Teachers create readers in the classroom by teaching students how to read, as well as why to read, and what it is to be a reader.
“When students read for pleasure, when they get ‘hooked on books’, they acquire, involuntarily and without conscious effort, nearly all of the ‘language skills’ many people are concerned about. ”Krashen (2004: 149)
You can use a number of strategies and factors to engage students with reading and improve their comprehension skills.
In 2004 Dr Warwick Elley studied 13 New Zealand schools, which had each produced high mean literacy scores relative to their decile levels. Following the study, Elley outlined practices common to effective junior-class reading teachers:
- The teachers’ main aim was “to develop a lasting interest in reading” - skills were seen as subsidiary to interest.
- They were enthusiastic readers themselves.
- High achievement came as a result of greater reading mileage.
- Their classrooms offered attractive reading environments with abundant reading resources.
- The basic formula: interest created effort which generated greater achievement.
- Teachers read aloud every day.
- Some of the teachers had Reading Recovery training.
When it comes to young adults and reading, teacher Chris Crowe (1999) focuses on the reading preferences and attitudes of his own teenage children. Written as a plea to his children’s teachers, his advice has stood the test of time:
- Help them realise that reading books can be a refreshing and rewarding alternative to TV, movies, shopping, or hanging out with friends.
- Help them discover, or remember, the pleasures of reading.
- Allow them to exercise Daniel Pennac’s “Reader’s Bill of Rights” whenever possible.
- Require and encourage outside, elective reading, and steer them toward good Young Adult books.
- Help them connect with what they read, and nudge them to works related to what they’ve just read, or, if they’re in a reading rut, nudge them into something different.
- Read yourself and talk to your children and their classmates about what you read.
- Read some of what they read.
- Read aloud in class, and give them time to read in class.
Teachers making time for independent, free-choice reading is a powerful way to create readers. Key features of “free voluntary reading” are:
- provide access to the sort of material that will engage student readers in the classroom, from the library, and during out-of-school time
- allow “easy reading” that is engaging, enjoyable and effortless. Avoid the idea that “if it isn’t challenging it isn’t good for you”. Ideally 95 percent of text as known words is optimal. Increased reading volume will compensate for lack of extension in individual texts, and readers tastes do gradually develop and broaden.
Provide access to a variety of reading material
If book exposure is high, students have greater opportunities to start reading.
- Is there a bountiful, well-displayed accessible classroom library?
- Does your school request books from National Library for additional classroom resources?
- How often and how well do you use the school library with your students?
- Is there a range of resources to read - fiction, comics and magazines, graphic novels, sophisticated picture books, non-fiction, poetry?
- Explore the potential of e-books
Make time for independent reading every day
Reading volume plays a key role in shaping the mind. It is a powerful predictor of vocabulary, comprehension, general knowledge and cognitive structures.
Make time each day for students to read, and encourage students to read at other available moments during the day. These opportunities might include:
- during Sustained Silent Reading (SSR)
- while eating lunch
- when they have finished class work early
- at various waiting times during the day, on the bus…
Sometimes setting an individual or class challenge encourages reading mileage and illustrates how small amounts of reading. For example, 3 x 6 minutes per day, can add up over a year to a large amount of reading mileage.
Variation in Amount of Independent Reading (Adapted from Anderson, Wilson, and Fielding)
Minutes per day; Words read per year
Give students free choice about what they read
Talk to students about how we read and our right to read in different ways, including the right not to finish a book.
Daniel Pennac's book the Rights of the Reader (beautifully illustrated by Quentin Blake) makes a plea to parents, teachers and librarians to instill the joy of reading by ensuring everyone has:
1. The right not to read
2. The right to skip
3. The right not to finish a book
4. The right to read it again
5. The right to read anything
6. The right to mistake a book for real life
7. The right to read anywhere
8. The right to dip in
9. The right to read out loud
10. The right to be quiet
Reading is not just a solitary activity. In fact the social aspect of reading such as discussion with peers can be a powerful motivator. Encourage informal discussions about reading and books helping ensure students can express opinions freely and safely.
Ideas for discussions include:
- Book talk in the class. Encourage students to talk about aspects of the book they have been reading, such as setting, time, characters, plot, ideas and themes. Aidan Chambers Tell me: children, reading, and talk offers practical suggestion for encouraging book talk.
- Prompt a brainstorm and discussion with students with a list of questions. What stood out for you? What puzzled you? What reminded you of something else you’d read? What did you like or dislike about the book? How did you feel when you were reading this section or this book? Try getting them to share this with a partner, rather than report back to the whole group.
- Set up a book club (or get the students, in particular teens to set one up). Book clubs are great for encouraging students to talk informally to each other about books they've read.
“Teachers who know first hand the pleasure of reading literature relax. They love reading, they trust that kids will find the same satisfaction as they do, and they ask questions that go beyond what is in the text - but they always come back to it.” Nancie Atwell in Side by side: essays on teaching to learn (1991).
Help students understand what they read
Engaging students with what they read is one of the most effective ways of helping students think about and make sense of what they read.
Effective Literacy Practice in Years 1 to 4 (2003) outlines a range of comprehension strategies and tools for use with students. While Effective Literacy Practice in Years 5 to 8 (2006) has a section devoted to Developing comprehension strategies, and supporting learners. (ELP Y5-8: 141)
Develop a plan for integrating various reading promotion strategies into your literacy programme. Collaborate with your school librarian and other teachers, to develop effective book and reading promotion ideas for your school.
Harness the power of the Web to promote reading
Reading is also a social activity. The web and social media can be powerful tools for promoting reading and books.
Author and illustrator studies
How about focusing on a particular author or illustrator - maybe one a week, or a few a term, selected by teacher, librarian or students? Spend time reading one author or illustrator's books closely. Visit their website, share favourites and identify common themes or styles.
Schools can subscribe to New Zealand Book Council’s Writers in Schools scheme, which entitles your school to a visit from a New Zealand writer. The website also has a list of authors, author interviews and other information.
Keep track of reading mileage
- Open a LibraryThing account for the class with recommended books
- Set up a class blog for your students to post up book reviews
- Share relevant websites and blogs with students such as Good Reads and our Create Readers Blog.
- Reading logs can become onerous if they require too many details and may even hinder rather than foster the reading habit. A simple record of a title and rating works well.
- Reading mileage challenges are good incentives as students aim for milestones such as “the 50 page club” or “the 200 page club”
- Choose relevant and engaging titles for “school assigned reading”. Consult with your school librarian, a Library Adviser (0800 LIB LINE, 0800 542 5463) and teaching colleagues for new suggestions
- Encourage reading across the curriculum (at primary and secondary school). Identify particular reading strategies needed for different subject areas.
Read. When you read you show children how and why it is important. In secondary schools it is also important that all school staff read and share books with students and don't just leave it to the English Department. For example if you are a science teacher share biographies on great scientists, and science fiction.
In schools that have success with their pupils’ reading, teachers read, talk with enthusiasm and recommend books, the results of which are seen not only in test results but also in an enthusiasm for reading which extends beyond the classroom. Excellence in English, Ofsted, 2011
Almost all New Zealand teachers will have some reluctant readers in their class, and will be making use of the various agencies and services to help diagnose any learning difficulties or specific literacy needs. According to Lyn Prichard, author of Understanding the reluctant male reader: implications for the teacher librarian and the school library (2000), there are two types of reluctant readers:
- “Non-voluntary readers”, particularly boys who have a negative attitude towards reading.
- Students/children with learning difficulties who think of themselves as being unable to read.
To encourage non-voluntary readers to read she promotes strategies such as providing choice, opportunity and access.
Tap into professional knowledge such as the school library team and the National Library reference staff to help select titles to engage reluctant readers.
Good Reads is a popular site for students to discuss and review books
Resources for Literature Circles: web links and professional books, is a good starting place for links to other resources.
Reading Rockets website includes an Author study toolkit.
Becoming a classroom of readers (March 2010) Donalyn Miller describes the key elements of her classroom practice (middle school level). (See also this three part interview with Donalyn Miller on how she creates readers:
What reading does for the mind (PDF) Cunningham, Anne and Stanovich, Keith.
Free Voluntary Reading (FVR) pays big dividends (2005): William Marson, an elementary teacher in California, found that Free Voluntary Reading revolutionised his students’ attitudes to reading.
81 Generalizations about Free Voluntary Reading (PDF) Krashen (2009)
Promoting reading using this web 2.0 stuff-Multimedia and internet (2009) Library commentator Stephen Abram looks at ways of harnessing technology
The search for meaning: how you can boost your kids’ reading comprehension Sharon Grimes (Jan 2004)
Atwell, N. (2007). The reading zone: how to help kids become skilled, passionate, habitual, critical readers. Scholastic.
Atwell, N. (1991). Side by side: essays on teaching to learn. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann & Concord, Ont: Irwin Publishing.
Elley, W. (2004). Effective reading programmes in the junior school: how some schools produce high literacy levels at year 3. Set 1.
Chambers, A. (1996). Tell me: children, reading, and talk. Portland, Maine: Stenhouse Publishers & Markham, Ont: Pembroke Publishers.
Gladwell, M. (2009). Outliers. London: Penguin.
Grimes, S. (2006). Reading is our business: how libraries can foster reading comprehension. Chicago: American Library Association.
Harvey. S. and Goudvis, A. (2007). strategies that work: teaching comprehension for understanding and engagement. 2d ed. Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers & Markham, Ont: Pembroke Publishers.
Krashen, S.D.(2004). The power of reading: insights from the research. 2d ed. Westport CT & London: Libraries Unlimited & Portsmouth NH: Heinemann.
Layne, S. (2009). Igniting a passion for reading: successful strategies for building lifetime readers. Portland, Maine: Stenhouse Publishers.
Miller, D. (2009). The book whisperer: awakening the inner reader in every child. Jossey-Bass.
Miller, D. (2002). Reading with meaning: teaching comprehension in the primary grades. Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers.
NZ Ministry of Education. (2003). Effective literacy practice in Years 1 to 4. Wellington: Learning Media.
NZ Ministry of Education. (2006). Effective literacy practice in Years 5 to 8. Wellington: Learning Media.
Image: teachers reading goals