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Who do your students see reading?

At a recent literacy training that I facilitated, we began the session by asking all of the participants to read for fifteen minutes. The room fell silent as everyone began reading a book or other text of their choice. As the sound of pages turning spread through the room, there was a quiet energy as everyone engaged completely in their reading.

As an unabashed bookworm, I was delighted to take time out of a training session for reading — and it turned out that I wasn’t alone. Following the training, many of the participants (Americorps volunteers with City Year) asked if we could repeat the exercise on a more frequent basis, to make reading and literacy a part of the culture at our site.

This experience got me thinking about classrooms and schools and how they go about building a culture of literacy. Books and reading are an ever-present part of life in schools, and students get the message early that being able to read is an essential skill. However, while educators often speak about a desire to develop “life-long readers,” an essential part of this equation — developing a true sense of pleasure and interest in reading — is often left off to the side as students are told what to read and guided through what to think about it.

While I caught the reading bug early, many students don’t warm easily to reading. In thinking about my own education experience, I remember being told time and time again why reading was important, but I can’t remember ever seeing anyone who worked at my school reading anything of their own choosing. We miss the boat, I think, if we claim that students ought to find pleasure in reading and that it is an essential part of adult life if students never actually witness any adults verifying this claim.

My mother is an avid reader, which undoubtedly fueled to my desire to read. But increasingly, students may not have reading role models outside of school. A 2014 Pew Research Center study found that only 76% of American adults read a book during the previous year, with the average American reading about five books. What is particularly troubling about this finding is that the number of non-reading adults has been on the rise for the past three decades (Weissman, The Atlantic).

The possibility that students may not have a family member serving as a reading role model outside of school means that educators, school staff, and volunteers can help to fill this gap by allowing students to see them reading during the school day. I’ve encouraged my Americorps volunteers to do exactly this and have been taking part myself — thus far the students are definitely taking notice and it has spurred a lot of discussion about what we’re reading and why.

Of course, with so much on the plates of educators these days, very few teachers will have the luxury of spending a large chunk of time reading with their students. But surely, all members of a school staff team can find just a few minutes each day to let students spot them reading. As a bonus, this practice might help you chip away at that list of books you’ve been meaning to read and maybe even let you experience the joy of reading, if only for a few moments at a time.


Pew Research Study:

“The Decline of the American Book Lover”

Nicole Hewes About Nicole Hewes

Nicole Hewes is currently serving as an impact manager at a public elementary school with City Year New Hampshire. She previously taught second grade in rural Maine for two years and received an M.Ed in language and literacy from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

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