and a recipient of a 2020 MSLA President's Award.
Teachers are under so much pressure to increase testing scores, and to justify all that is done in their classrooms by showing a correlation between scores and curriculum. The library is not exempt from this, and it can feel like our best practices, and the heart and passion in learning can fall at the wayside. There are things that so many of us do in our libraries that we know are right, but I wanted to be able justify what I do and why. I decided to investigate if there was value in building reading communities in order to increase achievement. I wanted to leave the idea of achievement vague, as it can mean anything from increased test scores, to simply learning to love reading. I would venture to say that while these two things may be on the opposite ends of school based assessment, that they are linked to one another. I am a school librarian, and my life is about teaching students to love reading. I truly feel that reading is the key to lifelong success and by researching this question, I can better help my readers. We begin our early days learning to read, and then at about 3rd grade, it switches to reading to learn. Knowledge comes from reading. Success comes from knowledge. And humans are social people. I wanted to find out how reading affects achievement, and if social reading plays a role. I focused my inquiry mostly in two areas, looking for data to show that reading does affect achievement, and then what and how reading communities encourage reading.
I began by looking at what Donnalyn Miller says about reading communities. Reading In The Wild is the impetus of my interest in reading communities. There was not a chapter in this book where I was not nodding along or quoting out loud to anyone who would listen. I have brought this book to my principal, and bought it for our professional shelf in my library. Miller is promoting creating “wild readers”, or those who choose to read for pleasure out in the world. One of the ways she does this is by creating reading communities to get students excited to read. She references book clubs, conferencing with students, online communities, and promoting free choice. She also ties “wild readers” to future success in life with a study that showed that the only afterschool activity that can predict future job success is reading (Miller, 2014). This right here ties reading to achievement.
This led me to my next piece of needed research; Why School Libraries Matter. This article showed that “Data from more than 34 statewide studies suggest that students tend to earn better standardized test scores in schools that have strong library programs” (Lance and Katchel, 2018, para # 1). The article goes on to show that even just simply having an open library staffed with a certified librarian accomplishes gain, but that the gains can be magnified the more active the school librarian is in the school. Reading groups, book clubs, and reading challenges are all types of reading communities that librarians can use that help increase test scores of students. This article is very relevant to continuing to advocate for my library and my position, and really helps to answer my research question as well.
One of the ways that Donnalyn Miller promotes reading communities is by having teachers model wild reading. In the article Building Communities of Engaged Readers: Reading for Pleasure, a study found that when teachers are given the time and support to be wild readers, they “build new and more equal reading relationships with families and community members” (Cremin, Mottran, Collins, Powell & Safford, 2014, para # 2).
While we are often in a digital mindframe, it is important to note that reading communities go as far back as medieval times, and were used for education and increased social status (Treharn, E., Walker, G. & Green, W., 2010). Oxford Handbook of Medieval Literature in English had an interesting chapter about the history of reading communities. They were used as a form of social hierarchies, as well as a way to better your position in life, and as a form of networking, both for personal connections and transmitting information. So while many of the purposes for reading communities has not really changed in centuries, perhaps in the age of testing, we have forgotten the benefits.
My last resource was a more practical one. I wanted to learn more about what kinds of digital and social media resources are out there. I already knew about and use Common Sense Media and Good Reads, but was introduced to Booklikes, Riffle, Bookstr, and GoRead (Bolme, 2018, para #4). I will be exploring these so that I can recommend them to my students.
As some of the research has shown, simply showing up and opening the doors of my library every morning fosters reading communities and has an influence on reaching achievement. Of course, I strive to go way beyond this. I host clubs, do reading incentives, and model “wild reading” for my students. I try to read much of what they read, so I can have authentic conversations with them and be part of their reading community.
After just this initial research, I feel that my question was answered with a resounding yes, but that I have to make inferences to bridge the data. Data clearly shows that reading affects achievement. The articles also showed that social reading communities increase the motivation to read. Thus, you can make the inference that since reading communities increase motivation to read, and that reading increases achievement, then social reading communities would certainly affect achievement. Social learning as a whole seems to be about engaging and motivating students. I cannot imagine a better way to increase test scores than to create excitement and community around reading.