Thursday, December 18, 2014

Kiddos May Be on Break, But Their Literacy Development Isn’t!

Winter break is upon us!  For those of us in education, extended breaks from school often translate to a time for relaxation, travel, reflection, rejuvenation, and generally catching up on everything we have absolutely no time or energy to do while school is in session.  Unfortunately, more often than not, extended breaks from school also equate to a drop in reading and writing for many of our young students.  Much of the achievement gap can be explained by a loss of schooling, particularly in the area of literacy, over the summer and other school breaks for our kiddos who do not attend summer programs or engage in regular reading at home (some of the research on that can be found here).

I used to think that there was nothing I could do about this pause and often decline in literacy development, but now I know better.  As educators, we can do something about this drop in reading and writing over breaks.  In fact, it’s our duty to do so.  To get all kids reading over school breaks, access, choice, time, and space are everything!

Step 1: Access  Kids and families must have access to books!

If your school does not have a winter/summer break book borrowing program, create one in your own classroom!  Create some type of check-out system, set up guidelines for returning books, and invite students to select 5-10 books from your own classroom library to borrow over the break from school.  When I did this, rarely would I lose a book. On the few occasions I did, I just hoped those books found more readers.  No loss for me.

Better yet- talk with your school principal, reading specialist, librarian, and other like-minded teachers to set-up a school wide book borrowing program over school breaks.  Give the gift of access to all students in your school, not just to one classroom.

Also, you can find the libraries closest to your students homes using this:  Public Libraries by State & City.  Once you find your students’ local libraries, give the address (and maybe even directions) to the closest location to families who may not regularly use the library.  If necessary, talk with parents and students about how to obtain a library card.  Independent bookstores and online retailers are another great resource.   Encourage parents to bring their children on a regular, weekly field trip to the local library or independent bookstore.

Step 2: Choice  Kids read more if they choose their own reading.

In the past, parents have frequently asked me for reading lists for their children over school breaks.  Now that I’m a literacy coach, I not only have parents asking, but I often also have other teachers asking. While I can easily recommend many books I love, my response is always, “Ask the child what he wants to read.”  If the child isn’t quite sure where to go with that question, start asking more questions inquiring about genre preference, topic interest, likes, dislikes, favorites, and more.  Get to know the child to be able to make book recommendations.  If the child does know what he wants to read- go with it!  Honor that child’s choice.  Choice equates to motivation.  As adults, we choose our own reading.  Could you imagine if we were only allowed to read what one person assigned us?  I, for one, would probably read much much less- if at all.  Choice not only turns into motivation, but it also empowers our kiddos.  They will start to see themselves as readers if they have the power over choosing what they read.

Step 3: Time and Space  Make sure parents understand the importance of a quiet place to read.

One of my dear friends, Robyn in Plainsboro, New Jersey, turned an entire room in her home into “The Reading Room.”  Imagine the wonderful message this devoted room sends to her two children!  However, I fully understand not every family can have a devoted reading room.  A reading nook, corner, or even just a devoted reading couch, chair, or pillow will do!

Encourage parents to read with, to, and alongside their children.  For example, for 30 minutes each night, turn off the TV, everyone in the family grab a piece of reading material of their own choosing, and read uninterrupted.  Children do what they see adults doing.  If a child’s mom, dad, or older sibling is reading independently, the child will likely join in.

Parent education makes a huge difference.  Now, many teachers think of parent education as holding special nights to have formal talks with families about the importance of their child’s education.  While these nights hold value, they certainly do not reach every family in every situation.  Parent education can be as simple as having a conversation in person, sending simple notes home, making a phone call, and even asking your students to talk with their parents.

Whatever you do, just make sure the parents in your class and in your school understand the importance and power that reading holds for their children.  If we, as an entire education system, make sure every single one of our kiddos is reading over breaks, imagine the power, access, and joy it would create for all of our kiddos!  We have the power to make this a reality.