“If They Don’t Read Much, How They Ever Gonna Get Good?” is the title of an article Dick Allington wrote in 1977, and his words still ring true today! Forty years have passed since this article was published and a quick “fix-it” program for literacy instruction still doesn’t exist.
According to the Scholastic Teacher & Principal School Report, only 36% of teachers set time aside for independent reading and/or read-aloud time every school day. Nearly two in three teachers (63%) say they wish this time occurred more often and the majority point to demands of the curriculum as the primary barrier to this happening.
In many districts, administrators still believe that allowing students to read in class is an ineffective use of instructional time. Yet, these same school leaders understand that to develop an outstanding school sports team or band, students need to practice every day. The same is true for reading: daily practice is critical for success. A school-wide belief that volume in reading matters starts with the principal who can rally teachers, students, and parents around a reading initiative by:
- Supporting students’ self-selecting books for independent and instructional reading at school, and providing annual funding for classroom libraries in English language arts and content subjects.
- Creating class schedules that reserve time for independent and instructional reading at school.
- Finding the time in a busy schedule to read aloud to classes, sends the message to faculty and students: I value and enjoy reading!
Developing a Culture of Reading
Support from the principal can make a huge difference in how teachers feel about students reading at school, and teachers directly affect students’ attitudes toward reading every day. When teachers know the role independent reading plays in developing students’ literary tastes and personal reading lives, when teachers are readers who enthusiastically share their book love with students, they become the reading role models who empower others to read.
If students look forward to instructional and independent reading at school and develop the stamina to concentrate deeply for 30 minutes, they are more likely to read at home. Moreover, a combination of daily reading at school and at home can result in students “meeting” more than four million words a year. The ever-increasing reading mileage measured on students’ “book odometers” ensures they meet words used in diverse contexts, resulting in continual vocabulary growth. In addition, they build background knowledge of how topics and genres work, develop fluency, and also experience the pleasure of discussing books with peers.
Access is Key
The importance of easy access to books cannot be underplayed. When students can explore books with ease, complete and return one book, then check out a new one, they enjoy “shopping” for books in their classroom libraries.
A strong school media center with a certified librarian is also important to students’ growth as readers because it offers a larger book collection with more choices and an expert who has deep knowledge of the collection.
According to a study in The Handbook of Early Literacy Research, Volume 2, editors: Susan Neuman and David Dickinson, (page 31, 2006), in low-income neighborhoods, the ratio of age-appropriate books per child is one book for every 300 children. This data supports the 1996 findings of the IEA’s Reading Literacy in the U.S. Study by Marilyn Brinkley, which showed that 61% of low-income families had no books at all in their homes for children. Since many families don’t have books at home, the responsibility falls to teachers and the school librarian to encourage students to take books home during the summer, on school nights, weekends, and over holidays. If you want your students to love reading, to choose reading at school and at home, they need continuous access to a wide range of books that will keep them engaged year-round.
It’s time educators brought access and equity to all children, regardless of socioeconomic status—to those who read well or are still developing and to all cultural backgrounds. The magic bullet, the quick fix, doesn’t exist. To become readers, children need to read books they can choose and books that are relevant to their lives! Yes, reading volume matters!