You Don’t Have to be Alone on the Independent Reading Train

By LaQuita Outlaw, Featured Blogger and Kristina Holzweiss, Scholastic Librarian of the Year - 2015
Encourage Independent reading“Independent reading is a waste of time.”
“Silent reading is a filler.”
“The children can not be reading; they have to be doing something.”
Leaders have made these statements to educators who value independent reading. So what is a teacher to do? Build a shared vision between you, the school leader and the librarian. Your leader and you have more in common than you think. If seeing students succeed is why you entered into education, and you have made giving students the best chance they have to be conscious, contributing citizens - chances are your leader signed on for the same reasons. The ONLY difference lies in the ability to see results.
You alone have the capability of identifying and highlighting the constant progress being made by your students. This is the development that you must accentuate and put center stage - for your colleagues, for your parents and especially for your administrator to see. It is this growth that your leader seeks to show to other educators, and it is just the visual your administrator needs to comprehend that independent reading is what every student needs to experience the same success. It is the kind of outcome that can be shared school-wide.
The American Library Association (ALA) aptly asserts that we are all leaders. In fact, in their toolkit for Promoting School Librarians, they acknowledge that, “When working in a team environment...promoting ourselves can be uncomfortable because of concerns we won’t be viewed as team players. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.”

The toolkit offers a myriad of practical suggestions at the building, district, community and state levels for educators to consider. A few of my favorites include:

  • “Present new trends at...meetings.
  • Share examples of your...impact on student achievement (pg. 1)”

Although geared specifically toward librarians, these tips can be used by classroom teachers in partnership with the school librarian, or with/by a dedicated team of teachers committed to literacy development. It is within these partnerships that a strong alliance is created that is difficult to ignore. The key is to demonstrate the similarities in your vision for your building leadership - whether it’s the building principal, assistant principal, or your curriculum director.

Daniel Pink, the author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, said, “Human beings have an innate inner drive to be autonomous, self-determined, and connected to one another. And when that drive is liberated, people achieve more and live richer lives.”

Connecting with passionate readers provides just the foundation you need to begin building a cadre of peers who can demonstrate the value of independent reading to the administrative leaders in your building. Leading by example starts with you!

Here’s how...

Share Your Passion
One thing that gets others excited/inspired is to feel the passion of another. Don’t hold back! Set up a meeting with the building leadership. You can start with the person that you feel the most comfortable with. During the meeting, ask about the leader’s literacy goals for the upcoming school year.

Also ask what portion of the goal he/she would like to see actualized before the half-year the full year mark. Then share how literacy development can help accomplish those desired outcomes. Is increased achievement the goal? That’s a home run! Start a pilot group this year. List the number of books read and how well the children achieved. It is sure to make your point.

Share Your Results
Leaders want to hear about what’s working in your classroom. Share the data you’ve collected. In the beginning of the year, select a few students that you will use as your test group. Select a piece of reading data (NWEA®, benchmark, etc.) that you already collect. Have each student spend time reading independently and track the amount of time/books read. Have the students share the number of books he/she has read at different intervals throughout the year. Share the midyear results with your school leader.
Connect With Your School Librarian
Librarians are natural collaborators who welcome the opportunity to support teachers and students, both inside and outside of the classroom. Ask your librarian to create a list of the most requested books so that you can recommend them during Back to School night and parent conferences. Include them in your classroom library, and they are sure to fly off the shelves!

Encourage your students to participate in library-initiated or book fair contests to show that you value reading beyond the classroom. Your school librarian also has access to many professional networks, and can suggest age-appropriate authors who would be happy to connect with your students through Skype and Google Hangouts.

Sign your classes up to participate in the Global Read Aloud, International Dot Day, or other celebrations that encourage reading promoted by the American Library Association. Remind your students that they have remote access to digital resources such databases and ebooks through your school library website.

Lastly, don’t assume that all of your students have public library cards. Your school librarian would be more than happy to coordinate this for you.

Get Parents and Students Involved
Coordinate a classroom community read. Heather Rocco offered a wonderful way for bringing the students, parents, and staff together around something we can all enjoy - a book. After selecting one book that everyone could read, the books were distributed and then passed along to others who would also enjoy the book. Visit her Nerdy Book Club blog to learn more about how to coordinate your own community read.
Do you want to get your most reluctant reader involved? Ask him or her to recommend a book for you to read. Generate a Teacher Book List and ask students in your class to write down the name of any book they believe you would enjoy reading. The students can provide a five sentence maximum summary of the book, rate the book, and share why they believe you would enjoy the book.

For a little extra added benefit - ask students to share the name of a different book that the recommended book makes them think about.
Bulletin Board Display
Now it’s time to show off! Create a bulletin board for everything reading being done in your class. You can display the names of every child and his/her favorite book. You can also use Scholastic's toolkit resources to promote reading. You can distribute these Caught Reading tickets for students. No matter how you choose to celebrate - make a big deal of all the reading your students are doing. They’ll want more and so will everyone around you.