Opportunities to sharpen our literacy skills are all around us. Unfortunately, due to a variety of reasons (lack of support/resources at home, irrelevant curriculum, etc.) students can often be disengaged with literacy learning early in life. Once that foundation is shaken, it is tough to rebuild and instill the skills, confidence, and attitude necessary to be successful in the journey to be literate.
There is a huge disconnect. However, our students explore language everyday—we must make them aware of it, and show them how their knowledge and informal language is not too far distant from the formal academic knowledge required in today’s classrooms. Teachers and the outside learning community can instill a love for literacy if they focus on clarity of learning, opportunity, value, and enhancement of lessons. With “L.O.V.E.” teachers, parents and students can get students to see the relevancy of literacy skills beyond their use for academic purposes.
What is L.O.V.E.?
Learning- Many parents lack knowledge in the academic skills required of today’s students as it relates to literacy. Educators often teach skills in isolation or at a “surface” level. Parents and teachers often times try to spark the passion of literacy learning too late for some students and not early enough for others. It boils downs to “do you know the basic skills that your students (or children) need to learn?” Literacy learning must include a combination of motivation and innovative repetition of skills. Learning should always be a chance to fine-tune knowledge. The challenge, is that it must be done in a manner than resonates with students (and parents in order to be able to support). Most important, learning should contain a variety of opportunities to explore concepts- new and old.
Opportunity- Students need the opportunity to transcend and explore the world and their surroundings. A strong literacy foundation promotes exposure to additional opportunities in education. A literate child is given the opportunity to be exposed to creative works, and is capable of producing and using their skillset to work in many different subjects and tasks. The improvement of literacy skills is always presents a learning opportunity (as literacy learning is truly complex). When building a literacy foundation, we should be in search of learning opportunities and resources that are simple to implement and put into practice. Improving student literacy and the process of “why” we read, write, and communicate is a learning opportunity in itself.
Valued- Students will retain information that is valued and applicable. Learning new literary skills must be an experience that students can have some ownership in. Making connections to their experiences and the importance of the skills they are learning is essential. Literacy should be a valued “stepping stone” to a vast field of knowledge in other content areas. Not only should the academic value of literacy skills be taught, but the manner in which literacy accompanies societal tasks and processes is how true value is expressed.
Enhanced- Lessons and skills related to reading and writing should always offer room to further explore. They should enhance and leave room to extend steps higher in order for students to grow, reach, and explore at another time. At times, it will be necessary for open-ended tasks to be encouraged in literacy learning. However, skills should never be introduced in solely in isolation without a clear path of guiding students to a place where they are motivated to improve.
Importance of Incorporating L.O.V.E.
This post stems from the book that I wrote for teachers and parents a few years ago, titled “29 Days to L.O.V.E. Literacy”. It was written with the hopes of building a world or readers, writers, and thinkers who appreciate literacy in all forms, and respect the importance of such a valuable skill. We must move beyond the process of sharing with students “how to read” (although very important), and share the value of “why to read”.
More Information on “29 Days to L.O.V.E. Literacy” and a FREE Resource with activities: http://drkchilds.com/2020/03/free29daystll/
Most students either really love to read and find joy in growing and sharpening their literacy skills, or they feel the opposite. Their experience depends on two things- the instructional decisions made and the environment in which they learn. Educators are often told to create a “literacy rich” or “print rich” classroom setting, but what does that really mean? R.I.C.H. should address four different aspects: Relevancy, Inclusiveness, Creativity, and Hands-On approaches.
Students, younger and older are often disconnected from the literacy skills and expectations that are required in standards-based instruction and assessment. This is because they don’t see the “bigger picture” of learning the skills and strategies that are often taught in isolation. The foundational stages of literacy involve building word sense, concepts of print, and lots of repetition and practice—but educators shouldn’t stop there. The students who often struggle lack the connectedness and relevancy of the materials shared. To gain sense of relevancy and what resonates with students, conversations, bookstack cultivation, and surveys should take place.
Relevancy and inclusiveness go hand in hand. Whether planning the instruction or the “look” of a space, students need to see themselves in the materials presented. Not only do students need to see themselves, but they need to see others who are not like them as well.
When thinking about inclusivity and literacy, one might think of diversity, and the representation of various racial and ethnic backgrounds and perspectives. This is crucial, but just a starting point. Representation can be present in literacy settings, and students still not understand the importance or value of a concept or idea. Therefore, it is important to know that in addition to representation, students need to be exposed to an environment that allows them to feel safe (with learning new skills and contributing), and take risks (with new strategies, with new resources), and be inclusive of families (inside and outside of the classroom).
Literacy learning is often repetitive and can be boring for some. The more creativity that is sparked within lessons—the better. Creative ideas for literacy learning involve using traditional skills and practical, everyday materials and happenings to get students to understand.
Example: Connecting technological and popular culture terms with academic literacy terms
We want students to read, but don’t give them enough opportunity to write (or see the correlation between the two). We ask students about other writers and authors’ ideas, but don’t challenge them to see themselves as authors. Writing centers, blogging opportunities, and spaces where students can critique and explore all facets of literacy (listening, speaking, reading, writing) is a climate that would provide hands-on learning in a “R.I.C.H.” classroom.
The literacy environment has evolved, just as education has changed. Teachers often create themes at the beginning of a school year, and it is to get students excited about being in their class. The literacy environment needs a R.I.C.H. environment that is tailored to the needs of the students who are being served, and the learning community as a whole.
It’s all about the hook. Find what is inspiring to the youth and you find the hook into reading. Take baby steps even if needed. Not interested in reading a book? Start with a graphic novel. Even the old school Baby Sitters Club books are coming back with a vengeance in graphic novel form! Boys! Who doesn’t love adventures about a dog!? Try Dog Man! The goal isn’t to read MacBeth in first grade. The goal is to simply love reading.
Why? Well, let’s start with imagination. We tend to quickly lose the essence of imagination as we grow older. Those dreams you used to have as a kid, gone. Now you dream you are at work, even when you aren’t at work!
Second, you gather information. Yes, you in fact can learn from reading. Try the Who was/Who is/Where is collection. Going out of town? Find out if an inventor came from the area you are traveling. Going to the Grand Canyon? Yes, there is a great Where is the Grand Canyon book full of facts geared towards kids, but in fact, adults can learn a great deal too!
Third, reading is an escape from the real world. I don’t know about you, but TV shows just aren’t the same these days. However, Wild Kratts is pretty phenomenal. Books can take us on some pretty outstanding adventures.
What’s next for you? Maybe take your book to the park, sit on a swinging bench and enjoy nature at its finest. Have a hammock? What better way to spend the afternoon far off in your imagination swaying away in your backyard.
Try it sometime. Your kids might even want to join in on the fun when they notice your joy!
Something that I’ve learned in my time as an educator is the power in providing students with choice. Choice to explore their learning, choice to figure things out on their own, choice to learn new things in a variety of ways. Literacy skills are the foundation of learning, and something that educators should get excited about, because there are so many ways to create and mold literacy instruction in the classroom.
The formative years for a child, let’s say ages 2-6, are critical for literacy development. Reading, rhyming, talking and singing are all ways in which children interact with both written and spoken language. When they are provided with experiences in literacy during those formative years, they are developing the foundation for their relationship with reading and writing that will continue throughout their lives. Healthy development of the brain requires children to have these experiences.
So, how do we give children in the classroom these rich, meaningful experiences that will shape their relationship with literacy?
Research and studies have shown time and time again that children learn best through exploration and problem solving, opportunities to work things out in a way that makes sense to them. So, what does this look like and how can educators incorporate choice into their literacy programs? One way to do this is designing structured, engaging centers that provide students with multimodal learning opportunities. While students may have specific “work with teacher” time, other time can be spent exploring other centers. One center could focus on consonants, having students use a stamp, sticker or other tool to indicate which consonant letter a picture starts with. Another center might have students create a pretend grocery list and find items that start with certain letters. A third center might be a letter-sounds listening game, where students listen to a word, and decide which sound they hear at the beginning of the word. Another center might be working with syllable cards, where the students look at a picture (ex. dog, banana, etc.) and match it to the number of dots – or syllables – on a card (ex. 1 dot for dog, 3 dots for banana). A final center could be a simple picture rhyming match.
That’s 5 interactive, differentiated center ideas! The point? Choice. Allow students to choose which center interests them. Create structured, timed rounds for students to explore each center, before going to a new center. Giving students the power of choice and the opportunity to explore a variety of ways to learn a concept is key to building a child’s relationship with literacy and promoting lifelong learning.
How do you get kids excited about books? Over my 25 years of teaching, I’ve discovered many ways to spark excitement. Here are 10 to get you started:
Start an After-School Book Club
Invite a guest reader from the community to kick off the meetings. After the read-aloud, the kids spread out to read independently or with a friend. You can also invite a high school sport team or club to buddy read with the kids.
Be a “Book Fairy”
Use your points from Scholastic book clubs or grants to gift books to kids. Try to give every student a book by the end of the year. Kids love the surprise and owning their own book is more special than borrowing, so they treasure it.
Invite Guest Leaders as Readers
Leaders in schools and the community love to be a part of this and your students will be inspired to see what some of their role models read. Invite the football coach, the mayor, chief of police, a local veterinarian, and others to share a favorite book.
Encourage Kid-Created Contagious Book Reviews
When a student reads a book they love, have them create a book review to share with the class. You can do these live, or have kids create a video. You can even take the videos, create a QR code for them, and adhere the QR code inside the cover of the books!
Hold a Reading Marathon
The day of the “marathon,” have kids wear running gear, create paper running bibs, allow healthy snacks and water bottles, and read all day! Have kids read independently, in pairs, Zoom in guest readers and authors, and YOU should read aloud to them too.
Kick off the Year with a Book Tasting Event
Use tablecloths and place settings and serve a pile of books on plates. Provide wish lists for your students to jot down the books they are interested in reading that year. This is a great way to get kids familiar with your classroom library and excited about what they get to read! (Use their lists to get ideas for book fairy visits too!)
Host Book-Bartering Days
Kids bring in a book that they’re willing to part with in exchange for another book from someone in the classroom. Students give a 30 second pitch on what they loved about the book they’re offering. Arrange the books on tables and allow students to make their selections.
Get Your Own Little Free Library
As a class, write a grant for a Little Free Library for your school. Your class will love this service project and visit it often! To fill the library, send home a request for gently used books as a donation to the Little Free Library. You will be surprised at how many books come in!
Host Chat and Chews
Choose a book you have multiple copies of. You can make book marks with the dates for each meeting and what chapters need to be read each time. On assigned dates, enjoy your lunch and discuss the chapters of the book together!
Have an Author Visit!
I may be biased, since I’m a children’s book author who LOVES to do author visits, but I truly believe in their power. Kids love to meet authors in person and have a renewed passion for reading and writing afterward. From hearing the story behind the stories, or special secrets the author shares, it is a memorable experience.
When kids see you make reading a priority and a treat to be enjoyed, they are on their way to becoming life-long readers.
There is no way it can be stressed enough: the benefits of having books in the home are crucial to future reading success. Think about your children’s toys. If there are toys in the house where children have access, they are going to play with them. The same holds true with books. The easier it is for children to access books, the more likely they are to read and interact with them. And the more they get used to them being around the home, the more they will ask for them.
Building your own home library can be intimidating. Books can be expensive; you cannot always be sure of what your children will like, and there is the big question – how do I afford to get all of these books? This is especially important since many studies show that low-income families benefit the most from home libraries. Such libraries give children easier access to books.
Many parents of low-income families work multiple jobs and odd hours. This makes it difficult for them to get their children to libraries or other places that may have free access to books. School libraries help, but only if students go there frequently. Having a robust library in the home means that there is access to books all of the time. All your child needs to do is grab the book he or she likes, find a comfortable spot and start reading!
What are the best strategies for building a home library? Here are a few:
Create a space. If you are going to fill your home with books, you are going to need space to put them. Most houses have at least one corner where a bookshelf and a chair will fit. Ideally, this is in a quiet area where the child can focus on the book. A spare closet can also be used as a nook if there is little room in the home, but you have extra closet space.
Be thrifty. Books can be expensive, but they do not have to be. There are many ways to fill a home with books and not break your budget. The public library is still a good place to start; it will periodically sell off its books to make new room in its collection. The library’s books may be older, but they are still ready to be read! There are retail stores, like Half-Price Books, that sell children’s books for low prices. You can look for deals there as well. Many thrift stores have sections for used books as well.
Start a book swap. Your children’s tastes are going to change over time. That means some of the books they loved just a few months ago could end up on the shelf collecting dust. Having a book swap amongst friends and neighbors is a great way to get rid of some older books and keep the home library fresh. New materials to read will keep your children going to the shelves over and over!
Let them guide you. Allowing children to select their own books is a major way of ensuring they will want to read. Shelves of books you choose for them because they are the “right” books to read are not going to have the same draw. Let them fill their shelves with the things they want to read. This will give you a better idea of what books and topics they want to read. You can suggest a few titles you would like them to read based on their own selections.
Keep it organized! Work with your children to establish a way of keeping the books organized. It can be by title, subject, author, or even book color! This will keep them engaged with the collection even when they are not reading. Giving them their system means that they know where the books they want are, when they want them.
A house with books in it has a long-term impact on building lifelong learners. They gain grade levels over time, improve their literacy, and are shown that books are not just for the classroom or homework. But compiling a library of books is not something that can be done overnight. With patience and a keen eye for a good deal, you can have a home library your child will be able to gravitate to when looking for a good book to read. And you will be helping to build the love of reading in a student.
Sitting down with a good book for pleasure is much different than sitting down to go over tax documents or reading a book that you are analyzing for a paper. Readers relax when they read for pleasure. They make a comfortable space and do all they cannot be interrupted while they devour tales of trips to far off places, unlikely romances, and conflicts for the heart of the world. It can be about historical figures that made a significant impact on society or events that changed the direction of society. Reading for pleasure does not have to be fiction!
Reading for pleasure starts with the adults. Administrators, teachers, and parents all have to show that reading is as much a fun activity as it is a necessary activity. Any teacher, even math and science teachers, can read to young students at the beginning of class. Let the parents know what their child liked, and did not like, and help them build a library at home. Or encourage students to go to the school or community library and find books they love.
What reading for pleasure has to be, though, is self-selected. Teachers and parents who hope, or make, children read books outside of class that are “better for them” blunt some of the pleasure otherwise found in the book. As children’s book author Neil Gaiman once pointed out in a speech about libraries,”Do not discourage children from reading because you feel they are reading the wrong thing. Fiction you do not like is a route to other books you may prefer.” It is a route to other benefits as well.
Reading for pleasure does not make them better at reading; it makes them better at learning. The British Cohort Study (BCS) found that children that read for fun are not just better at reading and English, they are better at all subjects. On a longer timeline, they have a better vocabulary as adults as well. In fact, whether or not a child reads for pleasure at a young age can have more impact on their educational growth than socioeconomic status.
Another benefit that reading for pleasure has uncovered is better empathy and decision making. The stories that people read often show characters interacting in a variety of situations. Children get so engrossed in the book that their brains would react as if the events were happening in the real world. A fourteen-year-old who participated in one of the studies commented that “sometimes when big stuff happens in my life, I’ll think about what my favorite characters would have done, the ones I admire most. … They all have different approaches, different ways they approach things, and then I try to apply that to my life, to see which way works for me.” The situations they see in books give them social clues to how people react to various experiences.
This understanding of socialization does not just come from what they are reading. Like any other hobbyist, readers often interact with other people that love reading. These interactions help students develop social skills at a young age. Students learn how to share opinions at a younger age as well as building their understanding of other cultures and perspectives.
Extending that love of reading to the home is equally important. Have books ready to be read at any place around the house. Instead of watching television, have a family reading night. Once your children are reading on their own, spend time reading books you like with them for pleasure. It can encourage them to ask about the book and possibly introduce them to a whole different subject or series!
Reading for pleasure has benefits that go beyond the scholastic. By giving students choices about what they want to read, a lifelong reader is created. Practice allowing your child to read what they want and see where it takes them!
Strategies to get students to read more have many similarities to strategies for getting children to eat more vegetables.
Much like vegetables, when it comes to getting children to read, giving them the ability to choose what they want to learn will get them to read more. Choices, like reaching for carrots instead of chips, put children into a situation where they are encouraged to perform the task that is better for them makes them more interested in doing the work.
This is not to say that everything they read has to be their choice. Lessons can be broken down to give students options for how they approach the material. What character are we going to read about today? Which lesson are we going to learn? Who wants to be the reader for specific pages?
Offering choices give a certain amount of ownership. The teacher is still controlling the direction of the class, but the students have a small say. That small investment keeps them interested in the subject at hand.
Reading about something they have selected keeps students motivated on the topic. Required reading can be a drag. It is a challenge to keep students moving forward in a book they show no interest. Even if the book is required reading, there are ways to give students a choice. Like becoming an expert on one of the topics or characters. This gives them some power over the assignment, giving them the encouragement to keep reading.
When students have the opportunity to read for pleasure, offering a wide selection of books is critical. Children today have dozens of options for how they can spend their time. Choosing the books they want to read puts that activity to the top of the list. Spending time reading for pleasure, on a topic they enjoy, encourages them to read more. More frequent reading offers a wide variety of benefits, including building a more extensive vocabulary. While having a library in the home is ideal, introducing students to the school library and the public library will help with that diversity of options.
When students read, they want the experience to be more than a required activity they have to perform. The material they are reading should be something they enjoy, not a checkmark in a box. They do not want it to be eating their vegetables because they have to. Vegetables are best when they taste good or make the meal better. Giving the students choice in what they read, either in the narrow terms of a lesson or the full range of shelves in a library, bring students closer to becoming readers that are always looking for their next book!