Creating a School Culture that Values Independent Reading

Changing your staff’s attitudes toward educational practices takes time, but it’s something that you can accomplish through continual communication. Staying in touch with staff means attending all meetings; sending them short articles that build their educational knowledge base; providing positive feedback after walkthroughs; and meeting with staff one-on-one or in small groups to have meaningful conversations about best practices in literacy instruction and the power of independent reading. 

The tips that follow can be used to develop a school culture in which independent reading is a central part of your school curriculum.

  • Share the research

Before asking teachers to weave independent reading into their teaching schedule, invite them to read and discuss articles on the power of independent reading from self-selected books. Without the practice that independent reading provides, students’ progress in reading and their ability to comprehend complex texts will be limited. Moreover, when students regularly read self-selected books at school, they develop a love of reading that lasts a lifetime!

Here are four texts you can share with your faculty:

  1. "The Six Ts of Effective Elementary Literacy Instruction" (Richard Allington)
  2. "The Class Library and Effective Independent Reading by Challenging Students" (Jeani Fullard, Lisa Neveitt, and Jennifer Schaffer)
  3. "10 Questions About Independent Reading" (Dana Truby interview with Jennifer Serravallo)
  4. "Every Child, Every Day" (Richard Allington and Rachael E. Gabriel)
  • Speak at faculty meetings and to individual teachers

Extol the benefits of independent reading—students enlarge their vocabulary, build background knowledge, practice applying strategies teachers model, and find pleasure in reading about people and places from the past, present, and future.

To expand teachers’ knowledge of the benefits of independent reading, purchase The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller (Jossey-Bass, 2009), and invite teachers to read and discuss the book with colleagues.

  • Set aside funds for books

Each year, offer teachers funds for building their classroom libraries. Access to books can bring students into the reading life. Encourage the PTA to do one or two annual fundraisers for classroom libraries.

  • Encourage students to self-select books

Explain to teachers that permitting students to choose their independent reading books means students invest in their reading. (The Scholastic Kids & Family Reading Report found that 91% of kids ages 6–17 say “my favorite books are the ones that I have picked out myself.”)

  • Read aloud to students

Make appointments to read aloud each week to a different class.

  • Become a role model 

Discuss a book you love at assembly or during a school-wide broadcast.

  • Have students share books on the school’s morning broadcast

Invite teachers to choose students to share a great read with the entire school. Peer-to-peer advertising of terrific books is a top-notch way to interest other students in reading.

  • Drop in to classes during independent reading

Catch students reading and loving it! Praise students and show them a book you’re reading. If you have time, join the class and read for 10 to 15 minutes.

  • Designate a weekly independent reading time for the entire school

This shows students and teachers how serious you are about reading self-selected books.

  • Encourage teachers to read while students read

When teachers model that they have and enjoy a personal reading life, they inspire their students to emulate them.

  • Invite teachers to share success stories of student independent reading

They can do this during full faculty meetings and at department or team meetings.

  • Track reading scores

Do this over two to three years to show that when students have a rich, independent reading life, their scores in vocabulary and comprehension improve. Share data with teachers so they see how the changes and adjustments they’ve made are supporting students’ progress.

  • Feature a student’s recommendation for independent reading in the school newsletter

This lets parents know how much you, teachers, and students value independent reading.

  • Commend teachers and students in writing

Don’t overdo written notes, but when you see independent reading flourishing in a class, write a note to the teacher and his or her students. Noticing positive reading practices inspires teachers and students to read even more.

  • Keep parents informed

On back-to-school night, let parents know the benefits of independent reading so they can foster it at home. 

As a principal, you can shape teachers' theories of education by being an instructional leader who brings best practices to your school. The journey can be slow with setbacks, but when teachers help students develop personal reading lives, they prepare their students for life, college, and career. There's nothing better than being part of that outcome!

 

Photo via Steven Depolo