Take a Reading Inventory

“Summer slump” is an oppressive-sounding term, describing loss of learning during the summer when reading can stagnate. How do you avoid the summer reading doldrums and learning loss? A recent Harvard study stresses the importance of teachers personalizing the reading experience for students, shaping “lessons and activities” to support the reading experience. One way that our school is personalizing reading is through the Teacher Favorites program. Teachers sponsor books, allowing a wide variety of choice for students, and each book has a plus factor, suggested videos, websites, and art/writing activities that can enhance the experience of reading the book. (A big nod to McCallie School which shared their plus factor reading program through our AISL listserv.)

Whether students and teachers are blogging “what if” scenarios about a Harry Potter book or visiting online Holocaust museums as they read The Diary of a Young Girl, student engagement in the activities can enhance the reading of the book and enliven the small group book discussion with teachers and students in August. View our school’s suggested books and activities: Teacher Favorites 7/8 and Teacher Favorites 5/6.

Families can also build excitement for summer reading by placing an importance on reading habits in their home. This suggested Reading Inventory provides ideas to start conversations about the enjoyment of reading and how books can be an important part of the summer routine. Below is a checklist to jumpstart how families can infuse a reading climate in the home and include the reading habit alongside the demands of summer activities.

Step One: Make a Shelfie.
What were the books that ignited you as a young reader? Arrange those books for a “Shelfie” photo and share with your child the meaning books had for you. If you no longer have the books, capture screenshots of book covers or use GoogleSlides to arrange your Shelfie stack. Interesting conversations about books can arise as you share the types of books you loved to read and how your reading grew or changed. Modeling your love of reading and your reading habits is a powerful message to children.

Fairy Tales (upper left to right): Andrew Lang’s Fairy Tales, Brothers Grimm Folk and Fairy Tales edited by Jack Zipes, Andersen’s Fairy Tales (copyright 1945), and Grimm’s Fairy Tales (copyright 1928).

Step Two: Create Book Reading Corners.
Where are the prime locations for Book Reading Corners in your home? Do you have a basket of books by a favorite reading chair, bedside table, and even magazines or books in the bathroom? All of these are prime locations to make reading opportunities readily available and enjoyable, and these reading corners are a visible reminder of the value your family places on reading. Encourage your child to personalize and develop their own favorite reading corner.

Step Three: Read Poetry, Aloud.
My mother loved to share a large volume of children’s poetry, and she dramatized, sang, and engaged us in choral reading of the poems. She even (gasp!) invited us to write our initials next to our favorite poems and color in the line drawing illustrations. This poetry book became a living, breathing reflection of our time shared in enjoying poetry. Discover your own poetry anthology such as those by poets Shel Silverstein, Jack Prelutsky, J. Patrick Lewis, Paul Fleischman, Lee Bennett Hopkins, Margarita Engle, Naomi Shihab Nye, Jacqueline Woodson, and Nikki Grimes. Poetry anthologies are also themed to experiencing art (Hopkin’s Make the World New: New Poems Inspired by Art from the Metropolitan Museum) and even objects (The Death of the Hat: A Brief History of Poetry in 50 Objects, selected by Paul B. Janeczko).

And, poetry is not just for young children. Poetry connects to tweens and teens in dynamic ways that reflect their own voices and concerns. Poetry can transport the reader through a historic moment (such as the sinking of the Titanic in The Watch that Ends the Night) and personal crisis (such as Jason Reynold’s Long Way Down), or celebrate heroes (such as Margarita Engle’s Bravo! Poems About Amazing Hispanics) and feature voices of hope (such as Naomi Shihab Nye’s Voices in the Air: Poems for Listeners). Encourage your tween or teen to perform a Poetry Slam of a favorite poem. Poems spoken aloud allow us to savor the sounds and rhythms of words and connect powerfully to emotions.

Step Four. Read Aloud.
Reading aloud creates moments of bonding with your child as you share the mutual love of a book. Dive in and do the voices, and invite the child to chime in on favorite lines or read a page in the story. You can read aloud a chapter book that is above the reading level of your child, thereby building vocabulary and encouraging empathetic listening. Many children’s books have cliff-hanger chapters and cause children to beg for the next chapter to be read. For an extensive list of read-aloud books for all ages and genres, see Jim Trelease’s The Read-Aloud Handbook. Jim Trelease stresses that reading aloud not only increases I.Q., but also H.Q.(the heart quotient). Award-winning children’s books from ALA and books for young adults from YALSA are another way to select excellent writing from diverse voices.

Step Five: Books on the Road.
Summers are busy with family road trips and commutes to activities such as swimming lessons and ball games–perfect opportunities for stretches of time to enjoy books. Encourage your child to pack favorite books in the car (I always traveled with collections of fairy tales) or take advantage of wonderful audio performances of books to enjoy as a family. Many public libraries have audiobook collections, and our own school library is showcasing new audiobooks through Overdrive this summer. For quick free browsing and sampling, you can search a book title in Amazon Audible and listen to a few minutes of a book. Listening to audiobooks can be a delightful way to fill long car commutes, and children can read along to reinforce the experience of the book.

Illustrated books, nonfiction informational books, and short story collections travel well because these books invite browsing, lingering over illustrations and short text boxes, and short chapter reading. Author Melissa Stewart’s Celebrate Science website has wonderful recommendations for informational books and activities. Graphic novels, magazines, and comics can also be good choices for books on the road. Classic Comics were my first exposure to the “classics,” and new graphic novels adaptations include Anne Frank’s Diary, the Graphic Adaptation, The Giver, Manga Classics, and Shakespeare, Poe, and The Odyssey adaptations by graphic artist Gareth Hinds, not to mention the hilarious Hazardous Tales history series by Nathan Hale.

This five-step Reading Inventory may help families re-evaluate the importance of reading and reading habits in the home. See also the National Education Association, which features research on preventing the “summer slump” and provides tips to encourage reading. Spark enthusiasm with families for reading this summer!

A eulogy for our local newspaper

Last fall, I read Cecily Ross’ The lost diaries of Susanna Moodie, a fictionalized journal based on the life of a woman who emigrated to from England to the backwoods of Canada in 1830s.

If that hasn’t put you to sleep, know that I am fascinated by Moodie (and her sister Catharine Parr Traill) for a number of reasons, the greatest of which is that they settled in the area I call home. I often walk by the Cobourg wharf where their ship landed, have made the 10-minute drive into the country to see the historic plaque posted where Moodie first lived, and read the daily paper in which she published her poetry.

But no more – our local paper, published since 1831, has been shuttered. Sad but not surprising; many of the people indignant about the cut hadn’t shown their support with subscription dollars, and advertising revenue has understandably declined along with readership.

What will I miss about having the local paper in our library?

  • Reading coverage of school events (and having someone to ask to cover an event)
  • Learning about students’ & colleagues’ non-school activities in the community
  • Keeping up with obituaries of those who’ve passed in our small town
  • Watching someone complete the crossword or Suduko
  • Having a plethora of newsprint for art teachers in need (she says with partial sarcasm)

I am no Luddite, but felt it important to mark the end of this chapter. I’m curious to see what fate lies ahead for our national papers – one has recently changed formats, and I’ve been surprised to see it being read more frequently in our casual seating area. Coincidence? Temporary halt of the inevitable?

 

Reading Statistics

In fall 2014, several AISL librarians shared lists of their libraries’ top-circulated books. The lists were particularly interesting because while the titles were indicative of the types of collections curated by the AISL librarians, the lists included a number of common titles. So when Renaissance Learning released the 2015 edition of its What are Kids Reading and Why it Matters report, I eagerly got to work to see how those lists compared to the reading tastes and habits reflected by the independent schools’ circulation lists. I should note that our school does not use the Accelerated Reader program, but the Renaissance Learning (RL) report was mentioned by several media outlets, and I felt it was worth reading. I believe it is vital for librarians to cast a wide net when seeking new influences and benchmarking performance.

The data source for the RL report is the Accelerated Reader database, which includes book reading records for more than 9.8 million students in grades 1-12. The Accelerated Reader program is used in 31,363 schools nationwide, the students in which read approximately 330 million books during the 2013-2014 school year. The lists of books published in the report represent the most popular selections delineated by grade and gender. Below are a few items that may be of interest from the report.

  • Students in grades 2 and 3 read the most books, and students in grades 11 and 12 read the fewest
  • On average, girls read 3.8 million words by grade 12, whereas boys read 3.0 million words by the same grade
  • The average number of words read by a student in each school year peaks around grade 6 at 436,000 words and then decreases to the low 300,000’s by the end of high school.

The report repeatedly emphasizes a connection between academic achievement and independent reading practice. Supplemented throughout with essays by prominent children’s authors such as Phyllis Reynolds Naylor and Andrew Clements, the report provides excellent discussion of why robust collections and their use matter to our students. Moreover, the rationale for reading and its multilayered benefits for students could be used to encourage faculty members to assign more independent reading.

The study states that the students who set reading goals for themselves through the Accelerated Reader database read more difficult books and read for more time on a daily basis than their peers who did not set goals. How might this outcome of goal setting help us to redefine projects so that our students may push themselves in their own achievement?

An entry in the report that especially resonated with me was written by Dr. Christine King Farris, author of My Brother Martin: A Sister Remembers Growing Up With the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. Farris describes reading as the gateway to “emotional and intellectual expansion” while growing up in a segregated society. Dr. Farris provides anecdotal evidence that reading empowered and motivated her and her brother. She notes that Dr. King learned about Mahatma Gandhi and his unwavering devotion to the practice of nonviolence through books. Perhaps the greatest example of the influence of reading on Dr. Farris and her brother Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is that, understanding the positive power for change that books hold, they both eventually became authors!

At root, the What Kids are Reading report provides a framework for comparison of reading programs in our own schools. It also provides a basis for comparison of overall reading habits. Do you observe a peak in the amount students read in sixth grade or is reading truly sustained throughout high school? If you work in a co-ed environment, do you note differences in the amount read by boys and girls?  In my own library, the second and third grade students, as the report would predict, are circulating the most books. My challenge now is not to sit back and corroborate the data, but to help promote reading in the other grades to match that of my most voracious readers!