By Hollyanna Bates
As a school district literacy coordinator, I worry about literacy. I worry about students learning how to read. I worry about those who find reading difficult. I worry that we aren’t spending enough time creating readers who choose to read.
I have found that I can fend off a little worry when I leverage the worry into powerful actions. These actions have developed from small steps to well-developed projects. The projects are implemented across our schools in order to impact both reading achievement and a love of reading. The projects are possible because teachers, administrators, and volunteers work together with the belief that we have to do whatever it takes. We stand firm in the belief that students need access to the behaviors of literate cultures and we aim to provide this access in a variety of ways. We offer our students a seat at the literate table.
A few years ago we read Allington and McGill’s research on summer reading and were persuaded to make a change. We hadn’t seen much success from our traditional summer school model and limited funds reduced the number of students we were able to impact. Since we had surveyed students using Donalyn Miller’s tool in the Book Whisperer, we knew that many students would not read during the summer if we didn’t provide books. Many of our students reported having 0-2 books at home.
With district funds and a heck-of-a-lot of grant funding from our local Rotary club, we have replicated the work of Allington and McGill. Each student in K-4 gets to choose summer books from a large library we created just for this purpose. Our team researched the newest, most popular titles and cultivated a collection for each school. Each May we roll out the bins, add some new titles and invite students to select books to take home for the summer.
Our local education foundation has partnered with the school district to provide author visits to all K-8 students each year. Because literate citizens know the names of authors, have books inscribed by authors, and have read several books by a favorite author, we implemented the visits as a way to provide this access. Last year one hundred percent of teachers reported via a survey that they found the visits effective for these reasons: the author visit built excitement around reading, writing and art, inspired students to read books, provided access to literate cultures, and built understanding around the writing process. Before the author visit each year, students write letters persuading a committee to be chosen to eat lunch with the author. This year, *Carlos, a student who is living in poverty and learning English as a second language, wrote, “I want to be picked to eat lunch with the author because it will change my life.” Today he ate breakfast with Colorado author Todd Mitchell and I think both of them will be forever changed after their time together!
When our district leaders looked at the research related to the number of books children have at home, the number of students who choose to read and the correlation with achievement, we couldn’t help but take action. The pilot project was funded by our education foundation and has grown to be funded by every community resource available. Now implemented in our three schools most impacted by poverty, students in 3-5th grades are well on their way to having authentic home libraries. Each month students select two books from the Scholastic order. These books belong to the students and become their home libraries. In a recent survey, 93 percent of participating students reported they had read all the books ordered through the project, with 76 percent of students reporting that they read some books twice.
While I still worry about literacy development of our students, I am proud of the projects we have in place, the opportunities we provide, and the improvements we make each year to help all children fall in love with reading.
Summer Reading: Closing the Rich/Poor Achievement Gap by Richard Allington and Anne McGill-Franzen
*name changed to protect identity
Hollyanna Bates is a Past President of CCIRA and a Reading Recovery Teacher Leader/Literacy Coordinator in Summit School District in Frisco, Colorado. Follow her on Twitter @hollyannabates