Reading for Joy
Like most schools across our province, we are concerned about vulnerable readers and how to support them most effectively and efficiently. We have tried many different methods of assessment and intervention, searching for those that will give us the biggest “bang for the buck.” We know that there is no one perfect approach that will work for all children. What seems to be having the most impact upon learning in our school is the practice of the Case Study.
As part of the Changing Results for Young Readers Project for the third year, our primary teachers have been focusing on one child for a Case Study, and with the permission of the parents, they thoughtfully examine that child’s learning strengths and needs in the area of reading. Teachers meet once a month with the other participating schools and talk about their practice, sharing their inquiry questions, strategies and resources that have worked, and those that were not so successful. We also weave social-emotional learning, self-regulation, and Aboriginal Ways of Knowing into our work with children. As we have learned from our colleagues across the province, the case studies have resulted almost without fail, in students having increased self-confidence, a self-image as a reader, and most importantly, a growing love of reading.
Last year, this increased enjoyment of reading tweaked our curiosity. We know that students need to spend big chunks of time with text, preferably text they have chosen themselves. As Richard Allington states in his article “Every Child, Every Day” (Educational Leadership, vol. 69, Number 6, March, 2012), “The research base on student-selected reading is robust and conclusive: Students read more, understand more, and are more likely to continue reading when they have to opportunity to choose what they read.” We asked ourselves, doesn’t it make sense that if students can choose what they read, and are taught to choose “just right” books, that they will enjoy it, read more and become more proficient readers?
Our staff decided to shift our school improvement inquiry from, “Will Tier 1 and 2 interventions help do decrease the number of grade 3 students who are at risk in reading?” to “How can we foster a school -wide joy of reading? What could we do differently to ensure that students are reading more, expanding their literary horizons and having fun in the process?” A report we found, written for the UK Department for Education: Research evidence on reading for pleasure (May 2012), was encouraging. Key findings included the following:
· Evidence suggests that there is a positive relationship between reading frequency reading enjoyment and attainment (Clark 2011; Clark and Douglas 2011).
· Reading enjoyment has been reported as far more important for children’s educational success than their family’s socio-economic status (OECD, 2002).
· There is a positive link between positive attitudes towards reading and scoring well on reading assessment (Twist et al, 2007).
· International evidence supports these findings; US research reports that independent reading is the best predictor of reading achievement (Anderson, Wilson and Fielding, 1988).
To support our inquiry, we wanted to gather school data from a number of sources and triangulate it to tell a story about our students and their attitudes toward reading. We started with a student survey administered to grades 3 through 7. When the results came in, we learned that 61% of the grade 3 girls and 53% of the grade 3 boys said that they read often or “all the time” for enjoyment. In grade 5, 85% of the girls and 63% of the boys read often or “all the time” for enjoyment and 50% of the grade 7 girls and 35% of the boys. They also gave us some ideas for how we can help students love reading even more at home and at school, including buying more books, having comfy chairs or beanbags in the library, books clubs, more time with the teacher-librarian, more time to read during the school day, and field trips to the public library to name a few. That data combined with other assessment results, began to inform our practice and lead to change.
Obviously, staffing, supporting and maintain the school library can be costly, but when children speak in favour of more librarian time and more books, it is hard to say no. With the help of our PAC, our teacher-librarian was able to offer three Book-to-Movie clubs, including a dinner and encouraging parent participation. We budgeted to open the library at 8:30 every morning so that students would have extra time for book exchange and reading. We got bean bag chairs for the library and reconfigured the space to create quiet reading corners. Most classes walked to the public library at least once during the school year and the Children’s Librarian came to us to promote the Reading Link Challenge. We were very proud of our students who competed against other city schools and won. This October, our PAC once again gave us the funds to purchase Red Cedar and Chocolate Lily books. We pump up reading in our newsletters, in Morning Announcements, and with the tireless efforts of the teacher-librarian, who passionately promotes and supports students and teachers with all kinds of literacy.
We were elated to receive our BC MoE Satisfaction Survey results in the spring. In 2010, 72% of grade 4 students answered “many times or all the time” to the question “Are you getting better at reading?” In the spring of 2014, it was 93%. The grade 7 results went from 77% in 2010, to 80% in 2014. In the parent survey results, 100% of parents said that they were “satisfied with the development of their child’s reading skills,” as opposed to 57% in 2010.
We have recently repeated the Reading Survey with a sample of students in grades 3 – 6. In answer to the question, “How often do you read for enjoyment?” 78% replied “Often” or “All the Time.” When asked how often they visit the school library, 71% said that they go once a week or more. One hundred percent of the students surveyed feel that they are getting better at reading, and when asked how they know, many answered that they gauge their progress by the thickness of the book, but others said things like, “It’s getting easier,” “I’m reading faster and more often,” and “I am challenging myself.”
In our most recent meeting of our District’s Changing Results for Young Readers team, all four of the schools reported that giving student choice in their reading material is becoming a key aspect of their literacy programs. One colleague said, “I had to give up control over choosing the texts for them, and it worked! They love what they are reading.” We praised her courage, as that giving up of control can be scary.
Sometimes it takes a shift in practice to shift our beliefs. Teachers have always believed that reading should be an enjoyable thing. In the words of our teacher-librarian, it’s the often unspoken “nirvana” that we’re all trying to move the kids toward! What may be lacking is the purposeful teaching towards that end. In our Case Studies this year we will keep this notion foremost in our thoughts and in our actions: the necessity of joyful reading practice, to model a love of reading, and hopefully inspire our students to be readers for life.