Saturday, February 22, 2014

Building Lifelong Readers: 25 Ways to Motivate and Inspire Kids to Read

How do you take your Common Core?
With or Without SSR*
used through Creative Commons

           In our move to Common Core, let us not forget what brought us to the party.  There has been research through the years on students independently reading self-selected texts during scheduled classroom time. The research results have been varied. Today I would like us to focus on the idea of a lifelong reader and to encourage you not to throw out this practice. Grab a cup of coffee and please hear me out as I share my story.

            It wasn’t so much he had less than 10 pimples throughout his entire adolescence. It wasn’t so much that I was the one who grew into crooked front teeth. It wasn’t the stupid glasses either. What gnawed on my soul was that my brother was smarter.  Someone, somewhere, had shared the secret his IQ was higher.  I wasn’t jealous. Honest. I idolized him. Instead, I felt this hopeless inadequacy and wondered why some did and some didn’t.

             I wonder is this why I became a reader.  Solace in books. Hope. The escape and comfort of our small town library.  Unconciously, I must have thought that maybe if I tried really, really, really, hard I could grow my IQ. 

            Books offered me an opportunity to become a better version of myself and as a result I transformed into a life long reader. The research would suggest that by my being surrounded by role models and having a public library within safe and independent walking distance those were contributing variables. On both counts, true. For the record, my being a life-long reader is not the result of any teacher’s effort and is not the result of being read to as a kid before going to sleep.

            It is through books I decided to grow my IQ—more unconsciously, at first.  Anyone remember Readers’ Digest vocabulary tests?  Learning words in the 60’s was the cure for an ailing IQ. Despite this glimmer of hope, I still believed my intelligence was fixed and that I was cursed.  Some were luckier than others in the exact same way that some escaped acne while others were bombarded. Honestly, I entered the self-help movement before it had a name. There was so much to know and I couldn’t funnel it in fast enough. How to be smarter eventually translated into how to be a better person which eventually morphed into how to be a better teacher and how to be a better wife. Books have always been there to provide me with the information I needed at the the very moment I needed it.

           Now retired, many former students have become teachers.  Some have shared the influence I had on them when they were my first or second graders.  From 1986 to 1995 they were poster children for Whole Language. Of course, they loved books. I wonder has their passion with books remained and did they become lifelong readers as a result of their early love affair with great books and a passionate teacher.

            I left teaching pre-service Teacher Ed classes a couple years back to teach second grade for my two final years in public education. My goal was to write a book during this time. Yeah, right!  Instead of writing gems mined from each day’s anecdotes as I channeled inspiration from Debbie Miller, I struggled with all that being a new teacher brings. It had been over 15 years and in many ways was like starting over. 
My classroom library
            Allow me to share one thing about that first year’s class. During 2010-2011, there were no major initiatives and my school was still finding its way with levelized reading instruction. To support this effort, book rooms had been set up for both lower and upper elementary classrooms—a masterful effort and resource.  Between my personal stash and both book rooms I was once again able to immerse 2nd graders in wonderful books just like I had two decades before. 

            Well, I didn't write a book, but I did create a culture of readers and writers. I provided them with a bushel full of books, allowed them free choice, created long chunks of classroom time for them to read, had them bring reading blankets for their comfort, formed Oprah-like book clubs, and scaffolded their growing abilities through conferencing.  The kids’ reading levels soared. I wonder: Will these kids grow up to be life-long readers?

             The second year, we piloted Common Core and suddenly classroom SSR time shriveled to half its former size and became less of an instructional focus; coincidentally, so did the students’ enthusiasm for reading. Creating a culture for lifelong reading cannot be hurried. It takes time. We read as we had the year before but not in leisurely stretched out moments. It made a huge difference.

            Last November I read Falling in Love with Close Reading by Chris Lehman and Kate Roberts. As always, I began with the forward. This one written by the Book Whisperer, Donalyn Miller. I stopped dead in my tracks. First, Miller quoted Alan Jacobs from his book The Pleasure of Reading in an Age of Distraction (2011). Jacobs claimed:

 The idea that many teachers hold today that one of the purposes of education is to teach students to love reading—or at least appreciate and enjoy whole books—is largely alien to the history of education. And perhaps alien to the history of reading as well.

   Donalyn then responded with the following:

Its vital that students graduate from high school with the reading skills they need for college and career success, but I want more for them. I hope our students find relevance in their lives, forge deep connections with others, create art, appreciate the worlds mysteries, and possess spiritual and emotional stores that sustain them in dark times. Reading shows us how to be better human beings, not just worker bees.
            These paired quotes have haunted me since, and at the time had a much greater effect on me than the information on close reading. This is MY story Donalyn is referring to. Through reading I found what I was looking for even when I had no clue what it was, and, yes, I found spiritual and an emotional strength I was not able to find else where. Reading has served as my anchor and has transformed me into a better me. Isn't  this what teachers want for their students.

The Need to Read...on the radar this week

            Edutopia came out with a piece on lifelong readers this week providing a zillion links to gather information on this subject. Larry Ferlazzo, one of my favorites, began the week with a 3-part series on lifelong readers and I have synthesized the info from the first two interviews. His format was based around well-known literacy people answering the following question: 

What strategies can I use to make sure they will fully understand the books we read? How can I ensure that I will create life-long readers?

·         Accessability to lots of books covering a wide range of genre and topics that interests the students
·         Lots of time to examine, read, write and talk about books with the teacher and other students
·         Choice
·         Really get to know your students and their interests
·         Teacher helps match students to books based on interest and ability
·         Being able to navigate and visit the school library
·         Listen to a fluent reader read aloud every single day
·         Students not forced into finishing a book if it doesn’t appeal to them
·          Provide in class time to read
·         For early readers teachers need to have a clear understanding of how the reading levels progress and what behaviors need to be taught at each stage.
·         Teacher modeling a love of reading—Talk the talk, and walk the walk.
·         Create energy and excitement around reading books
·         Students are allowed to take books home
·         WIIFM(What’s in it for me): Share the bigger goal of reading as a means to bigger and better things
·         If you can’t find a book to match a child’s interest, make one using clip art/Google images
·         Create class-wide book clubs, conversations with parents about books, and opportunities for parents and children to share a love of book
·         Teacher needs to choose books with kid appeal
·         Intentionally model and provide opportunities to practice strategies for comprehension
            In additon to this list, Miller suggested in a great article (written in 2010) some additional ways to create a classroom of readers.

Lifelong readers possess certain habits that we can explicitly model and teach our students. By redesigning our classrooms to support young readers as they practice and internalize the behaviors of avid readers we can increase our students engagement in reading and reap the benefits that prolific reading engenders.
·         Set the expectation for students to read a minimum of 40 books during the year
·         Set 30 min aside for SSR each day
·         Always have kids carry books with them when they are going to have to wait: picture day, field trip, assemblies
·         Students need to read when they have finished their assignment (No worries about what to do with fast finishers.)
·         Instead of bell ringers in the morning have students read when they enter the classroom

            Lastly, I am linking to an audio interview Ferlazzo did with Donalyn Miller earlier this month. Click on the link to listen to the nine minute interview on Ferlazzo’s BAM! Radio program.

            I really enjoyed this interview because Miller affirms my thinking about our students. As teachers, we desperately want to think we have stepped in, performed our magic and created lifelong readers. In reality there are too many intervening variables in young people's lives as they make their way through the grades, through other teachers' classrooms, and through life. We want to think we have changed our students forever, and pray no one comes along to destroy all that we’ve built.  Perhaps, we need to ask ourselves, how sturdy is the foundation we created for our readers and in what ways have we allowed for a gradual release of their independence once they have left our nest.

            My deepest gratitude to Carol Dweck for giving me relief and hope regarding my IQ:) Her research surrounding Mindset has to be some of the most important findings this century. 
Thanks to all of you for stopping by on a Saturday or at some convenient point during the week. I will be taking a couple weeks off from the blog.  Have a  wonderful week and especially enjoy your Saturdays.

*SSR- Silent Sustained Reading is a time during which the entire class reads quietly. There have been several names for it over the years: DEAR (Drop everything and read), DIRT (daily independent reading time), SQUIRT (Sustained quiet uninterrupted reading time), and many more.


  1. Happily, I believe City Lights bookstore in San Francisco, which is pictured, is one of the few independent bookstores still open and not a casualty like so many. Secondly, your wonderful words about reading resonated deeply within me. I have often wondered why some people seem to be born with a love for reading, some acquire the taste later and some people, no matter how cerebral, never sit down with a book for fun or enlightenment and consider reading like "homework". It can depend on many things. My folks read to me every night of my life and but full disclosure - one parent was a teacher. But I had three other factors that influenced me - 1) I was a solitary, shy child, 2) I always lived walking distance to a library 3) I had superb teachers in a good school system who emphasized what we now know is Close Reading and also emphasized a love of literature, words and ideas. Teachers who were probably much like yourself, Cathe. I remember in third grade, the teacher was reading a small part of Heidi every day and I was so mesmerized that I could not wait for the ending. I wanted to sleep in the hay near the goats, too! I fervently asked Santa Claus for my own copy of Heidi so I could "find out what happened" and Santa was good and granted my wish. By the way, I still own Heidi 60 years later and most of my beloved childrens' books.
    For me books opened vistas and massive curiosity about the world and the different cultures contained therein. Because of reading, I am curious about my fellow human beings all over the world and I have amassed a knowledge and appreciation for the their art, history, food, and civilization, in general. I have also made many wonderful friends from my many travels. I love a great mystery on a long plane ride but I also love reading about the country I am about to visit. I love newspapers, magazines and a great work of fiction and a challenging piece of non-fiction. My fervent wish is that all children can be inspired by our great teachers to become avid lifetime readers. I can truthfully say that because of books, I am no longer that solitary child - I am a person with many friends and a wide variety of interests - which I owe to reading. Thank you, Cathe, for the wonderful reminder and for the huge debt we owe to the teachers who inspired us!

  2. I am so glad you recognized City Lights. Another life time ago, I spent many, many happy hours there. Mary Ann, I cannot thank you enough for taking time to post this very thoughtful and well-written response. I am so glad today's blog resonated so strongly with you.