Advocacy, Pleasure Reading

Be A Lead Reader.

I remember first learning about the statistics fellow student Julie Hong shared in her post, School Libraries Today, at the last California School Libraries Association conference and being equally shocked at what is happening in California, a state which encompasses the second largest school district in the country.  Two questions: where are our priorities and where is the advocacy effort that educates administrators and the frontline decision makers who are responsible for cutting these positions to move the funds to another need on campus?  Mr. Completo, one of of the supervising librarians I worked with during my TL fieldwork, posed another interesting question: is it possible that it all boils down to whether an administrator is a lover of reading herself that determines her level of support for the school library?  Do school libraries find more support from administrators, district representatives, and board members who have an ongoing love affair with reading and stories?  Wouldn’t that be a fascinating survey to tally?!  The East York – Scarborough Reading Association, made up of teachers, consultants, adminstrators, superintendents and resource personnel, dedicates their annual conference to just that: Reading for the Love of It!  They have been hosting the conference for more than forty years to enhance reading instruction by promoting a love of reading among educators including administrators.  Life as a Digital Dad blogger and elementary school principal, Adam Welcome, talks about the importance and power of school principals reading to kids.  He describes that it took him until third grade for reading to click and that was only because he discovered Roald Dahl.  It would be so cool to work for a principal like Adam who gets the importance of reading – wanna bet he’s got a librarian at his school?!  And there are numerous more articles and blog posts about how administrators can promote a culture of reading at her or his school, so the importance of their efforts is well recognized and likely these administrators are already on board with the library being a vital place for students on campus.  

So how can TLs convert the ones that don’t already love reading.  Here’s one tip from the Nerdy Book Club blogger: principals should instead of being “Lead Learner”, should be “Lead Reader”, because actions speak louder than words.  When she passed the torch to the new principal of her former school, instead of a lengthy list of instructions for her predeccessor, she left a reading list.  I say good going, Ms. Renwick!

Older Students, Pleasure Reading, Read-Alouds

Read Aloud.

Burro Genius by VIctor Villasenor

About five years ago I was laid off from LAUSD and, begrudgingly and against my better judgement, I took a job as a math teacher for a charter school.  I know! Don’t shoot me, I needed a job and they made themselves appear innovative, passionate and most importantly, engaging the school community in a love of learning.  Well after the first week I met my new students and I knew I’d been duped.  They were more than squirrely, they were disruptive, immature, distrusting, and other words completely off the wall most of the time and I had been led to believe it was my job to make them into “normal” people.  So I did the only thing that seemed to make sense, I started reading aloud to them.  I started with stories that were a little controversial, gritty and had lots of swear words; something to catch their attention and reel them in – I wanted words that would be both shocking and possibly cathartic to fill the room rather than the raucous chaos that had ensued for weeks leading up to my read-aloud realization.  After being called every name in the book and all but threatened physically, I was desperate for something to engage them.  The craziest part about it is it seemed to work.  Truly – students would hush up to listen to the words of Victor Villasenor talking about his days failing English class only to eventually become a published writer of fiction.  I made sure not to make it too lessony or ask students to over-analyze the texts.  I just wanted them to practice good listening technique and without much coercion, they settled right into it.  I don’t know what came over me, but something told me these kids needed to hear the words of someone who was not me, maybe more like them.

A few weeks later I was called back to my old job, and even though I had made this small headway, I returned with new insight: older kids like read-alouds too.  So as I contemplate my next move in starting a new school library at my adult school, I am reminded of the transformative power of read-alouds.  Kate Messner says that struggling readers have often lost their love for stories, but as teachers we have the power to give it back to them when we bring the story to life by reading it aloud.  If we just expect that they listen, and let the words wash over them without having to answer comprehension questions or take a test at the end, these students are reminded of the power that stories have: to escape, to transform, to nurture.  I now view read-alouds as a best practice in any classroom, but especially those with a greater proportion of struggling learners and readers; this would be every single classroom at my school.  We cater to those who want to reclaim their education, but have a lot of academic obstacles to overcome to make that happen.  How will I incorporate read-alouds into the library programming at the Skills Center?   

Advocacy, Pleasure Reading

Ignite love.

On my last day of fieldwork with Mr. Completo, the librarian at a span school in Cudahy, CA, I asked him what he thought the most important aspect of his job was.  He paused for a moment and then showed me a quote he found said by Jackie Kennedy Onassis,

There are many little ways to enlarge your child’s world. Love of books is the best of all.

He said that no matter what we do students will get instruction on the mechanics of reading in their classrooms, but instilling the love of reading is one of the hardest but most important things we can do.  A love of reading can inspire a lifetime of curiosity and learning.  It can be the difference between pursuing a better paying job, going to college, finding your purpose, connecting with others in meaningful ways, experiencing intellectual challenge, pursuing personal growth, self-actualization and self-sufficiency.  


Daniel Willinghem tells parents, change the conversation about why kids should read.  Make it about loving to learn, not about doing better in school.  And let them read whatever they want.  Making judgement calls even if you know they are choosing to read crappy fiction will do more damage then letting it ride as long as it needs to until they’re ready for something more demanding, challenging, literary or informational.  
If there really is a steady decline in the number of students reading for fun starting as early as the third grade, how do you entice students back into the world of stories when they have already moved past puberty or have reached adulthood?  When they have had so many negative experiences with reading, is it possible to successfully encourage an adult student who has had decades of reading failures to try to enjoy reading?  As mentioned in a previous post, Kate Messner says read-alouds are a great way to accomplish this.  Others say exposure and giving students choice.  For parents, having a purpose that is outside of themselves can be both motivating and can lead to greater reading enjoyment.  My dad who read to my brother and I as we grew up often said he came to enjoy some of the stories he loathed as a child; that reading them to us gave him a newfound appreciation for the characters and plot.