Creating a reading culture in a school is essential if you want to encourage students to become engaged and motivated readers. However, developing a reading culture takes time and requires the commitment of the principal and staff. While collaboration between school staff, whānau, and local public library staff helps stimulate and reinforce a reading culture within the school and the wider community.
To create a reading culture the principal and staff need:
- to understand the impact of reading on student achievement
- a shared vision of the school's reading culture
- to know why it's important
- to know what an engaged reader looks like
- to fully support the library and its resources, services and programmes.
Impact of reading for pleasure
Creating a reading culture in your school
Displays in foyers, corridors, principal’s office and in the grounds
Ideas for staffrooms and classrooms
The school library - at the heart of the school's reading culture
Events, online and in the community
The importance of students reading for pleasure to develop literacy skills and academic achievement has been well-documented in New Zealand’s educational policies and guidelines, and international research.
Two international studies involving New Zealand students, for example, have shown that Year 5 students with the most positive attitudes toward reading generally had the highest reading achievement. And 15 year old students who read daily for enjoyment score the equivalent of 1.5 years of schooling better than those who do not.
Research from The University of London’s Institute of Education (IOE) found children between the ages of 10-16 who read for pleasure make significantly more progress in vocabulary, spelling and maths than children who rarely read. Dr Alice Sullivan and Matt Brown found that:
...reading for pleasure was more important for children's cognitive development between ages 10 and 16 than their parents' level of education. The combined effect on children's progress of reading books often, going to the library regularly and reading newspapers at 16 was four times greater than the advantage children gained from having a parent with a degree.
Read the full report Social inequalities in cognitive scores at age 16: the role of reading.
In New Zealand the New Zealand Council for Educational Research (NZCER) found in their Competent children, competent learners longitudinal study that students reading for pleasure in their own time and at school was one of the critical factors for a successful pathway into adulthood.
Read more about education statistics and research, including Māori and Pasifika learners, at the Ministry of Education’s Education Counts.
Watch the video for more information about creating a school-wide reading culture.
When you walk around your school and visit your school website, what impression do you get of your school’s character? Is it proud of its sporting triumphs with a display case of trophies, or is the emphasis on art, the environment, religion, or does it celebrate taha Māori? What about reading? Does anything indicate that reading is important at your school?
This page lists ideas for things you might see or do to inspire a love of reading among staff (role models) and students.
School entrance foyer
- Signs on display about reading - maybe a slogan such as Kids who read succeed, or XYZSchoolchildren are readers, or quotes about reading
- Notices of reading events - challenges or incentives in-school, visiting authors, book awards
- Photos of children reading, staff reading, other reading role models
- The principal's recommended "book of the week"
- Promotion of the public library
School corridors and noticeboards
- Signs pointing to the library, footprints heading in that direction - how many steps to the library?
- Library opening hours, students on duty
- Library quiz of the week - come to the library to find the answers and enter a competition
- Student work about books - art, writing inspired by books, reviews
- Information about new books coming to the library, and events coming up
- Quotes about reading, favourite opening lines of books, favourite characters
The principal's office
- Signs to show anyone visiting that the principal thinks reading is important - quotes, favourite children's books, student work about reading, books for parents about helping children be readers
- The principal reading during school-wide Sustained Silent Reading (SSR), which includes the students and all school staff reading
Outside in the school grounds
Walking outside a school with a reading culture you might see:
- signs pointing to the library, footprints heading in that direction - how many steps to the library?
- a poetry walk around the school.
The school staffroom
Schools with strong reading cultures usually have staff who love reading and talking about books so you might see:
- professional reading about children's books
- information from the library, and promotion, about new, interesting, particular resources
- notices promoting professional development for staff on childrens' / young adult (YA) literature
- noticeboard with information about events, must-reads, awards, recommended read-alouds.
Teachers in classrooms
In classrooms you can set an example to students by:
- reading aloud every day
- making time for your students to read
- having plenty of great books on display
- sharing your own reading, and reading in front of students.
Students in classrooms
In classes students need to be able to:
- hear stories, share recommendations, discuss books, use the library as a class and independently
- talk about what they have read last, what they are reading now, what they are going to read next
- have buddy readers, some will be reading mentors or reading champions in the school
- have books with them during "waiting times".
"What a school thinks about its library is a measure of what it feels about education." Harold Howe, former US Commissioner of Education.
School librarians and principals can help instil a reading culture in a school by ensuring:
- the library is well-resourced, well-staffed and well-used: a vital catalyst for the reading culture of your school
- teachers collaborate with the librarian/s and use the library as an essential resource for their literacy programmes and initiatives
- evidence is displayed of the library staff encouraging students' development as readers, through the library's environment, resources and services
- the library is included in visitors’ tours of the school
- the library is used for events
- the library is included in the teachers’ lunchtime duty rosters.
Visit the School Libraries Creating Readers section for more information about the role of the library.
Principal David Macleod gives a book talk at Mahurangi College
Other ways of promoting reading in your school include:
- having teachers and students promote books at assembly- briefly, regularly and enthusiastically!
- mentioning books and reading and the role reading played in success at other school gatherings or events such as prizegivings or parent/teacher interviews
- regular reading and book celebrations - not just once a year in book week, but each term hold an event or activity to promote reading
- encouraging guest speakers (including sportspeople, entertainers, "people who help us") to mention reading and the role it plays in their lives when they are speaking to students.
As peers, school librarians / or, student leaders are important role models and can help promote reading by:
- promoting books at assembly
- displaying photos in the library of them reading during the holidays
- being given status and recognition.
View the Reader Friendly Environments page for more ideas about creating displays in the school library.
Creating an online presence
There are numerous ways your school can promote a reading culture online including:
- displaying information on the school's website, intranet, blog, library home page about reading, readers, research, resources and links
- getting students to participate online in appropriate forums, such as LIANZA Book week consecutive story or graphic novel illustration competition, student writing sites, and book review sites.
View the engaging teens with reading page for more information about online communities and websites about reading and books.
In the community
The school’s local community also plays an important role in a reading culture. Look out for:
- articles in the local paper about the school's focus on reading, about reading events, celebrations, milestones, library developments
- possible links between the school and public library - class visits
- the annual Kids' Lit Quiz for students in Year 6 – 8
- other book events such as the annual Reading Superheroes competition, Storylines, New Zealand Post Book Awards, and Library Week.
View the Public Libraries page for more information about the role of community in creating a reading culture.
In 2007 poet and author Michael Rosen gave the Patrick Hardy lecture, where he spoke of the importance of immersing children in the pleasure of reading and sharing "real books".
The Scottish Book Trust has some wonderful resources for schools including this downloadable resource pack with ideas for engaging staff and students in a book week.
image: Hurupaki School children reading in the school library