How’s your reading culture?

A large amount of emphasis is placed upon achievement in Literacy Learning, students build strategies, apply them to text and then express their point of view in written, visual and oral formats.

But where does this teaching process explicitly mention the sheer pleasure of finding a new world, or becoming embroiled in the mystery of a story? What happens when the school doors close for the year and those students go back into the real world?

Do they take time to reinforce these strategies through a favoured book or time to forget them as the excitement of Christmas and the outdoors beckon?

Welcome to the so-called “Summer Slump” in achievement. Jeannie Skinner (National Library Advisor and author of the Library Zest Blogspot) showed that during the six week gap for the summer holidays, a 5 month regression in reading achievement in low achieving students (see this post) took place in a decile 1 school.


Well, students spend the majority of their year in a focussed environment where they are consistently practicing and participating in reading. But when the doors close for summer and the students leave to head back into the real world, they don’t perceive reading as a fun or pleasurable activity. And therefore not worth pursuing whilst they are away from school. The strategies that haven’t quite turned into long term knowledge disappear into the clear blue skies of summer break. Thus resulting in a regression in reading progress.

Consider the following questions in relation to your classroom/library/school:

  • Do you actively encourage students to read purely because they like the book they have?
  • Do you know your learner as a reader? Do they like the texts you select for them or do they select the texts?
  • Of your current class/school – how many of them have a book/magazine/graphic novel/website/Web Cartoon etc. that they regularly read and enjoy outside of the classroom/school?

A lot of students, particularly boys claim to “not like reading”, which is totally fair enough if they are constantly being told that their Manga or Magazines or Web Comics are not “good reading material”.

In some respects our ability to deliver literacy instruction has damaged the fundamental development of reading cultures in our classrooms.  We give a piece of text, ask students to read and reflect on it, and respond but this mechanical approach is negating the brilliant work that teachers do in accelerating student progress. I’m not suggesting that the DATs (Direct Acts of Teaching) or guided reading groups are a waste of time, more that we need to spend equal time on direct instruction and helping our students find their inner reader (reading for pleasure).

It’s not about what they are reading, but that they are reading.  Remember avenues like Graphic adaptations of text such as the Alex Ryder series by Anthony Horowitz, can be a perfect segue for reluctant readers to get into the text-only version. There is a book out there for them, it’s about how good you are at finding it, because once they’re hooked, they’re readers for life.

So how can you help students find their inner reader?

Over the summer holidays, we (the Library Team) ran a programme where students selected a wrapped Christmas package of books to take home for the summer. Students who were regular users were given individualised packages, and the other packages were selected based on their labels like Dear Sci-Fi Fanatic, or Graphic Novel Genius.

We ended up picking up about a third of the school with this programme. When these students returned to school and sat their first Asttle Test for 2015, we took a sample of 17 of the students and compared their T4 and T1 results. We were amazed to note that 88% of the students either maintained their previous reading level or increased it. Some of the more avid readers saw a jump of two – three sub levels.

The simple act of wrapping a parcel of books made them seem so much more attractive. You can imagine their delight when we arrived to deliver these packages complete with a YouTube enabled fake fireplace and Christmas Carols. It was brilliant and brilliantly simple. Yes it took time to wrap the packages and select the books – but what is your job as a librarian other than to inspire readers?

It was about inspiring inner wonder and about our students feeling known as a reader in a non-judgmental way. The key is to encourage students to see reading as a pleasurable activity

How are you going to achieve this in your library/classroom/school?

3 thoughts on “How’s your reading culture?

  1. Awesome thoughts, thank you! I particularly like your suggestion about ‘gifting’ students books. There’s nothing stopping teachers from doing this too! On a practical level, how does that work in terms of issuing the books out under a students’ name? I’d love to curate some collections for students to take home for the winter holidays!

    • Hi Polly,

      Thank you for your comment. We worked it by writing the barcode numbers on the back of the gift tags (parcel labels) and when the student had chosen their package we used this list to issue it via our Library System. If you already know the students who you are going to give the package to, you can just loan it out before giving them the books.

      We used a label maker for the barcode list, but you could just as easily keep track via a Google Doc?

      Hope that helps 🙂

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