Scholastic Summer Challenge Participation Makes Reading Fun for Washington Students

Principal Janet Fawcett
Highlands Elementary School
Renton, Wash.

How can a principal create a reading culture in a diverse urban school using limited resources? That was the challenge facing Janet Fawcett, and the no-cost solutions she found fit nicely within her tight budget.

“You must make students want to read, so we make it really fun,” Janet offers. One of the ways she makes reading fun is through participating in the Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge, in which her school of 500 students – many from immigrant families – ranked first in the state of Washington in 2012 for the second year in a row and 94th out of 4,446 schools worldwide.

“Our goal is to have every child reading at grade level by third grade. Research tells us that’s what they need to do. If they don’t, they spend the rest of their school careers trying to catch up,” Janet shares. Click here to learn what the latest research shows.

Here are some of the other tools in Janet’s impressive arsenal:

• Ninety-minute reading blocks are built into the class schedule. “We have a 90-minute reading block, but we read for fun,” Janet emphasizes. “One of the things we’ve been working on is having kids see books are a source of pleasure.”

• Independent reading takes place outside the reading block. “In our independent reading time, teachers are helping students select just-right books and become recreational readers. They circulate and interact with students to ensure everybody is actually reading and engaged with a book. They will even select another book for a student if that student is having trouble with a book,” she says.

• Students share booktalks during daily morning announcements. The school librarian trained fifth-graders to do booktalks so they could model them for younger students. “Now we have third-graders doing them,” Janet boasts. “They do a nice job of writing and reading their booktalks. Students are more likely to read what another child has read.”

• The assistant principal leads a book club just for boys. Inspired by Principal Michael Shaffer of Lincoln Elementary School in Fort Wayne, Ind., Janet asked her assistant principal – a male – to lead a club for boys. Boys even have their own “guys read” section in the school library.

• Teachers help students actively track their thinking when they read. Janet’s students write thoughts about books they’re reading on self-stick notes so they can discuss their ideas with a teacher or peer later. “This shows kids that reading is an active, not passive, activity. We’re trying to build thoughtful readers and thinkers,” she says.

• At least two Book Fairs each year provide access and choice to impoverished students. “We’ll have a buy-one-get-one Fair right before our Summer Reading Challenge so that we increase the likelihood that kids will have books at home so they’re more likely to read over the summer,” Janet shares. Click here to find out how to schedule a buy-one-get-one Book Fair at your school.

• The school collaborates with its local public library. Twice a year, the local librarian does presentations at Highlands Elementary. Also, because a branch library is near the school, “we can take walking field trips. Many teachers do that and, in the process, make sure that kids have library cards because most of the kids live within walking distance of the library,” Janet says. Her faculty leaves Summer Reading Challenge login information with the public library in case students forget their login information when they come to the library to log their reading minutes.

• Grade-level parent education workshops help parents support literacy efforts at home. Read and Rise workshops and twice-monthly coffee talks help Janet and her faculty emphasize the importance of reading to families. Parents learn important strategies – including the value of teaching students to read and write in their first language – and are made familiar with appropriate titles.

• The teaching staff keeps their web pages updated. The school site provides helpful resources for parents to promote literacy. “It’s a constant effort, and you have to change it up and constantly keep it fresh,” Janet admits.

“I’ve been doing this a lot of years,” says Janet, in her 20th year as an educator and 11th as a principal, “and I have this really great staff that just goes along with it. They’re awesome!”

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