The demand for popular titles has led to collection development that is more student-driven.  Prior to the Daily Read, I would rely heavily on blogs and scholarly journals to generate orders.  Now, students are vocal about the sharing book titles they recommend and are excited to share these with the library.  Book orders have become more organic, evolving from conversations with students.   

Our School Culture — A Principal’s Perspective

The Daily Read has not been a “top down” or “bottom up” decision, but a true collaboration among all stakeholders who worked together to find a schedule that fit the logistical and educational needs of all.  From an administrator’s perspective, this has been an experience that comes along few times in a career and should be celebrated.

As we move to our second year, The Daily Read has become an embedded component of what we do, not a passing fad or something we do from time to time.  The focus on literacy is obvious, but there are other “wins” that have affected our culture.  It has created a sense of trust between students and teachers, as students are given the responsibility and accountability to follow our expectations. This fifteen minutes is sacred time where everyone at Holicong — teachers on plan and principals included — must read.  The question “What are you reading?” has become an opportunity to make a personal, human connection. (Sorry, Snapchat and Instagram!)

Our students are constantly connected to technology and overscheduled.  Our staff is asked to take on more responsibilities, and time is a commodity they do not have.  It is no surprise when we see an increase in stress and anxiety for both groups.  The Daily Read not only allows students to engage in reading for pleasure, but also allows everyone to stop, take a breath, and find time to “turn off.”  Fifteen minutes may not sound like a lot, but in today’s fast-past world, it can seem like a much-needed eternity.

Our Classroom Culture — A Teacher’s Perspective

The powerful, yet unspoken messages of The Daily Read boom through the hallways of Holicong:

  • We value reading and show this by giving you time and choice every day.
  • Reading enriches you intellectually, socially, and emotionally.
  • Everyone reads — even your math teacher, the school nurse, the school secretary.  
  • Talking about books connects you to other people.

English teachers acutely know and witness the benefits of reading, how it can enrich students in myriad ways as thinkers, writers, and human beings.  By adopting The Daily Read, the entire Holicong community has ensured students have the time to reap these benefits.  

Time and choice in reading have long been hallmarks of our English classrooms at Holicong.  However, The Daily Read has made students cognizant that reading is more than simply an activity in the English classroom.  Adults with different interests read, enjoy, and talk about different types of books.  Students see their science, physical education, and social studies teachers as readers.  

Now during my reading conferences with students, they mention other content teachers’ book recommendations and comments.  Thanks to the posters some teachers use to announce what they are reading, I can reference them during booktalks.  It’s not cliche to say that all of Holicong is growing as a community of readers.  As one seventh-grade student said, “It’s not just an English thing.”  

Now when students turn-and-talk about a book they’re reading or that they’d recommend, conversation continues for the full three minutes.   Students’ “up next” lists include titles from booktalks and recommendations from other students.  The traffic in my classroom library is greater than ever; in just two months of school, more than 300 books have been signed out by my five classes.  

The Daily Read is slated to become another highlight of students’ three years at Holicong. When a high school student recently visited, she was quick to tell me, “I wish we had The Daily Read at my school.”  Wishes do come true… it is my hope that The Daily Read spreads to other middle and high schools.  

Brett Vogelsinger, Lauren Johnston, Kevin Shillingford and Michelle Ambrosini work with the adolescents at Holicong Middle School in Doylestown, PA.  They are passionate about connecting each child to an array of excellent books at school.