A middle school community intentionally creates opportunities and experiences for all students to develop a love for reading.
Only two remain. The girl and boy glance earnestly about as the votes are cast. One by one, the members present their decision to their leader. Once the elder finalizes the count, the group roars as the victor is named: the girl’s beguiling storytelling has enticed the crowd and she is named the champion! What a way to end the school day, with a Book Talk Challenge (March-Madness-style, of course) in a ninth period middle school classroom!
For students to experience joy in reading—that is our goal. We strive to help students want to read, to think about what they are reading, and to share with others what they are reading and their thoughts about the text. As educators, we understand the importance of reading, of encouraging students to read and helping them comprehend what they read. We also know the joy that comes from igniting that undeniable spark in our students, that can’t-put-it-down urge, of a pure love for reading. For some students, that spark is there already thanks to their parents, a former teacher, or another reading mentor, and we are the fortunate recipients of this avid reader in our midst. For other students, however, the joy of reading is not yet present. How can we help them bring that to life? How can we guide them to find and develop their passion for reading, and help them discover just the right text that might begin their reading journey?
At Hudson Middle School, a team of staff members set out to answer that question. Implementing a dedicated period for intervention for students needing extra support, we knew we needed a meaningful enrichment experience for all our other students as well. After spending a year piloting a rotation of three-week enrichment mini-units, our committee analyzed and reflected on those mini-units that were most engaging for students, those that centered on reading. At the same time, one member had just recently read Donalyn Miller’s The Book Whisperer, and her excitement by the thoughts in the book inspired us all. A literacy enrichment idea was born.
From that moment to present day, all our students participate in a 30-minute period at the end of each day, which allows us to individualize programming for students’ unique needs, academically and socially-emotionally. Each Monday, all students are members of an advisory group. These small multi-grade groups are each connected with one advisor, with school-wide lessons inspired by the 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens, by Sean Covey. On Tuesday through Friday, students are assigned to a FOCUS class, which is either an intervention class or a literacy enrichment class, and it is fluid throughout the year, depending on each student’s individual needs.
During the literacy enrichment FOCUS class, students spend time reading self-selected books. Our program incorporates three fundamental components focused on helping to create readers and to inspire readers: offering choice in reading, modeling a reading culture, and having fun with reading.
Offering Choice in Reading
To help students develop as readers, we want them to have a genuine interest in what they read. Choice is key. We offer genre guidelines, based on those in Miller’s book, and we encourage students to try texts from each genre throughout the year, but above all else, we want them to read. Once students are reading (at whatever level that may be) and we learn more about them as readers, we can then encourage more sophisticated books, taking them from where they are to where they can be as readers. Penny Kittle (2013), in her book Book Love, holds independent choice as “the center of our work” (p. xv) stating: “I believe in the rigor of independent reading. I believe in the power of guiding student choice to increase engagement, skill, and joy” (p. xiv). For some of our teachers who may not feel as experienced yet in guiding students to books, our media center specialist, other colleagues, and even students, have been incredibly helpful.
Modeling a Reading Culture
Identity development during the adolescent years is complex and crucial in students’ determining who they are, who they want to be, and how they view themselves. Identifying oneself as a “reader” is essential, and at Hudson Middle School we work to promote and encourage the development of this identity as a “reader” in all members of our school community. In each literacy enrichment class, the teacher reads alongside the students, modeling reading. Those 30 minutes are not used for grading, organizing, or correspondence. One of our staff members shared his personal “reading evolution” that occurred because of this expectation. As a self-proclaimed “non-reader,” he began by asking students what they would recommend, and then he started reading those recommendations. One book led to another and, by the end of that first school year, the number of books this teacher had read was astounding … and, more important, he made numerous connections with students because of these reading encounters. This culture of reading, led by teacher-readers, has enhanced our overall focus on building relationships with students, connecting with them, helping them find their passions, and helping them grow as learners and as people.
What makes our literacy enrichment FOCUS classes so positive is the enthusiasm generated by students for the books they read and love. The sparkling eyes, the animated voice—who doesn’t love hearing a student share why this magical book is a must-read for someone else? I am grateful for the opportunities that our teachers create for students to not only read, but to think about what they’ve read, synthesize it, and share it with others. We have utilized professional development time and also created a shared electronic document for staff members to share and inspire new ideas for FOCUS activities that teach, excite, and engage students. Here are just a few:
- Silent reading: allow students to sit/relax anywhere comfortable in the room
- Students bring in favorite childhood book to share with class (e.g., book talks, read-aloud, guess who brought which book)
- Create a group word cloud showcasing favorite book titles
- Students create individual word clouds with ideas from their book; others then guess the book title
- Whole class “ideal bookshelf”: students write favorite book titles on different colored/sized strips of construction paper and display on classroom wall
- “Shelfies”: students share photos of their ideal bookshelf
- Students create new title/cover for book using digital tools or paper and art supplies; others guess the real title
- Play Win Lose or Draw, or charades, using book titles
- Create a quote wall; students write favorite quote from their reading that day
- Students write a marketing tweet for the book in 140 characters or less #hashtagswelcome!
- Create Vine videos (6-seconds) of book commercials
- Create book spine poetry, stacking titles to create a poem
- Create whole-class anchor chart to discuss/document how we select books to read
- Students write a phone message from one character to another
- Reader’s Theater: students act out portions of a book or short story
- Students create an acrostic summarizing the book through each letter of the title
- Students select a passage from their book to entice another student to read the book; swap passages with a partner; make predictions about the book based on the passage, then discuss
- Read a picture book aloud and have students make their own version
- Bring in a cart of poetry books from the media center, ending with Poetry Slam where students read aloud their favorite
- Students write a comment or quote (in the form of a speech bubble) about the books they have read, attach them to the spines of the books and stack their books creatively (alternative: take a picture and use Thinglink)
- Create a digital storytelling presentation (e.g., StoryboardThat, Puppet Pals, Pixton)
- Create a six-word memoir for a character
In The Book Whisperer, Miller (2009) shares this mission: “I want my students to know that I see each of them as a reader. All students in the class are readers—yes, with varying levels of readiness and interest—but readers nonetheless. I must believe that my students are readers—or will be readers—so that they can believe it. The idea that they can’t read or don’t like to read is not on the table” (p. 23). This is our role. To help our students grow, to develop this love of reading and stamina for reading that will sustain them through life.
Most of us have heard the compelling research that correlates 20 minutes of reading per day with increased vocabulary, comprehension, and overall academic achievement. What we have also seen at Hudson Middle School, after implementing 30 minutes of reading per day, is that joy in reading has increased. We are creating a culture of readers —lovers of reading—and our students continually amaze us with their passion. Just spend a few minutes talking with any student reader about his/her favorite book, and you will likely feel inspired, too! In fact, I’m reading a book right now that was highly recommended by not one, but seven students at our annual end-of-the-year reading celebration. They were right. I can’t put it down.