There has been a lot of magic happening around our school these days when it comes to reading. From library transformations to book characters popping up around every turn it feels as though the worlds we read about and the characters we love have become our reality. And this got me thinking long and hard (you've been forewarned) about the message we sometimes unknowingly send to our students about books and reading. All too often we tend to focus our energy on reading levels, assessments, and ensuring that our students are reaching their designated benchmarks when it comes to reading. And while these are certainly important factors in literacy education we must not lose sight of the most important element of all -- the love of story. We must keep at the core of our literacy efforts instilling the love of story and the magic reading can bring to our lives. When we spread this magic and share the excitement we will begin to build capacity with readers in our buildings. We will not only be building competent readers, but lifelong readers that look to books to fuel their imagination and learn about the world around them.
There is something special to be said about those books that you get lost in while reading. You know the ones....you can't put them down and feel as though you are walking in the shoes of the character. Or perhaps when the story ends you are left with a bit of sadness because of this insatiable need you have for the story to continue.
In children, I know the moment reading becomes magical. There is a certain glimmer in the eye or twist of a smile that children convey that lets you know you got them - they're hooked! And even with struggling readers if we instill in them this love of reading and magic of story it will help make their struggle more worthwhile and their growth more meaningful. Kate DiCamillo, National Ambassador for Young People's Literature and celebrated author discusses the importance of reading aloud to children in a recent Public Service Announcement. What I love about this clip is she discusses how important reading aloud is to children from all walks of life even those who have homes filled with books and parents that read to them nightly. For many students, teacher read aloud is the most exciting part of the day and it's those books that leave a lasting imprint on their hearts. Down in the library we always know when a teacher is using a particular book as a read aloud because the students come down all seeking the same book or others by a particular author. Even when they are hearing it read aloud, they have a need to read it too or read it again once the story ends. Teachers help create that joy of story every time they choose a special book to read aloud to their students.
So how have we been creating joy around reading at Northside? How are we working to create a literacy rich environment that not only encourages kids to grow as readers, but makes them excited about reading?
In January with the help from our PTA we transformed our library into a magical world to coincide with this year's ReadAThon. As students entered the library they were transported into a fantasy world filled with dragons, fairies, and magic castles. But it wasn't simply having students walk into this space, but creating an environment in which they wanted to read and let themselves be whisked away with their imagination and a good book. We shared stories with students (and had them play along) and also provided time for them to escape into their own story worlds. We helped get our students so excited about reading that we reached our school-wide goal of reading 700,000 minutes! That's incredible and it doesn't hurt that our principal has agreed to get slimed and dye her hair multiple colors as a kudos to our efforts-- an added bonus!
We also spent time becoming the characters we love and adore. We brought some of our favorites to life and let them walk the halls of Northside. Some students knew the characters well and for others it inspired them to pick up and read the book in which the character was featured. We also encouraged our students to do the same -- dress as a character they love -- and we certainly saw some great picks - from Amelia Bedelia to Harry Potter!
As February approached we got busy spreading library love. We encouraged our students to share books they love (it being the month of cupid and all.) It was really wonderful to see how many students both young and old yearned to have their picture taken with a book they love and to spread that to others across Northside. Their pictures are now on display in the hallway leading to the library and on the video monitors across the building.
Our students also began to fill in response after response of why they love our library as part of a February library promotion. The resounding reply was often "because they have the books I love to read". As I began to read over and over so many of the same responses from our students it only solidified what I already know to be true. When students are given opportunities to read what they want to read and have the freedom to choose books they love, they want to read more! Yes, sometimes they will choose books that are too difficult or perhaps aren't "just right".....but they are excited about the book and isn't that a big component to out literacy efforts? We want our kids to be excited about books and want to read. This is what will drive them to become stronger readers. If you don't want to read you will never get better....but if you love something you are willing to work harder for it. That book that is "too difficult" will make it's way back to the library perhaps not even being read, but when it does so too does the child with a desire to pick another book or to have one recommended by their school librarian or peer! And perhaps that book will be the one that makes him a reader for life.
Another way we enjoy spreading the joy and magic of reading is by hosting special reader/writer celebrations in the library. Our most recent celebration was a special Pigeon Party to honor our first grade writers as part of their Mo Willems author study. And yes, I couldn't resist I had to dress as the Pigeon (I mean, let's be real...no Pigeon Party would be complete without the Pigeon himself making an appearance.) Our first grade team of teachers immersed their students in the works of Mo Willems and their students in turn began to adore these characters that brought them joy and made them laugh out loud. As they studied this popular author they learned how to emulate his style of writing and went on to write and illustrate their own class books featuring the pigeon. We digitized their books and have hosted them on our website so that others beyond the walls of our building can share in their reading joy. But that wasn't enough -- we also made their class books available for checkout and that afternoon one of our first grade friends proudly walked down to the library to check out her class book that had just been celebrated. This unit brought joy and magic to students in ways that not only made them want to read more books by Mo Willems but also encouraged them to write like him too! That is something those students will remember for years to come.