Creating a reading culture (and I digress)

21 11 2007

How to we do it?  How do we make willing readers?  How do we stop whatever it is that happens, when most kids decide they don’t like reading anymore.  As stated in the NY Times article previously referred to, ” “we live in a society where the media does not recognize, celebrate or discuss reading, literature and authors.” ” . 

Does your school recognise, celebrate or discuss reading, literature and authors?  Not just in that half hour “library lesson”, or in Book Week, but throughout the school, throughout the year?  If your school doesn’t have a teacher librarian,  who promotes reading, literature and authors?  

I put a question to classroom teachers. When was the last time you read something that is appropriate for the students you teach, and then told them about it? Not just primary teachers or secondary English teachers, but science teachers, maths teachers, and yes, even PE teachers (who in my experience don’t seem to know where the library is, as nice as they are). 

Do your students have any reading role models?

Here’s an example of what won’t work.

You won’t create avid readers by putting a box of books in every classroom and giving kids a few minutes to pick and choose by themselves.  At our local school, this is overseen by parent volunteers (oh, the horror! See Digression #1 below) 

Students need someone to guide their reading.  Not a printed booklist (see Digression #2 below) but a real live person. Someone in the classroom to create discussion on new books, old classics, thrilling plots, absurd characters, heartbreaking drama,  gutbusting humour, stunning sci-fi, predictable pap, shocking biography, horrible histories, and escapist fantasy.  If your TL doesn’t offer this service, then ask for it.  If your school doesn’t have a TL, then who does it? 

Perhaps when students say they don’t like to read, they are really saying they’ve never had a great reading experience up to that point.  Piers Paul Reed’s “Alive : The story of the Andes survivors” has won over every teen boy I have given it to so far.  I just read the bit about the sticks and the poo out loud to them, and off they go. 

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DIGRESSION #1 –  I’m not a fan of “partnership in education” programs that put parents into classrooms.  To me it’s a scam to cover up the lack of funding for schools.  Would you accept a volunteer managing your mortgage, or servicing your car?  Is it so wrong for me to expect appropriately qualified people to be working with my children?  Volunteering is great, I’ve done it for years, but some roles are inappropriate.

DIGRESSION #2 – The Premier’s Reading Challenge is offered to most students throughout Australia. It varies from state to state but generally, students are required to read 12 books from a reading list in order to get a pretty certificate and their name in the paper.  Often it requires a huge number of hours of work by TLs or teachers, although some schools now ask parents or students to submit reading records. Why is success in reading defined by the number of books one reads?  As a TL, I would read 2 or 3 books a week.  As a parent I’m happy with 2 or 3 books a year. The quality of those few though, is chosen with much greater care.   Here’s a better idea for the Premiers of our states.  If you want kids to read, GIVE THEM LIBRARIES!

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