Setting the Tone for Our Community of Readers

By Linda Siciliano, Principal of Stadley Rough Elementary

Linda Siciliano As principals, we set the tone for a community of learners. At the beginning of each school year, we renew our commitment to the building blocks of achievement and the personal growth of every student. While we are continuously juggling competing priorities, literacy remains the constant in the heart of our work.

According to a new national study released by Yankelovich, a leader in consumer trends tracking, the time kids spend reading for fun declines sharply after age 8 and continues to drop through the teen years. This study affirms what we understand as practitioners: families play a key role in supporting the frequency and enjoyment of student reading outside of school. 

How do we successfully engage students and their families in literacy? Here are 10 tips from the Scholastic Book Fairs Principals Advisory Board that will help you nurture a lifelong love of reading at your school.

Tip 1: Send a Strong Message about Literacy to Every Family
Seize any and every opportunity to let families know how they can support reading at home, especially at the beginning of the year.
  Maintain reading on the “front burner” with a letter home that clearly conveys a strong message about developing a love of reading and the importance of student goal setting in the process. Take a look at asample letter(Contributed by Marsha Thauwald, China Spring Elementary)
  Offer interactive presentations about specific ways families can help at home. To eliminate barriers to attendance, you may find that providing transportation, interpreters, meals, and babysitting works well to bring families into the school. Community partners can sometimes provide evening activities for children and/or babysitting as a community service. A sample family reading night presentation based on Yankelovich’s research can be accessed here.

Tip 2: Require Interactive Homework
Encourage homework such as a reading log or activity calendar so that students share learning directly with families. Reading logs can require different annotations from the student: the title of the text, number of pages, genre, time spent, student’s personal response to reading. Parents sign and discuss the log with the student.

Tip 3: Connect Literacy to Special Events
School events such as concerts, Back-to-School Night, Book Fairs, PTA meetings, and conference nights are all great opportunities to share information. 
  School staff hosts a display of books by author, topic, genre, grade level, etc., and provides specific information about family literacy with activities related to the display.
  Open the Book Fair after special events, such as a concert, or during evening parent conferences.
  During fall events, station school staff at computers where they can access reading Web sites to generate lists of books appropriate for their children “on the spot”!

Tip 4: Host Family Reading Celebrations
Designate special literacy days or nights to spread the message that reading is important. 
  A fall Ice Cream Social and Book Swap is a great way to create excitement about reading. Consider featuring teachers as guest storytellers and sharing stories in more than one language. Children bring books to swap, and books are the ultimate prizes, of course!
  For more celebration ideas, visit the National Education Association. The NEA Web site is rich with resources for year-round reading events and activities and materials to distribute to parents.

Tip 5: Invite Special Readers
Involve the community in the fun!
  Hold a Community Reading Day and invite the mayor, building inspectors, the fire chief, and other members of the community to visit classrooms and read to students.
  Use the element of surprise! On “Mystery Reader Day,” a teacher, principal, or one of the students’ parents comes into the classroom with a book and treat to go along with the book. The children don‘t know who the mystery reader is until he or she knocks on the door.

Tip 6: Let Children Take the Lead
  A student-run Book Fair or reading event is a great way to promote an interest in books. Who knows better what books will connect with kids? Under the supervision of a teacher, students help plan, promote, and run the events. Use morning announcements to promote interest and suggest choices.
  Student-to-student recommendations such as book reviews or Booktalks can inspire others to select a book. In a visible location, post pictures of students with their favorite books and an explanation of why they would recommend their choice to others. Let students keep track of books they’ve talked about on a fun chart they can display on their bedroom door or class wall.

Tip 7: Set Goals and Reward Accomplishments
Reading Counts, Accelerated Reader, and other programs can serve as motivation for increasing the amount and types of books that children read. Students can set goals for themselves and monitor their progress.
  Some schools link the program into a percentage of the students’ reading grade and offer a variety of prize incentives such as toys, pizza, ice cream, and an end of the year field trip. (Contributed by Rodney Hetherton, Morrish Elementary)
  Consider presenting an award to students who obtain the designated number of points, and do it publicly by broadcasting it on the daily news show to the entire school population. (Contributed byThomas Lee, Normandale Hills Elementary)
  Use Sustained Silent Reading (SSR). Require students to read independently on a daily basis. Create a Million-Word Club and let students compete against each other to see who can reach the goal first!(Contributed by Jodie Wales, Lexington Junior High School)

Tip 8: Spark Interest in Reading with Media Center Promotions
The library or media center is often the hub of literacy and a terrific spot to spark excitement throughout the school. 
  Celebrate a “Reader of the Week” by posting photos, broadcasting announcements, and awarding certificates.
  Select a monthly theme (sports, nature, space, etc.) and feature books about the topic in the library. Conduct daily PA announcements and Booktalks to help students connect to the theme. Not only are children eager to check out theme-related books, but many parents wish to purchase books to go along with the theme of the month. (Contributed by Carolyn Polselli, St. Leo School)

Tip 9: Increase Access to Books
  Introduce public library staff at Back-to-School Night and have them register families for library cards; you can also send primary grade students on a field trip to the public library.
  Along with a “book swap,” ask parents to donate books that their children have outgrown.
  Many publishers offer “value packs” that might serve as “lending libraries” for students to read outside of school.
  Web sites such as eBay or Half.com sometimes list book collections from retired teachers. When this publication went to print, Half.com was listing 72,519 children’s books!

Tip 10: Extend Your Teach through Technology
More and more families now have access to a computer, and the Web is a rich source of information. You can instantly access learning activities from home through your school or district Web site. Here are some sites you may find helpful: 
  http://www.scholastic.com/administrator - Innovative ideas and advice about reading.
  http://www.readwritethink.org - Printable letters to parents and other reading resources.
  http://www.reading.org/resources/tools/parent.html - Literacy information for families in English and Spanish.
  http://www.ed.gov/parents/academic/help/partnership-tips.html - Literacy information in English and Spanish.
  http://www.danbury.k12.ct.us/districtinfo/parentlinks.html - Danbury Public Schools parent resources.

As principals, we are all learners, and the beginning of the year is a time of great vitality in our professional learning communities across the country. We hope this eNewsletter serves as the first step toward sharing information, principal to principal, to turn students into joyful readers who enjoy literate lives.

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