In any school or district, the foundation of a strong literacy plan is a flexible strategy for reading instruction that adapts to the individual needs and interests of diverse readers. At the heart of this strategy is access to books.
We know that access to a wide variety of reading material helps establish a culture of literacy in school, which supports students as they gain strong literacy skills and discover the joy of reading. Access to books has a positive impact on academic achievement, especially in kindergarten through third grade, those critical early years when students are acquiring literacy skills. And yet we also know that so often, there are simply not enough books: the Scholastic Teacher & Principal School Report reveals that while 89% of teachers have classroom libraries, 31% have fewer than 50 books to serve their students all year.
Even in robust classroom libraries, it is not enough simply to have books—the collection must be diverse in genre, subject, and reading level, meeting the individual needs of all students. From the same research, we learned how varied the needs of so many teachers and school libraries are to fill their bookshelves; in particular, teachers report needing titles that are culturally relevant, recently published books and high-interest, low-reading-level titles. Readers of all ages and levels need to be able to find their “just-right” book. This is seen throughout academic research as well as through many one-on-one conversations that I’ve had in my travels throughout the country to visit schools and districts of all sizes. For example, when working with teachers who are implementing Guided Reading in their classrooms, one of four “must-haves” in balanced literacy instruction, teachers need multiple copies of leveled books, as well as the right teaching support.
In terms of how many books, in many ways there can never be enough but I encourage educators to think big. Think in the thousands for your students and expect connected teaching resources for each title. Scholastic was recently amazed by the power of educators coming together with their community to provide just that. Together, they raised the resources to bring a Scholastic Leveled Bookroom to their school in order to meet the needs of both students and teachers. Students school-wide now have critical access to titles and texts, teachers have instructional support for helping students select books they want to read at the appropriate level, and support them in their comprehension.
Our understanding of the importance of access to books must be informed by a nuanced view of literacy instruction: that students must have access to books at a variety of levels that are interesting to them; that independent reading is not just free reading, but must be supported by a teacher’s ability to guide students as their interests and skills change. Access to books supports the creation of what Fountas and Pinnell have called a “community of readers,” in which the evident culture of reading (and rereading), and the lively discussion of books lays the foundation for a lifelong love of reading.