Children receive information at a furious pace. Whether it is current events on a global scale or the local library message board, each child will bring his or her personal world into the classroom this back-to-school season.
Knowing that, coupled with the understanding of how increasingly complex our world seems—especially in light of the civil unrest in Charlottesville and the ongoing destruction by Hurricane Harvey—many of us feel increased urgency around helping kids make sense of it all. Of course, this process is not without its own complexity; students need us–educators–to help them learn to take in information, contextualize, analyze and respond to it. And we need to partner with families in these efforts. It is, frankly, hard work. Those of us who spend our days helping kids navigate the world must establish a powerful community of readers and learners so that we all may be informed citizens.
This commitment to reading and learning can and should reach every member of the school community—district and school leaders, teachers, students and the parents who support them—each member of this community is linked. Imagine us reading together as parents, educators and children; reading to not just prepare for a test, but reading to prepare to know and grow.
Reading and learning are opportunities for growth, not just for students, but for all readers. In fact, I think there are many adults who would be surprised by how much they learn from revisiting a children’s book from their youth or talking with a child today about what they are reading. Personally and professionally, it is critical to make sure we’re always learning and growing in order to better support our students.
Below are four key ways to foster a community of readers who learn and navigate the world together.
Look at informational text
By diving in to informational text, readers can acquire background knowledge that will help them contextualize future reading. The more information they have, gained by reading widely about their own history and the world around them, the greater their power to make choices, form opinions and communicate their ideas.
But this reading practice happens best when we read, discuss and share together as members of a larger community. In particular, younger children are learning who they are, both as individuals and as citizens of the world, both at home and in the classroom. Children need to grow up learning that we are diverse as a society in our views, experiences and knowledge, which makes us stronger together. Reading and discussion can guide us all.
Read with curiosity
In Disrupting Thinking: Why How We Read Matters, Kylene Beers and Bob Probst argue that while students are often taught to extract information from text, the act of reading ought to be transactional. In other words, reading is a multifaceted experience on the path to deeper understanding. They write:
“Additionally, we must teach students how to read with curiosity. And they need to be willing to raise questions. We want them to ask not only, ‘What does this text say?’ but also, ‘What does it say to me? How does it change who I am? How might it change what I do in the world?’” (Beers & Probst, 23.)
This approach to reading is inherently communal: the reader interacts with the text in a dynamic way, and there follows an opportunity for exploration and conversation. Reading with curiosity helps all of us both become better readers and better citizens.
Strengthen the home-to-school connection
Support for readers happens in the classroom, but we have to make sure that the home-to-school connection starts strong, and remains so throughout the school year (all year, really).
We know from the Teacher & Principal School Report that educators hold strong, positive views around the importance of family engagement and the need for partnerships between schools and parents.
A critical component of making this connection and forging an effective partnership is bringing families in to your community of readers. This means helping them learn strategies for both reading with their children (of all ages), and talking to their children about what they read. And it means being prepared to engage and support all families, as well as by making connections with community partners whose work can support and enhance your students’ achievement. To do so, principals and district leaders assume the role of lead learners, learning alongside teachers and staff.
Keep reading, keep learning, keep growing
When we give our students the time, space and resources to read widely and deeply, to gather as much information as possible, they will be better equipped to make sense of their worlds and their places in it. When we think of literacy and learning as a dynamic process that incorporates growth, change, and the exchange of ideas, we are better prepared to help students grow. When we extend our school community beyond the four walls of the building, we will be more powerful. This expansive, fluid notion of reading will allow a true community of learners to flourish.