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.
In 2012, my wife Barb and I were commiserating about the state of reading in the country—specifically what she, a 4th grade teacher, called ‘the dreaded summer slide’.
Far too many kids, particularly from families that struggle, head back into class every fall, with less opportunity than their peers. They are not as engaged. They struggle with review material. They hold back, as their enthusiastic and engaged classmates wave hands in the air and shout out answers.
This struggle is real. Poor children are historically woefully behind their well-off peers, and every summer, the opportunity gap widens. After failed initiatives, generational disadvantage, and Covid exacerbated opportunity disparities, 75% of poor children are not proficient in reading. Can you imagine not being able to read your textbooks in school?
Our education system is struggling, and with the recent upsets and extended breaks in learning due to the Covid-19 pandemic, more kids are struggling too.
Ten years ago, Kids Read Now was formed to eradicate the summer slide, which has been shown to cause 2/3 of the achievement gap between kids with opportunities and those who are at-risk and living in poverty. We just knew that a viable, successful, scalable summer literacy program could be developed and would give disadvantaged kids a real opportunity to become great readers and, in turn, give them the means to escape a life of poverty.
We have made tremendous progress. Our program has been refined and scaled. In 2022, we project that over 80,000 students in 31 states will each be gifted 9 books. Our team of educators selects popular and loved books that kids are most likely to want and to read and create a Wish List catalog of over 130 titles to choose from. By partnering with Penguin Random House and other top publishers, Kids Read Now is able to offer the best books for PreK-5 kids.
Whether we are serving a tiny remote community in Alaska or thousands of students in one of America’s largest school districts, Kids Read Now provides a turnkey approach to literacy success. We can’t wait to see what our next ten years can do for America’s future.
“I just wanted to say how much I appreciate you doing this for our kids. Some of the students in my room only read books at school because they have no books at home. So, thank you very much for helping them out… I know how much they love getting a book.” – Annie Groves, WV
The Current Situation Did you know that more than 65% of kids across the country are not reading at grade level, and the number jumps to 80% for low income students? Kids Read Now’s mission of eliminating learning loss and building home libraries for every PreK-5 student in the country is more important and pressing than ever. We are currently partnering with schools in over 30 states, and we have plans to expand to all 50 states by 2025. The Kids Read Now (KRN) in-home reading program is evidence-based, and replicable. Unlike other book programs, Kids Read Now includes unique components like student choice and parental engagement.
New KRN Initiatives We would love to extend a warm welcome and immeasurable gratitude to the innovative Kids Read Now Development Task Force. The Development Task Force is tasked with developing ongoing fundraising strategies that will leverage monetary support from corporations, foundations, and individuals. Subsequently this allows Kids Read Now to reach more kids in need across the country and build home libraries in even the driest book deserts.
Loki Mulholland – Public Speaker, Emmy Award-Winning Filmmaker, Activist, Author
Lisa Washington – Emmy Award-Winning Journalist, Evening News Anchor at WNEP-TV
Dr. Kamshia Childs – Assistant Professor at Texas A&M University-Commerce
Cameisha Arnold-Lee – CIO for TE Connectivity, Defense Division
Noah Reandeau – President of Model Solutions
Lauren Bernaldo – CCO for Lee County Tax Division
Leib Lurie – Kids Read Now Co-Founder and CEO
El Cabrel Lee – Kids Read Now Director of Development
Christina Brownlee – Kids Read Now Director of Marketing
Joy Plunkett – Kids Read Now Director of Human Resources
Chante Alexander – Kids Read Now Account Manager
Emily Fleming – Kids Read Now Product Specialist
Upcoming Events Kids Read Now is excited to announce our anniversary event on June 1, 2022 from 12pm – 2pm. We will celebrate our recent move to a bigger and better fulfillment center, 10 years of building home libraries for kids, and the delivery of our 3 millionth book! Educators, authors, and local dignitaries will speak and we will present a scholarship to an original Kids Read Now student who is entering her first year of college in the fall. Please visit this link for more information and to RSVP to attend!
It’s no secret that we love books here at Kids Read Now. We love watching kids pick their own books. We love sending those books straight to their homes. We love seeing kids get excited to get new and exciting books in the mail. Most of all, we love how this process helps kids beat back learning loss and reinforces a future-changing lifelong habit.
But while we’re helping kids across the country form a love for reading, adults are reading fewer books on average according to a new Gallup poll. The new data on book reading reinforce that the popularity of reading is waning, with Americans reading an average of three fewer books last year than they did five years ago and had typically read for the past three decades. The poll speculates that adults’ reading numbers are down due to Covid-related restrictions and the difficulty of visiting libraries or bookstores, despite the ability to download and read eBooks.
Kids need to see adults reading. Kids who are around readers are more likely to read as well. The benefits for kids who read are pretty incredible, but did you know that adults need to read too? Just like kids, adults can improve their cognitive thinking skills, expand their vocabularies, deepen their levels of concentration, develop social intelligence and empathy, and help them reduce stress and take a break from the real world.
Goodreads is the world’s largest site for readers and book recommendations. Their mission is to help people find and share books they love.
Sign up for a library card
Visit your local library or sign up for an e-card. Now you can request books from the library online, peruse the shelves in person, or download books to listen to or read without leaving home!
Set a reading goal for the year
Goodreads lets every user set a book goal for the year and tracks your progress through each book. You can do this easily on your own by creating a sheet at home to track the books you read.
Dedicate time to read every single day
Doctors agree that screen time before bed is a big no-no, but reading before bed can help your mind and body relax. Knowing that you have time every day to read can give you comfort in the constant.
Read with family and friends
Read a book aloud with your kids and make all the funny voices. Read the same books as your friends and discuss it. Read your favorite passages to your spouse or friends. Normalize reading and discussing books!
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.
Rejoice! We have made it to a new year. Many of us educators were itching for 2020 to come to a rapid close only to find ourselves wishing 2021 away just as quickly. Despite the recent challenges we have encountered, many of us still had the pleasure of ending the year with some sort of a holiday tradition in which gifts were exchanged. No matter how you feel about the past year(s), I hope that you were able to find joy in both the time spent with loved ones this past holiday season and in the exercise of exchanging gifts. Of all the presents I give and receive each year, my most favorite and treasured ones are always books.
The gift of a book provides more than just an enjoyable reading experience, it adds value and companionship to the recipient’s life. This year instead of falling into the same familiar routine of setting a short-lived resolution around the common goals of finance and fitness, I thought I would instead resolve to pay forward the gift of reading a great book. Here is a list of twelve ways in 2022 that you can join me in the pursuit of sharing with the world the joy of receiving and reading a book.
Email the Author. I am often deeply intrigued by an author after reading his/her work. I wonder what he/she is like as a person, what other books he/she has written, who their significant other is, and if they have children. Many times I conduct an internet search and follow him/her on social media. Despite all of this junior level web investigating, I rarely take the time to thank the actual author him/herself for the work he/she created and how it influenced me. This year I plan to send an email to the authors whose books I read to thank them for their work, effort, and time spent in crafting something of value for the world.
Dinner Table Talk. Family dinners are wonderful times to reconnect and engage in thoughtful conversation. Too often though, they unintentionally become complaint sessions highlighting the day’s hardships. Consider reframing dinner time chats by sharing with your family the latest book read. Tell your tribe what you learned from the book or how you are applying it to your life. This is also a great way, if you are a parent of young children, to get your offspring to open up about the books they are reading as well as model for them how dialogue about text can strengthen comprehension.
Journal Entry. Talking about a book is a wonderful way to gift its message to others, but writing about it allows for an even deeper level of intimate gratitude for the work. If you are anything like me, journaling is a habit I’m not consistent with, but one that I strive to practice more consistently. Set a goal to write a journal entry after each book you finish this year. This intention will help you stay accountable for opening up your journal more often and engaging in reflective practice of content consumed through reading. If you are stuck on what to write, consider the following questions: What did I learn? How was I feeling while reading? How can I lift one or two ideas from the book to become a better version of myself this year?
Amazon Review. Ever notice that reviews seem to be laced with negativity and despair? Change the tone and gift your positive thoughts of a recently read book out on the Web. You’ll feel good about the uplifting content you’ve put out in the world plus the author will undoubtedly benefit from your time spent in alerting others to his/her work.
Staff Meeting Share. For many of us, monthly staff meetings tend to be filled with boring updates, frustrating questions, and unwelcomed mandates. Why not liven up your next staff meeting with a sharing out of a recent book you’ve read this year? Showing your team that you do more in life than just tell them what to do all the time, will not only help you appear more personable, it will also build your intellectual credibility.
Schedule Send. Draft an email to yourself and schedule it to be sent to your inbox one month from today. In the email ask yourself how you’ve been applying a recently read book to your life and what themes or new ideas learned from that text have yet to be applied.
Showcase to Students. Whether you are a classroom teacher, a curriculum coach, an adjunct professor, or a building principal showcasing a recently read book with students in your organization will spread the gift of having a role model who values reading. The act of conducting a book share to students can be done in-person or virtually. Giving students a glimpse of what adults are reading, how they talk about text, and how books can impact a life is a priceless gift.
Book Breathe. Life is busy and even hectic and stressful at times. Most mobile devices and smart watches today have a breathing or meditation app. Tap the app and mentally revisit the book you are currently reading or one you have recently finished. The act of closing your eyes, slowing your breath, and focusing on only one thing will give your body a chance to settle its heart rate, increase your happiness level, and set you up for a smoother transition to your next appointment. During your book breath moment you can focus on a single character, a new concept learned, visualize yourself in the setting, or simply exhale thanks to the author for crafting something that brings you happiness.
Conference Proposal. What better way to give out the gift you’ve received from a recently read book than by presenting on the topic at a conference to colleagues in your field? Consider submitting a conference proposal that highlights a recent accomplishment aligned with the themes or principles from a book you’ve recently read. Share with the world your story of finding inspiration in a book to help channel the energy to achieve something great in your personal or professional life. Look at the theme of an upcoming conference you want to attend and ask yourself how the books you’ve read so far this year align to that topic.
Tweet. Snap a picture of the book cover and hop on Twitter. Tweet your image with your recommendation or comment. Don’t forget to tag the author and include a hashtag if applicable. Not only will the author feel the gift of your social media gratitude, but your followers will receive the gift of a great recommendation of what to read next.
Buy an Extra Copy. What better way to give back to others the gift you’ve received from a new book than by buying a second copy for a friend, family member, or colleague. In this instance both the author and the recipient benefit from your generosity. Keep the joy of gifting alive all year long.
Unexpected Treasure. Letting go of something you love isn’t easy, but it is an ultimate sacrifice that has the potential to yield immeasurable happiness. Write a message on the inside cover of the book you just finished and leave it someplace in your town or community for someone to stumble upon unexpectedly. Perhaps you decide to leave it in a waiting room, on a park bench, or in a hotel room. No doubt the universe will select its next intended recipient with care. Who knows…maybe he or she will keep the gift giving going and pass that same book along to someone else after they’ve finished reading.
At first glance nonfiction books can seem intimidating – facts, numbers, research, real-world stuff, EEK! – but nonfiction doesn’t have to intimidating or overwhelming. In fact, it can be quite fun with several benefits that kids may not even realize they’re gaining! Embracing nonfiction is one of the best things any kid can do.
Here are some of the top reasons every kid should embrace nonfiction.
Develop Critical Thinking Skills
Reading nonfiction materials help children develop important critical thinking skills. Nonfiction texts allow kids to ask a specific question that they are interested in, such as “What do horses eat?”, and then go on the hunt for the answer. Fostering this investigative drive will undoubtedly develop some serious critical thinking skills. It will also allow kids to think about where they can find the information.
Gain Knowledge of the World
Nonfiction texts can help kids learn more about other towns or cities, parts of the world, cultures, planets, species, or even more about their own history. Nonfiction gives kids opportunities to see how the world works and lets them safely explore from their favorite reading spot. Developing this knowledge of the world, with its similarities and differences to what they experience every day, reinforces critical thinking skills, and will give them a boost as school textbooks become more content focused.
Learn Complex Tasks
Nonfiction texts present the opportunity for children to read about different skills and real-life activities. Reading and following detailed instructions are the first parts of completing complex tasks. These activities can be super fun for kids as they build Lego sets or make cookies from scratch! Plus, learning how to complete complex tasks at an earlier age with help them tremendously as they get older.
Nonfiction materials can help expand kids’ vocabularies. Many nonfiction texts introduce kids to more difficult words, so it’s important to keep your dictionary handy! New and more difficult words can also be accompanied by an image, and some nonfiction books have a glossary to help kids understand new definitions.
The Kids Read Now Wishlist always includes a wide variety of nonfiction books for kids to enjoy, such as National Geographic Kids and the Who Was/What Was series. Nonfiction books can help reluctant readers build a passion for learning about dinosaurs, the first airplane, the galaxy, or even about how to make homemade slime!
Kids Read Now started as a small, local nonprofit organization and has rapidly grown into an impressive leader in the fight against K-5 learning loss. Most students, particularly those from lower income families, experience steep reading skill loss over the summer break. Creating home libraries and engaging parents are key ways to accelerating summer learning and reversing the slide associated with summer break and extended school closures.
Since 2013, Kids Read Now has mailed over two million books-to-keep. This past summer KRN served nearly 100,000 K-5 students across the country. According to Kids Read Now CEO and co-founder, Leib Lurie, “Kids Read Now is on a trajectory to mail over 7 million books to K-5 students nationwide by 2024.”
This exciting growth has highlighted the need for a new, larger fulfillment center. More books to more kids equals higher literacy rates and dreams delivered for America’s youth.
Kids Read Now’s new fulfillment center is 21,000 square feet, 33% bigger than its previous space. “This new, expanded space will help us reach our goal of serving 1 million kids each summer,” says Jim McDonald, Kids Read Now’s Fulfillment Center Manager. “Having this large, flexible space and leveraging the talented local work force made this expansion decision easy,” adds Leib.
Proud to partner with hundreds of school districts nationwide, Kids Read Now is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization with the singular mission to eliminate learning loss for K-5 students. Learn more about Kids Read Now at KidsReadNow.org.
I recently caught up with a dear colleague. When I asked her what she saw as she worked closely with our teachers and teacher leaders, her immediate answer was “politics”.
The concept that everything is political started with Aristotle and is consistently restated today. Although I avoid them, I cannot deny that what I eat, what I wear, what I read (or don’t read) is a political act. Looking at the news or even local school board elections remind us how polarizing today’s environment is and how the inertia of our society calls for us to pick one side or the other. My desire for universality led me to wonder about concepts that are less political and valued by all. Literacy for everyone came to mind. The ability to read, write, think, listen, and speak are foundational skills people need to successfully live and participate in our lives and communities. The assertion that all children (and adults) have strong literacy skills is something we can all agree on. We call that a core belief.
Core beliefs can only be realized when our practices align with and support the initial conviction. Donalyn Miller shares that time, access, and choice are bricks with which to build a solid foundation. I am an excellent cook. I am masterful because I have an interest in food and I have cooked every day for over 30 years. In contrast, I am unlikely to become a great tennis player if I only watch it on TV. Children must have time to read things they enjoy or are interested in each day. If you are telling yourself, “Of course! That’s a given!” I challenge you to ask any child age 4-19 to track how much they read each day and how much they enjoy what they read. The data may surprise you.
To read each day, you have to have access to text. Access means that you can easily get your hands on something to read. In the positive column, we have a ton of portable digital content via phones and iPads or laptops. A quick survey of your friends and family about where and how they read, demonstrate we all have preferences. I like to read digitally but if it is non-fiction, I will want a paper book I can mark up. Recent research tells us that children need access to both digital and print. As they age, children should drive which they use for their specific purposes. Time and access are bricks that build mastery, choice excites and accelerates literacy.
Imagine you walk into a bookstore where they scan your brain and then directed you to graduate-level books because that is the level you read at. No magazines, cookbooks, or mysteries! Choice is the third brick in that solid wall of practice we should all agree on. I was so fortunate as a child because I not only had access to books, I had parents who encouraged us to read about the things we were interested in which amplified the time I was allowed to read. Visiting areas in which literacy levels are at their lowest inside and outside of schools, you see that there is little access to books, there is no choice about what to read, and time is spent on drills and isolated practice of skills-effectively killing a love of reading. Time, access, and choice in the construction of literacy is a political act we can all support.