My students and I are faced every day with this reality:
Adolescents entering the adult world in the 21st century will need to read and write more than at any other time in human history. They will need advanced levels of literacy to perform their jobs, run their households, act as citizens, and conduct their personal lives. They will need literacy to cope with the flood of information they will find everywhere they turn. They will need literacy to feed their imaginations, so they can create the world of the future. In a complex, and sometimes dangerous world, the ability to read can be crucial (Moore, Bean, Birdyshaw & Rycik, 1999, p.3).
As a middle school teacher librarian, English language development teacher (and in a former life, Reading Specialist) the quote by Moore, Bean, Birdyshaw & Rycik resonates deeply with me; I am acutely aware of the importance of reading in my student’s lives. For this reason, it is very easy to get caught up in quantitative analysis of student reading skills. How many times have I said “You must have at least a 1000 lexile to successfully read what you need to in high school” to one of my 8th graders? Yes, we use Reading Counts at my school, Yes, in our independent reading program, we restrict student choice of book according to lexile, and students receive a letter grade on their report card based upon how many book quizzes they have passed in the school term. Not good. If it makes everyone feel better, it was this way when I took the teacher librarian position two years ago, but I’m really just making excuses.
At the risk of oversimplification, the readings by Steven Krashen (2016), Guldager, Krueger & Taylor (2016) and National Library of New Zealand (n.d.) this week reaffirm that it’s OK to enjoy reading, and if that is not enough in itself, there are some powerful justifications offered for all educators to promote self-selected pleasure reading. I’m aware that my professional perspective needs to be expanded; that’s why I’m in this program. Literacy is so much more than posting lexile score gains, of course. Somehow it helps to have pleasure reading justified by scholarly works, but in the back of my mind, I’m alarmed that I need that sort of extrinsic sanction.
According to Steven Krashen (2016), a critical activity for young people is to discover how to use their unique talents to help others. He defines steps to this end: “1) Find your talent; 2) Develop your talent; 3) Use your talent (p.1)”. Due to the increasing rate of change in the tools and literacies around expressive technology, many of the professions we believe we are preparing students for may be obsolete by the time they leave school. Therefore, Krashen asserts that the purpose of school is to help students “pursue their strengths (p.1)” According to this dynamic, Krashen claims that voluntary reading is the best way for students to recognize, develop and pursue their passions, thereby building a meaningful life. Krashen defines free voluntary reading as “reading because you want to and what you want to, without book reports or any kind of accountability (p.2)”. In addition, Krashen cites further benefits of voluntary reading: vocabulary and language fluency development, content knowledge, even enhanced career success and awareness of social justice.
Guldager, Krueger & Taylor point out that computer based reading programs, such as Reading Counts, that are implemented for the purpose of motivating student reading actually introduce circumstances that extinguish interest in reading. They go on to assert that student choice of reading material is essential to student engagement in pleasure reading, citing Krashen (2004), who found that students who choose what they read and have an informal environment in which to read tend to be more motivated, read more, and show greater language and literacy development. School librarians are uniquely poised to provide opportunities for students to read for pleasure, stressing the importance of intrinsic motivation and student choice when selecting books.
Further, Guldager, Krueger & Taylor highlights the importance of creating a school culture of reading that supports student literacy beyond taking tests and earning points. There are many ways to create an environment featuring reading as a key component, where librarians showcase reading as a fun social experience to be shared with others. So my short-term remedy for the over-quantification and restriction of literacy at my school has been to make the library a fun place to hang out. I’ve been working hard on getting maximum book exposure to my students by using book displays and face-out shelving. A more open-space, collaborative room arrangement with flexible seating has made the space attractive, functional and comfortable. We have low-key, fun science events in the library such as building paper circuits and robotics demonstrations–all good stuff, but these readings bring the conversation back to one of the the primary purposes of a library–to promote personal literacy.
Besides the apparently much-needed blessing conferred on reading for pleasure, my take away from these articles was the literacy-centered library events suggested by Guldager, Krueger & Taylor; the focus on fee or low cost, no extrinsic rewards, simply for the promotion of recreational reading with no duplication of curricular content. I loved Banned Book Week, Free Comic Book Day, and Science Fiction Day. I’m on it!
Guldager, N. N., Krueger, K. S., & Taylor, J. B. (2016). Reading promotion events recommended for elementary students. Teacher Librarian: The Journal for School Library Professionals, 43(5), 13.
Krashen, S. D. (2004). The power of reading: Insights from the research. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.
Krashen, S. (2016). The Purpose of Education, Free Voluntary Reading, and Dealing with The Impact Of Poverty. School Libraries Worldwide, 22(1), 1.
Moore, D. W., Bean, T. W., Birdyshaw, D., & Rycik, J. A. (1999). Adolescent literacy: A position statement. Newark, DE: Commission on Adolescent Literacy of the International Reading Association.
Reading for pleasure — a door to success [Online article]. (n.d.).