Teen Readers Need Constant Encouragement

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On this Mother’s Day weekend, one of the best presents I could receive is receiving notice that my latest Donorschoose project was fully funded. Yay! Within the next two weeks or so, my students and I will be receiving two new front facing bookshelves, stands to show off books, and many new YA books to add to our classroom library. Why might I think of this as a great Mother’s Day present? Well, when it comes to reading, I consider myself a “mother figure” for many of my students. Many did not group up with books in their homes, so they were not read to very much. A few have told me I have read more to them than any other person in their lives. That hurt to hear, but it also reminded me that my teenage students need more encouragement than ever.

After reading Jessi Lewis’s recent article on Book Riot, I was reminded of how often many of my students feel the need to hide their love of reading. Nowadays, reading is just not “cool” to the majority of the teenage population. I see this all the time in my building. Over the past few years, I have caught students hiding in the school library to read where their friends cannot see them. Students come in early before Homeroom to ask about a new title they want away. Others have even emailed me to see if a book came in, instead of coming to see me personally. I could go on and on. Sure I am thrilled that I am at least getting students to read, but I bet many more students would be reading if we could change the perception of reading. How could we do this? Here are a few ways to get started:

1. Get the whole school community involved. ALL teachers and staff members, not just reading and ELA teachers, need to promote the importance of reading for pleasure. One of the best ways I have found to encourage this came from Penny Kittle’s Book Love. Teachers of all subject areas created signs that stated what they were currently reading, and posted them on their doors.

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These signs are simple enough to create (I created the above one in three minutes on Microsoft Word), and a “template” could be sent around to all staff members. When students see that even their favorite teachers read and are willing to broadcast it for all to see, they are encouraged to do the same.

2. Show students that reading is “cool”! Have you ever heard a book talk by John Green? If not, you are missing out. John Green is one of the best YA authors out there right now, and he is also an amazing speaker. He makes his own YouTube videos about classic literature, the books he writes, and even historical topics. Each day in my classes, I book talk one title for my students, but sometimes I let the authors or other celebrities do it. One day last week, I showed my students John Green’s book talk for his book with David Levithan called Will Grayson, Will Grayson. Not only did my students love his hilarious video, but I had to order a few more copies of the book for my classroom library because SO many students wanted to read it. Students who say they “hate reading” wanted me to save a copy for them! Children love videos, and my students most certainly loved that one. I have also shown them book talks by Taylor Swift and 50 Cent, as well as book trailers publishing companies use to promote new titles. Cool videos can show students reading is cool, too.

3. Don’t forget about the summer! As Donalyn Miller has stated on her blog, “Teachers and administrators know that children who do not read over the summer lose significant academic ground when they don’t read.” Summer, in my opinion, is the best time to read, but many students don’t. We have to be careful with how we encourage this one though. Summer reading programs are not always the right way to go if choice is not involved. This year, I’m encouraging summer reading by sending parents and students, via email and Google Classroom, the dates and times my own classroom library will be open. The email for parents will include various tips on how to encourage reading at home. I will also be setting up other dates and times to meet with students at their public library. Students follow my school account on Twitter, and I use it as an opportunity to post “shelfies” of the new books I get, as well as the current books I am reading. I won’t forget to update my Goodreads list either. Social media can be a distraction, but it can also be a tool to use to promote reading in a cool way!

The more educators promote reading, the cooler it will seem to our students. Many other districts have found other ways to encourage reading for pleasure. What does your school do? Please share!

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