One Reading Goal, Two Realities … Now What?

Sue Dunlop, one of our Board’s superintendents, is a favourite blogger of mine, and last night, I was excited to see that she published a new post. Her post is on reading and discusses the importance of having books in classrooms and providing opportunities to really develop a love of reading. Like Sue, I’m an avid reader, and use reading as a way to learn more and to self-regulate. I’m a huge collector of children’s books, and in our classroom, we have a tall filing cabinet full of books, a massive storage space full of books, a reading area full of books, and books spread out around the classroom (on topics that tend to pertain the most to that area of the room). Throughout the year, we have reflected often on how we use books in the classroom, and what changes we could make to get children reading books more. It was actually Sue’s reply to my second blog post comment that inspired this post: sometimes the smallest of changes can have the biggest of impacts. 

Let me explain. Last year, my teaching partner, Nayer, and I started the year creating a large and beautiful book nook. We filled this area with baskets of books, a shelf of books, and even surrounded it by more bins of books. Being that child that spent hours sitting on the floor in a bookstore reading, I knew that I could lose myself in such an area. I couldn’t wait for the children to enjoy this cozy space! So what was the problem? Nobody went there. Nayer and I tried to change this.

  • We sat down with kids to read books.
  • We started the day by getting every child to pick a book to look at.
  • We even modelled how to read a book … but children continued to avoid this area. 

We couldn’t figure out what else to do. This was when I wrote an educator friend of mine that I admire and respect, and asked her for some advice. She suggested that we switch up the books and fill the shelves with simple board books: big pictures, limited words, and a focus on vocabulary. We found board books on a variety of topics. We made all of them accessible to kids. My teaching partner even brought in some simple books from home that were in her first language and the first language of some other students in the class. We added these to the shelf. The change worked!

  • Students started to lie down and look at books.
  • They talked to each other about books.
  • They even started to listen and engage with us when we read them a story, as now the story was not too long and not overwhelming.

Here we were surrounding students by rich texts, but these were not what our children wanted or needed. By making a small change, a big one happened: children started to read. 

We then started to add some books to our open snack table. Students began to sit around the table and talk about books. They started to read the books. They even sat down happily and listened as we read them a story. Instead of a full class read aloud, we started doing small group read alouds surrounded by food and friends. The change in location made a difference, and children engaged more with texts. 

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve been reminded again about the importance of location. This year, I moved schools and am working with another fabulous teaching partner, PaulaAt the beginning of February, we made a change to our reading area that we would never have considered in the past: we linked this space with dramatic play. This change worked better than we could have ever imagined, and we have noticed this even more since our dramatic play space has changed from a kitchen/house to a beauty salon. The book nook area has become the “waiting room,” and children just love to sit here, wait for their hair or nail appointment, and read. 

Looking back now, I realize how many mini-lessons I’ve run in the midst of this play. I think about the reading strategies I’ve discussed with kids, and the opportunities these children have had for independent practice as well as guided support. This same approach, in this same way, with these same books may not have worked last year, but it works well this year for these students. 

I share these two different experiences because as we look at our Board’s goal to have “all children reading by the end of Grade 1,” I wonder what might have to happen in each school to make this possible. 

  • Yes, all children need access to books.
  • Yes, all children need to listen to reading.
  • Yes, all children need opportunities to read: be it reading pictures, words, or both.

But could small changes — from the types, length, and language of reading materials to the location of these materials — make a difference for student success? Could these changes look different for different students? How, as educators, do we determine the best possible approaches for all of our students? Tonight, I’m left thinking about two different reading experiences, and how we manage to close a gap so that all children develop a true love of reading.


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