It's All in the Plan - A Year-Round One, That Is

By Dr. L. Robert Furman, principal, South Park Elementary Center, South Park, Penn.

You all know me as a technology geek. I own that. But more than anything, I’m a geek for learning. Nothing rocks my socks like seeing kids excel or seeing their teachers wear goofy grins because they know they really made a difference in their students’ lives. All that happens as a result of our year-round literacy plan, and Book Fairs play a big part in setting our kids up for success.

Book Fair Tips

1. Integrate literacy into every subject.
2. Help kids plan book purchases.
3. Consider partnering your Fair with a festival open to the community.
4. Hold fun contests, and announce the winner at the end of family night.
South Park Elementary Center has three Book Fairs a year – count ‘em – a fall Fair, a spring Fair, and a buy-one-get-one (BOGO) Fair to prepare kids for summer reading. This fall our kids read 15,562 books, driving reading to 101,776 minutes so far this year.

And that means rocking sales. Typically we do about $8,000 in sales per Fair. But this fall, we knocked it out of the park with $12,000 in sales – partly by happy accident but mostly by a well-coordinated plan.

Here’s how you can have the same kind of success:

CREATE YOUR OWN YEAR-ROUND LITERACY PLAN, AND MAKE FAIRS A CRITICAL PART OF IT. Our literacy focus is a deliberate daily effort. It’s integrated into every child’s routine. Each initiative helps pave the way to a successful Fair as we compel kids to plan their reading. Some of our initiatives are:
  • Weekly subject-themed nonfiction reading in special classes including music, gym, technology, sciences, and social studies;
  • A book-in-hand rule that requires students to carry a book with them at all times except at recess;
  • An emphasis on doing booktalks;
  • Tracking reading minutes and curating titles read;
  • Having kids perform in Reader Theater productions such as a Shakespeare play in keeping with research that shows expressive reading enhances the overall reading experience (Miller and Schwanenflugel, 2008);
  • Weekly math writing;
  • Daily journaling for all grades using either prompts or allowing for free writing, and allowing kindergartners and first-graders to draw pictures;
  • Giving students publishing venues, whether in print or electronically.
Think out of the box in developing your Book Fair plan. Even if your Fairs have always been spectacular, don’t become complacent. Think of ways to step it up so kids stay excited. Here are some tricks that took us from "Fair" to excellent:

  • Being strategic in our Book Fair planning, establishing Fairs as a time for kids to get the books they need to get with the program – We force our students to think about reading all the time, so at the beginning of the year, they have to think about complying with the book-in-hand policy. Throughout the year, they have to keep up with independent reading. Come spring, they need to plan what they’ll read over the summer because, come fall, we’ll do some really cool things with those summer reading minutes they logged.
  • Holding our annual fall festival and pumpkin patch in coordination with our Fair – This was the happy accident. It happened because no one connected the dots on our master calendar until it was too late. So we held the Fair on one side of the gym and the festival on the other. Parents who came for one then moseyed over to the other. The result: Fair sales grew like Charlie Brown’s anticipation of seeing the Great Pumpkin.
  • Download the Reading Timer App

    The no-cost Scholastic Reading Timer app encourages reading by making reading fun. Time reading minutes with an interactive stopwatch, and track them on a weekly log. Plus, parents can check children’s reading activity in addition to browsing daily tips, articles and booklists. The app is available for iPhones®, iPod Touches®, iPads®, Androids®, and Windows® phones. Download it now!
  • Integrating an Ugly Man contest into Book Fair week – Five of us (yes, I said “us”) faculty members volunteered for the contest, letting students choose the winner. During morning announcements, we would yuck it up, trying to get kids to vote for that other guy.
  • Announcing the contest winner during family night – Oh, but we went further than that. We didn’t even announce the winner until the end of our family night. Kids wouldn’t let their parents leave. And as they stayed, they bought more books – books that have become part of their home libraries. Now, here’s the good part: I didn’t win. My son’s fourth-grade teacher, Mr. Quast, did. Me, I came in second.
  • Talking endlessly about books – We play up great titles through booktalks, whether over announcements, during lunch, or at book club meetings.
Remember, books are the centerpiece of your Fair. Everything else – face-painting, guessing the weight of the pumpkin, and contests to determine who’s uglier – is simply a vehicle that transports your students to the world of reading. That’s true success.

Rob Furman contributes ReaderLeader’s monthly Login 4 Leaders feature. Want more information about Rob’s Book Fair success? Email him at Rob@FurmanR.com, or text him directly at 412-999-0449. Follow him on Twitter @DrFurman.
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