Win. Excel. Beat a personal best. These are the mindsets of athletes. Even those who are not athletes know that in order to meet goals such as winning or surpassing a personal record one must practice, put in hard work, train, learn technique, and take feedback to help refine performance. In addition to the aforementioned commitments, athletes know that having a good coach is just as important as putting in the reps and having the proper equipment. In many instances it can be the determining factor in landing first on the podium or scoring the winning point in overtime. There are many parallels to athletic achievement on the field, court, or course as there are to academic success in the school setting. Educators want their students to experience success in academics that yield the same dopamine highs associated with winning a game or crossing the finish line that a coach desires for his or her athletes.
With a recent emphasis on structured literacy, The Science of Reading, and Dyslexia, many school leaders are turning their focus to a systematic and schoolwide approach to improving literacy. These building and district leaders are without a doubt coaches who motivate, train, counsel, and shepherd their “athlete” teachers in best practices for developing skilled readers. Just as players come to the game prepared with the proper footwear, rest, and hydration, coaches come prepared with their knowledge, encouragement, and (arguably most importantly) their playbook.
The school leader is no different from the athletic coach. Both show up at the game site early, they mentally rehearse encouraging epithets and motivating quotes, and both stay up late studying performance data. What may be missing from the school leader’s arsenal, however, is the coveted, confidential, and team or athlete-specific playbook. This priceless piece of “equipment” is the ultimate blueprint for success outlining the steps from start-to-finish as well as possible adjustments for those instances in which an opponent calls an audible….much like when a new student from two states over shows up at your front doorstep on a Monday morning mid February after having been immersed up until that point in time in a curriculum drastically different than what is covered in your school.
If you are reading this as a school leader, put the bullhorn down and grab your clipboard and pen (and even a stopwatch if you’d like) and take some notes. Here are the top ten plays you should have in your literacy acceleration playbook.
Recruit – Coaches are always working. During the offseason they are scouting talent and recruiting the future playmakers for their team. They invest in the performers who are dedicated, skilled, and passionate. It is important to remember that even winning coaches may not be able to hand pick every single player on the team. They may even have inherited some individuals who bring a bad attitude or have a history of defiance. In such instances however, adept coaches do not let those individuals impede positive energy nor the potential of the greater collective. Successful coaches invest their time and energy in the majority of team members who show up everyday with their chins held high, their shoelaces tied tight, and their eyes on the goal line.
Practice – Success in athletics can largely be attributed to the degree and amount of intentional and focused practice. A true athlete would never show up on a game day expecting a victory without putting in the reps first. Practice is all about repetition, being active in the daily routine, showing up with intention, and being dependable even when one doesn’t feel like it. Legendary coaches never skip practice for a meeting (or a phone call with a parent). They are in the action right alongside the players, often even disregarding the clear boundary lines that are strictly adhered to during games or matches. They are modeling, observing, taking notes, instructing, and giving feedback. As an instructional leader, ask yourself how much of your day is spent in actual classrooms “practicing” alongside teachers, versus how much time is spent in your office. Challenge yourself to be a visible leader, one who is always a part of the daily practice, and someone who takes the first swing to show others what is expected. Make it your goal to visit your least favored spots in the building first thing each day or week and don’t back down on your reps even during busy times of the year.
Hydrate – Serious athletes take nutrition seriously. Hydration is key not only to performance but also to mental clarity. Coaches are extremely mindful of how hydration is linked to biochemics and physical efficiency. Planning and preparing for water breaks is a key element of the playbook. As a school leader, make sure that you are refueling and pre-fueling your team with the proper and most aligned source of professional hydration as possible. Ensure that teachers are regularly and consistently consuming quality professional development, reputable texts and articles to read, and engaging media to grow their minds and prime them for peak performance in the classroom.
Fundamentals – Youth skills camps exist for a reason which is why you’ll often find coaches devoting their offseason to working with the future generation of players. No one expects to make a “hole in one” the first time they pick up a seven iron or nail a flip turn the first time they swim the backstroke. Leaders need to start small in order to accomplish big wins. Identify which basic and important skills need mastering and then narrow the focus of the building or district to practicing, refining, and perfecting those skills.
Study Your Opponent – Serious athletes and their coaches are always “eyeing up the competition.” They know who they are competing against and what that individual’s or team’s strengths and weaknesses are. You cannot overcome barriers if they remain blindspots. Just as athletic coaches study the performance of competitors, an educational leader needs to study the learning environment to know where the pitfalls exist. What are the obstacles in your building and how can you be prepared on both offense and defense to address them? As the leader, it is up to you to get to the root of the problem(s) and take the first step in preparing for stronger performance.
Watch Film – Often in education the players and coaches methodically and perhaps even subconsciously keep moving forward. Sometimes seemingly robotic, the leader and teachers move to do the very next thing, start the next day, or go to the next meeting. To an outsider they might be observed as only striving to keep the daily/weekly routine going with giving little thought to anything else. They appear to be tied to the bell, bus, and recess schedules. Athletic coaches remind us of the power of reflection. Before moving to the next game or practice, they pause and devote time to study game film. They reflect on highs and lows studying performance, and consider what could have been better and what to do differently the next time around. As the school leader ask yourself where the meeting for debriefing is, when is the reflection time scheduled for, and whether or not you provided feedback recently. Are there practices in place for studying and reflecting upon performance in your building?
Celebrate Small Victories – Respected coaches are those who are able to step away from relentless skill drills at times to embrace joy, fun, and celebration. The coaches that lead by fear and punishment create players who become resentful and burned out. School leaders should also find time to motivate, encourage, lift up, empower, and celebrate employees and the school community. If you don’t celebrate along the way, teaching and learning begins to feel like drudgery and staff and students lose the purpose for working hard to win. Celebrate small victories to keep momentum high which will yield continued participation, teamwork, camaraderie, and clear vision in the long run.
Know Your Stats – Author and acclaimed management consultant Peter Drucker reminds us that “you can’t improve what you don’t measure” (Drucker, 2018). When you think about it, there’s really no surprise as to why coaches are always carrying around a clipboard…they are compiling data on every aspect of the game and player performance. They can often recite their athlete’s stats from memory. They know these stats because they also know with crystal clear clarity the exact goal they are working towards and how close or far away from that goal they are at any given point in time. School leaders also need to set goals, both on a personal or micro level and on a professional or macro level. Reviewing one’s stats and reflecting upon performance is the only way to grow.
Get In The Game – Masterful coaches take real action. One cannot win if he/she isn’t actually in the game. Ever notice how a coach is so close to the boundary line that they risk getting a penalty from the umpire or referee? This is because experienced coaches know that to be the best leader they can be, they need to be as immersed in the activity alongside their players as possible. This is also why coaches “dress the part.” Although they aren’t permitted to actually physically perform on the field or course alongside their athletes they dress in a way that shows their team that they are “in the game” right alongside them. They are often the first one to show up on game day and the last one to leave. How are you demonstrating to your staff that you are “in the game”? What ideas have you had related to your literacy initiative that you haven’t taken action yet on for whatever reason? This is the year to set a date for that parent education night you’ve wanted to hold, to buy the new materials needed by your staff, schedule that tough meeting you’ve been avoiding or finally start doing real authentic walkthroughs in the classroom that needs some support, feedback, and guidance.
Watch the Clock – In the close games or matches the coach will always be alert to watching the clock and will know after each play exactly how much time remains. A winning coach makes bold moves with little time remaining. They rely on expertise, experience, and composure to make decisions. They are strategic in every way. Each school year only has 180 days. Therefore, the clock starts now. What action are you going to take and what decisions will you make while the clock ticks down to bring your team and students to victory. Game on!
Your literacy acceleration playbook is full and ready for utilization. The power is literally in your hands. Remember that school leaders, just like coaches, find themselves in a position of influence for a reason. Leaders and coaches have spent time refining skills and “competing” in the ranks. Others see within them the capacity to make change, drive improvement, and garner results. The decisions you make this year will give students the opportunities to build confidence, develop skills, put in the reps, and perhaps even start to develop their own leadership style. Maybe one day you’ll proudly pass down your clipboard to one of them.
To put it mildly, the COVID pandemic has been a game changer, a shake-up, a reset, and a force that has made us re-examine who we are, what we can do and a reminder of what we can overcome if we work together in education. Essentially, it has been one of the greatest teachers that has provided some of the most valuable lessons about life. It doesn’t matter where you teach, what grade level you teach or how long you have been teaching, the impact of the COVID pandemic has been felt in a multitude of ways. Although the goals of teaching and meeting the needs of students remain the same, the rules have changed, the challenge has upped its ante, and educators across the U.S. have discovered more about themselves than any other time before over the past year. The impact of COVID has come with some valuable lessons that could only be taught through our current climate in education. Like other trials and tribulations in life, COVID has served as a teacher, but it is our responsibility to embrace and learn the lessons as we expect our students to.
Lesson #1: The strong do not always survive, but the most adaptable do!
During COVID, having strength as an educator is an asset to navigate unfamiliar times and circumstances. But even the strongest educators still struggle to maintain a high level of teaching and a sense of purpose to effectively educate students. That is because it isn’t simply about how strong you are in your instructional delivery, classroom management or your knowledge of the curriculum. Even if we were great at these things, due to the challenges of COVID we must rethink how we serve students and families. The challenges to successfully educate students, maintain healthy relationships, motivating students for engagement and adhering to a host of other requirements requires such as “contact tracing” has required adaptability. Adaptability is defined as, “the quality of being able to adjust to new conditions”. That is simply what schools, teachers, leaders, students, and parents had to do if they wanted to be successful. You cannot typically fix new problems with old solutions because new problems usually require new ways of thinking and adapting to circumstances in new and unfamiliar ways. Essentially, we are dealing with challenges that years prior we never knew we would have. You must be willing and able to think differently if you want to experience success. In the end, when this is over and schools have been allowed to return to some sense of normalcy those teachers and leaders that remain standing strong will be those that had the ability to adapt to their circumstances whether familiar or unfamiliar.
Lesson #2: You are better than you think you are.
I am usually an optimistic thinker who sees the good over the bad in most situations. However, during the summer before the 2020-2021 school year I wasn’t as optimistic about school starting. With all the new guidelines and rules that we needed to follow, the requirement of wearing masks and practicing social distancing, I thought it would surely be a disaster! I envisioned me and my staff running around all day trying to get students to put their masks on, students would refuse to wear masks and we would be handing out hundreds of masks daily. Maybe it was only my thinking and for my school (I suspect not), but I was wrong. The students and staff in my school are doing an amazing job, better than I had imagined. Wearing masks is not a major issue and to be honest, only a handful of issues have occurred.
Many educators were like me, and questioned if the operations of schools would work, whether students would possess the ability to be engaged and would the essentials of learning take place through in-person learning, blended learning, or remote learning. The answer has been “yes” not only in my school but also in schools across the country. I know it has been far from perfect or ideal and there is not substitution for students engaging in face-to-face learning provided by a teacher, but I truly believe that educators are doing their best in spite of the circumstances. No one that I know has ever taught students during a global pandemic or led a school in one prior to COVID. So, current educators continue to come up with solutions without being able to draw from historical references. The research and data is still being collected, the rules and guidelines are still being created, and changes almost seem to come daily. However, from what I am witnessing we are doing better than we think. In fact, in education we are often doing better than we think we are when we consider our “locust of control”. The problems is, we don’t give ourselves a chance to grow because we think ourselves out of opportunities to become better from our challenges. Once you confront a challenge you should always envision a winning outcome and always remember it not about how strong you are but it is more about your ability to adapt!
Lesson #3: Creativity solves more complex problems than intelligence.
I am not one to tell you that intelligence is not important because honestly, I would choose intelligence over the opposite of intelligence anytime. However, intelligence and creativity serve different purposes. The intelligence of doctors, scientist and others have helped us understand COVID, the impact on the human body, how it is spreads, the nuances of the virus itself and most importantly how we are able to protect ourselves. Intelligence and research has served as a high degree of importance in these matters so we can be educated and learn how to protect ourselves and reducing the spread of COVID. However, once we begin to understand the virus, how it impacts our body then we can use our greatest asset, which is our creativity to think of solutions and appropriate responses. This is what we have been doing in schools and in classrooms since COVID has arrived. It is imperative that you can use creativity as a strategy in educating and providing services to students. Based on the information we receive, we will be better equipped as to what additional interventions are needed, which appropriate safeguards need to be incorporated and how we can efficiently meet the diverse needs of students. It will also take creativity to support students, teachers, and schools. Consider your school’s schedule, the use of technology, people working together, resources that have been created and new platforms of communicating with parents. You can even consider the creative designs of masks that people wear as a small example of the extent of our creativity since COVID. We as educators have become more creative whether we like it or not. We have used creative energy to solve challenges that are new and unlike we have experienced before. Therefore, it is imperative as educators that we never underestimate the power of our abilities and use our creativity to solve challenges as we face them in schools.
We are in a new dimension of educational services. However, although many things have changed, there are still many things that have remained the same. We are being impacted by a new variant of COVID, but students still need the support and engagement of caring educators and that will never change or go away. I encourage you to sue your creativity, adapt new ways of thinking and maintain a positive outlook and know you are capable. In education, we must reformulate old ways of doing business and devise new strategies to meet the needs and serve students in creative and meaningful ways. There has been a lot that has been lost but above all we must never lose our humanity and keep the people at the forefront of our decisions, actions, and intentions.
There’s this widgetsmith on the opening screen of my iPhone that reads, “As long as we’re creating it’s not too late to change our story.”
People’s stories motivate and inspire but they also connect us, help us grow. Throughout my years of being an educator, tucking in beside my fellow professionals, really hearing their journey, it has been transforming. Listening, truly listening, opens my mind and eyes to perspectives, broadening a reality that I was otherwise unaware. Stories also shape and expand our teaching blueprint.
Growing up a small town girl in the northern United States gave me loads of opportunity to get lost in stories. From listening to my grandparents share stories to being mesmerized by great readings at the local library, life opened up for me.
Given my best friend’s father was the town’s librarian, many evenings and weekends were spent lounged across soft rugs with giant pillows traveling to far away places through the pages of a book. As I breezed through the letters on the page that made words into sentences and sentences into adventures that fed my imagination, I was quite aware that the very experiences I found solace within offered great pain and sometimes discomfort for my friend. Needless to say, I did a lot of reading aloud.
My friend loved to hear stories and it was an incredible treat when getting to view stories playing out live on a stage. You see, the process of reading caused her great angst. She is dyslexic. Take it to the classroom and the print on the page represented very different things for the two of us.
What I noticed as a young child was that just because our brains worked differently, a common experience such as reading text had contrasting outcomes for each of us. Someone very dear to me once shared, “Teachers can change the way they teach but dyslexics cannot change the way they learn.” What this evolves into for an instructional design perspective on the diverse needs of learners: the secret strength I found in teaching through a Universal Design for Learning (UDL) lens. In the case of how I learned reading and how my friend learned reading: presentation of materials, or provisions of multiple means of representation as well as action and expression, were key but equally important was engagement.
Let’s take my friend for example. Given learning derived from her mainly through auditory (hearing) or tactile (touching), she learned by hearing or touching and then that information would process through her auditory or tactile memories. When you compare that to my approach to learning being mainly visual (through my eyes), I could comprehend problems, solve them and commit the solution to my visual memory. For me, everything I would ‘read’, both real and symbolic, would link to my perception center. Recognizing a word and processing the word to meaning didn’t require actually hearing the word. For my friend, visual symbols were compromised causing her to compensate by relying on what she heard in her head to associate meaning.
Ready to leverage my childhood story to expand your teacher blueprint to be more inclusive? The following visual provides some examples of building provisions within your teaching and learning to offer students with dyslexia agency in learning. Oh, and don’t overlook this included audio file reading the visual, it’s called inclusive design.
There is a lot to learn from stories. But just like my childhood story, there are often missed opportunities of great significance in the unheard. Stories change our perspective, open our minds and eyes, broaden our reality and shape and expand our teaching blueprint. Learning to truly listen in on the narratives of our profession has proven to be my greatest teacher and perhaps it can do the same for you, too.
A literacy environment should be cultivated by its curriculum. Learning how to read and develop literacy skills is a process that will benefit a child their entire life. It is the foundation for other subjects, and a manner in which students learn to communicate and learn about their world, near and far.
The process to teach the required skills necessary is complex, and varies depending on the needs of each learner. In my experience, literacy teaching and learning should be a “dream”. A dream in the sense of literacy learning being a priceless gift—and a dream in the sense of having curriculum and teaching practices which address Diversity, Relevance, Engagement, Access, Motivation (D.R.E.A.M.).
D.R.E.A.M. Literacy focuses on practices being implemented into instruction by educators, as well as encourages at-home support and partnerships in using diverse texts, popular culture and technology, and multimodal resources. D.R.E.A.M. represents several pieces necessary to address and provide quality and equitable literacy instruction for all. When planning literacy lessons, assignments, and making curriculum decisions educators and parents should consider the following elements:
Diversity brings about a wide spectrum of issues that educators can be faced with. Willingness to learn, accept, and apply the culture (VERY IMPORTANT: Culture does not just mean ethnicity or race) of students to instructional practices is key. Here are some ways to address diversity in literacy:
Inclusion and representation of various backgrounds (An array of genres, using texts and curriculum by authors of color)
Diversity of resources (types of texts, authentic sources)
Use of books and resources that have a balance of representation in protagonists
Students need to know how to apply the knowledge being taught, and how it applies to them. Students want to feel like they are included and are represented in a learning environment. Students want to know why it’s important, and how it is useful. Students need to know why they are developing literacy skills and where they will encounter them in their future. Making content relevant includes:
Connecting books to the interests of students
Fostering a culture of literacy being all around/environmental print (various types of text on signs, products, television, digital literacies)
Letting students explore non-fiction texts (real-world relevant texts, local and regional texts, etc.)
Exploring cross-curricular connections (Math, Science, History, Fine Arts)
Engagement starts with learning the interests of the students, merged with the academic knowledge needed. Engagement also involves educators utilizing multimodal approaches in their lessons and work with students. Some great multimodal literacy strategies include:
Interviewing or conferencing with students about what they read or write
Acting out texts
Creating visuals or artwork to accompany work
Ease of access to resources and empowering parents/guardians to help build literacy skills at home is necessary for growth. Not all students have the opportunity to have access to books in their home. If books and reading are left out of the home environment, is it really that important for a child and their family? Insight on how to continue a child’s learning outside of the classroom doors is crucial. The following ideas are recommended:
Collect donated books (bookstores, sales, retiring teachers, etc.) and hold regular “book swap” events with students and parents/guardians
Provide regularly updated virtual lists of digital literacy resources (games, apps, videos, activities, etc.)
As far as motivation, our role is to grow our students’ skills and learn what makes them excited to learn—this is very important with students who have so many unique needs that are changing as society changes daily. The main ingredient for motivation in a literacy classroom is choice.
In closing, a literacy environment should thrive on partnership between the internal and external learning communities. Parents and educators are the essential component that provides students the opportunity to see literacy as a tool of advancement and an escape— teamwork makes the “dream” work.
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.
When was the last time you wrote or received a handwritten letter? For thousands of years, handwritten letters have played a critical part in our lives. In this age of digital communication, handwritten letters are becoming a lost art. Emails and text messages can be sent instantly; however, the impact of a good old-fashioned handwritten letter can bring a lifetime of benefits and memories.
Encouraging children to write and read letters will improve their literacy and communication skills, as well as their social and emotional development. Writing can reduce anxiety and stress, as well as decrease depression. It’s especially important during this time of virtual learning and social distancing to provide opportunities for handwritten letters. Let’s explore the academic and mental benefits of being PenPals!
Handwritten letters improve writing skills. We know that reading and writing go hand in hand… but did you know that writing by hand is just as important as reading? By definition, literacy is one’s ability to read and write. Research confirms that integrating reading and writing automatizes those skills. From kindergarten standards of using a combination of drawing, dictating, and writing to compose informative/explanatory texts to twelve grade standards of producing clear and coherent writing, all learners must be able to write to communicate ideas.
Handwritten letters improve reading skills. Research confirms that writing by hand activates reading circuits in the brain that promote literacy. Additionally, research by McGinley and Tierney in 1989 confirmed that integrating reading and writing instruction leads to a higher level of thinking than when either process is taught alone. Providing opportunities to read a letter from a teacher or loved one will lead to improved reading achievement, better writing performance, and increased awareness of self, others, and the community.
Handwritten letters improve communication skills. It’s an old saying, but it’s true: Practice makes perfect. By habit, we mimic the voices around us – which is sometimes not the best grammar. Our speech is a direct reflection of our writing. Writing forces thought and articulation of main ideas while exploring main feelings. Letter writing provides an opportunity to improve vocabulary, knowledge, and sentence structure; and better writing creates a better speaker. What better way to practice and improve communication skills through writing than writing to someone you trust?
Handwritten letters improve self-awareness. Mental health and well-being are the core of who you are. Writing helps to clear the mind, recover memories and organization of thought, and refine ideas. Research confirms that a person can better understand his/her feelings more clearly when it’s written. Writing is a creative way to improve mental recall and well-being.
Handwritten letters improve relationships. In times like these, opportunities to connect with teachers and loved ones are important. Handwritten letters confirm the importance of relationships between educators and families with children. Daily writing opportunities provide deep connections while addressing reading, writing, and social development skills. Addressing the whole child is vital.
Use a dated notebook, versus loose paper, to keep track of how the conversation evolves. This notebook can serve as a journal, mental wellness check-in, calendar, planner, and keepsake for life (or not).
Do not edit children’s’ writings in the journal; however, provide additional opportunities to teach correct sentence structure, etc.
Always begin and end with something positive.
So go ahead, grab a pen and notebook, and begin creating memories while positively impacting literacy, communication, social, and emotional development, simultaneously.
August and September traditionally serve as the months for Meet the Teacher nights. Families file into school buildings to check out classrooms, admire bulletin boards, and inquire about policies and procedures. I am suggesting that parents make a detour on their way to classrooms this school year. Visit the school library. Yes, it’s true. School libraries often don’t receive many visitors on Meet the Teacher nights, and they need our support more than ever in 2021. Here are three ways that we can show our appreciation for school libraries and school librarians this upcoming school year.
Many school libraries operate with a certified professional and without a dedicated assistant or with an assistant and without a certified professional. Either way, those books don’t shelve themselves! An indicator of a healthy, happy library is high circulation numbers. Checking in books and getting them back on shelves can feel like an endless task, and most libraries welcome volunteers to assist with this work. Volunteering to shelve books is a great opportunity to see what kids are reading, interact with young readers, and unplug for an hour or two.
Since school libraries don’t have supply lists, they often run low on tissues, table wipes, and pencils. Ask what they need. Maybe the librarian organizes Birthday Books or Friends of the Library fundraising programs. With a cash donation, kids can select a book to insert a bookplate with their name. As a former school librarian, I can verify the joy kids experience when opening the inside front cover of a book to spy a friend’s name. It’s also likely that at some point your kids’ school will host a book fair. Some libraries rely entirely on book fair profits to acquire new materials. Debating whether to add the light-up pen or an eraser shaped like a smartphone to your stack? Go for it! Your shopping very likely helps fund new books for the library.
Despite the compelling evidence pointing to the correlation between strong school library programs and student achievement, we still see school library budgets and school librarian positions being cut nationwide. Is this happening in your community? Write an email or a letter to the School Board and Superintendent voicing your concerns. They need to hear from families about the positive outcomes associated with thriving school libraries. A school library can and should be the heart of the school. That’s not possible without the support of all stakeholders, including families.
Many parents won’t be able to volunteer time or donate resources, and that’s fine. Next time you’re in the building for a Meet the Teacher Night or another event, pop in the library. Meet the school librarian. A warm hello that says “I see you” is often more than enough.
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.
The young students frantically waved their hands high in the air. They couldn’t wait to run to the front of the gym and participate in a game I call, “5 in Ten!”. I recently spoke with hundreds of students in different settings (urban, rural, and suburban) and they all enjoyed “5 in 10’!”. The gist of this interactive game is to name 5______ in ten seconds.
The catch is that the students do not know what I will ask them until I say, “go!”. For example, I will call someone up to the front of the class, gym, auditorium, etc. and immediately say, “Name 5 dances in ten seconds…go!”. I typically will have the audience be my shot clock and provide a whisper countdown…10…9…8….7…6…..5…4….3…2..1…Short Buzzer sound! The choices one can use are endless. I can ask participants to name 5 dogs, 5 birds, 5 pizza toppings, 5 songs, 5 movies, 5 shoes, 5 cars, 5 words that start with the letter “A”, etc.
I use “5 in 10” as an ice breaker for students, staff, parents, and families of all ages when I present. Similarly to “5 in 10”, I also use “3 in 5” and “1 in 3.” These are variations of the same “5 in 10” game with the exception that you have to name 3____ in 5 seconds and 1_____ in 3 seconds. Even in virtual environments, students. staff, and parents are excited to play these games!
It was a breath of fresh air to many who were struggling with the remote learning options that were very rigid at times. These fun games get students to speak in front of others. I use it to enhance listening. I use it to help with the correlation between listening, speaking, writing, and reading as well. Before I tackle reading, I typically get students to listen. Historically, stories were told orally (speaking) and the hearer had to “listen well” to pass the story on. Many of these stories were written and these words were read from papers and books. The correlation between listening, speaking, writing, and reading must be leveraged more.
Below are a few ways you can leverage the fun to get some reading gains!
Try “5 in 10”, “3 in 5”, and “1 in 3”
Tell a story and have your students continue where you left off. For example, “It was the first day of school for Anthony. He was so excited he ran out the door and forgot….” Have a student “continue” until you have a complete story! You can interject at times to get the story to keep moving.
After the students finish their collective story, have them write down the story on paper. Allow them to change up certain parts as they see fit.
Collect the stories and make a list of words that you want to highlight for vocabulary improvements.
Encourage students to take these same ideas home and have their families do similar activities!
So here is my call to action for you! At the very least, please try “5 in 10”, “3 in 5”, and “1 in 3” with your students, colleagues, and families. Let me know how they enjoyed it! Remember to leverage the fun as you learn!