and received a 2018 President's Award.
Flash back to four years ago - in my first year at Fenway High as the teacher-librarian, I was so excited because I was at a school with a brand new library, and DEAR (Drop Everything And Read) built into the schedule twice a week for twenty-five minutes. What more could a new librarian want?! As the months went on, I discovered that while reading was something the school touted as important, it was not held to the same standard throughout the building. Students would spent the entire DEAR time in the library “looking” for books. In some classrooms DEAR was nap time, in others it was study hall.
Luckily, that same year, we had a new Foundations of Literacy teacher (our fancy title for English Language Arts), Kate Fussner. Along with being an amazing teacher, she is a strong ally and supporter of reading and school libraries. We began to partner together, and it made my job of surrounding the school with reading so much easier because she was practicing it in her own classroom. She also decided to change her curriculum and focus entirely on independent reading. Her freshmen are required to read 20 books in a year (so five books per term). We still are struggling with ways to keep her former students engaged with independent reading, because unfortunately their other teachers have not yet included independent reading in their courses. What we have noticed though is that the students who had Kate as a teacher have remained engaged with reading during DEAR time. It has become a habit for them to have a book for DEAR time and they regularly visit the library during lunch time to choose their latest read.
What follows will sound familiar if you came to our talk at the MSLA 2018 Conference - a selection of our strategies to create a culture of reading.
- Bathroom Book Blurbs. Seriously, this was the most successful way to bring reading throughout the school. Inside each stall and above each urinal is a picture of a book cover and a synopsis of that book.
- Ms. _____ is Reading signs. This is new for us this year, and our faculty love it! I create a sign outside their door with the cover of the book they are reading.
- Author visits. Many cost money, but I have found success with learning when authors will be in town promoting their books at local bookstores, and then tacking on a visit to our library. Try to partner with a local bookstore near you to support this.
- Read-ins. To celebrate Teen Read Week, we hold a read-in in the library, making it very VIP by requiring passes ahead of time, and providing snacks and comfortable seating to those who join in. Read-ins could happen at any time.
- Think of ways to add reading promotion into events that are currently happening - for our Black History Month assembly, I’m going to be book-talking some fabulous new books by Black authors.
Partnerships with the classroom: Overall what has worked extremely well for me is getting the students excited about books and reading through special events, such as:
- Book Tastings. The library is set up like a restaurant, with a stack of three “courses” in three different genres at each time. I talk with the students about how trying books is a lot like tasting new food - you are not going to like everything you try, but you will find something you like.
- Book Speed dating. As I write this in late January, I’m preparing to host another round of speed dating right in time for Valentine’s Day. Students spend a few minutes selecting their “date” and then five minutes silently reading to determine if they have made a “match.” Playing up relationship puns and not judging a book by its cover gets lots of laughs and the kids buy into trying out new books.
- Read Around the World. Since previously the goal had been exposure to different genres, I decided to get students to look at books set in different places. Students “flew” around the library following their trip itinerary, and rated their books similar to TripAdvisor reviews.
Whatever you decide to do to bring the culture of reading to your school, make sure you do it joyfully - your excitement is catching, and students will be caught up in the love of reading.