A top-10 list of strategies to help create a culture for reading that will help struggling readers become fierce, unafraid, and strong.
We learn to do well what we learn to love; it’s as true in reading as in anything else.
For 10 years, I’ve guided a reading program for boys and worked to create a culture for reading at the Children’s Village, a residential school in New York City for children in foster care.
These boys have been through bruising school and home experiences that have made them feel extra ordinarily vulnerable as readers. Many have told me that they’ve never once experienced pleasure in reading.
But over the years, as we’ve worked to create a culture for reading, I’ve seen many of these strugglers make a breakthrough; they stop seeing their struggles as a barrier to success and begin to see them within the larger picture of the challenges all readers experience as they learn to find pleasure in print.
One of my students told me that the first time he ever experienced joy in reading was when I read to him from Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak.
With his eyes full of tears, he said, “I feel a lot like Max sometimes, all alone. But he makes me feel brave again.”
At some time today or tomorrow, you’ll be reading something and you’ll feel the print sliding away from you, your sense of power over the page slipping, your comprehension becoming murkier as you press on.
It doesn’t feel good.
There are children who feel this every day, whether looking at a street sign or a simple picture book.
When the world of print lacks deep meaning for a child, the reading experience becomes like wandering in an unfamiliar universe.
These are the kids in our classrooms who search hungrily for distraction. You know them well.
They’ll look for any escape—using the bathroom or talking to a friend—as soon as reading time begins.
Unlike Max in Where the Wild Things Are, who stands with his sword ready to fight the wild things, these students avoid encounters with text at all costs.
For language is a wild thing. Whether the words are unfamiliar, the story unusual, or the text about complex and layered information, the wild elements of language present one challenge after another to a struggling reader.
It’s vital that we create a culture for reading in all children from a young age—especially those who find reading daunting—so we eliminate the danger of illiteracy for them.
The National Center for Education Statistics notes that U.S. public school students who reported reading for fun almost every day scored higher on average on the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress than did students who reported doing so less frequently.
Students who reported never or hardly ever reading for fun scored lowest.
Adults who never become competent readers have difficulty not only with finding work or keeping jobs but also with writing letters or e-mails, filling out forms, and assisting their children with homework.
Ten Actions To Help Create A Culture For Reading
From my observations at the Children’s Village and my decades of work with vulnerable readers, I have built a top-10 list for how teachers can create a culture for reading and a classroom culture that ensures that all students fall in love with reading.
If you build a culture for reading, students will build reading muscles for lifelong strength.
By working to create a culture for reading, we can help each struggling reader arm himself or herself for the joys of engaging with the wild thing of printed text—and taming it.
Let’s create a culture for reading, a world for all readers that’s full of the joy of discovery, imagination, and information.
The only way to do this is to make the world come alive with stories students will love and texts that connect to their passions.
Let’s hand reluctant readers the sword with which to conquer the wild things of language—and learn to love reading.
Thank you to ASCD for the information provided in this article by Pam Allyn.
Pam Allyn is executive director of Lit-World and author of many books on teaching reading and writing, including Pam Allyn’s Best Books for Boys (Scholastic, 2011).
She founded Books for Boys, a reading program for children in foster care.